J.K. Rowling was working hard, telling a great story, lighting up my imagination like few authors ever have, and she was being demonized by the church…
I’m a fan of the Harry Potter books. There. I said it. Whenever I visit a bookstore I can’t resist a walk through the Young Readers section, where my heart flutters at cover illustrations of dragons and detectives and ghosts and kids dashing across fantastic landscapes. I’ve always loved those stories, and many times I take the books from the shelves and, with chills running up and down my arms, thumb through them. Sometimes I even smell them. (There. I said that, too.)
Years ago, on one of my trips through the kids’ section I noticed a book called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It looked cool, and the jacket indicated that it had won a few awards. A year or so later I saw the second book, this one on display.
By the time I spotted Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on the shelves the buzz was loud enough that I decided to buy the first book. I read it, and although it had some great moments, I wasn’t hooked. But at the time I was writing On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and was learning so much so quickly about writing, I already knew North! Or Be Eaten would be a better book. I desperately hoped my readers would stick with me through my first faltering attempt at fiction because I had a much bigger story to tell.
So I decided to give this “J.K. Rowling” person the benefit of the doubt, as I hoped my readers would do for me. I read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and liked it better than the first book. I began to get glimpses of the scope of this story, sensed a gigantic framework beneath its surface, and bought Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as soon as it released. That was the book that did it.
Rowling was no longer messing around. She convinced me with that book that she could tell a story, that Harry, Ron, and Hermione were characters I cared about, and I realized that she had created a world I adored. I’m as enchanted by Hogwarts as Rivendell. At the end of each book, when Harry found himself stuck again at the Dursleys, I grieved with him, because his time there was like my time waiting for the next story, waiting for Hagrid to show up and sweep me away into a magical world again.
Opening the first page of a new Harry Potter book was like boarding the Hogwarts Express. I’m being totally serious. Well, after reading book three, I was one of the first in line to buy each new one.
Then one day about ten years ago, when I was on tour with a singer/songwriter named Fernando Ortega, I spent a few hours at a Barnes & Noble in Oregon (I think) and a guy in a bowtie was giving an author talk to a smattering of people. I slipped into the back row and listened as he lauded the virtues of the Harry Potter books, and even—gasp!—went so far as to argue that they were distinctly Christian in theme.
I was fascinated, especially in light of the rumblings and grumblings I’d heard about the books from Christians. It helped me to understand why my spirit seemed to tingle when I read the books. That day I met John Granger, bought his book The Hidden Key to Harry Potter, and was even more hooked than I was before. He pointed out so many interesting themes, archetypes, alchemical nuances, and even direct quotes from Rowling herself about the Christian content in the books that I became more frustrated and mystified than ever by the outcry from Christians against the books.
As weird as it sounds, I felt bad for Rowling. She was working hard, telling a great story, lighting up my imagination like few authors ever have (I’ll let you guess which), and she was being demonized by the church I love–the church of which she was supposedly a part. I kept wishing there was a way I could send her a message…