From a reader:
Recently very good friends of mine told me that is is probably a sin to have read the Harry Potter books – even as a child with no intent of getting involved in "magic" or anything of that sort. They have heard from a priest that the names used in the book are the names of real demons and that reading it somehow attaches these demons to you.
I’ve done some research and I really can’t find much credible information to back up what they’ve said.
While it seems that individual priests/bishops have held a wide variety of opinion on whether or not one should read the books, I can’t find any authoritative Church teaching that says you should confess having read the books.
Am I correct in assuming that this is not a big deal?
There is no authoritative Church teaching that says you cannot read these books. Furthermore, for good or for ill, there is no longer any office Index of Prohibited Books (and my merely mentioning that will have all sorts of people posting here comments about how we need the Index).
At the same time, I won’t say it isn’t a big deal when it comes to children. What children read, in those formative years, is a big deal.
It seems to me that this is a case in which parents should make the choice. They should be reading their children’s books before their kids read them and then decide what to do.
The fine author Michael O’Brian – who did not like the first Harry Potter books at all – suggests that there are some books that are perfect for kids to read on their own, some that cannot ever be read, many that kids can read together with parents so that parents can help them sort things through.
I think the Harry Potter books are in this third category.
I have read all of them. "But Father! But Father!", some are saying even now. "Why did you waste your time on those? Shouldn’t you be reading… I dunno…. Spinoza?"
Frankly, I rather like espionage books. The last one I read was a ripping good yarn by Alan Furst, who has an amazing ability to set a scene. It’s like reading a film noir, if that makes sense. Right now I am reading The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America by Andrew C. McCarthy. I do not recommend it for junior, but perhaps college age students should get this. I digress.
I think it behooves priests to be aware of powerful influences in society, popular culture. Also, I read fast. And these are children’s books we are talking about. They are not exactly text books on string theory. Moreover, I checked the Harry Potter books out of the library rather than buy them.
But I admit that I have not been inclined to listen to Lady Gaga. A lacuna, surely, in my cultural formation. Still, I am able to pronounce on her music. BAD. Don’t waste your time on her stuff until you have memorized all the lyrics of Frank Sinatra’s opera omnia. But I digress.
I found that, as they went along – we are back to the Potter books now – there were some good elements in them. For example, the kids involved, while making mistakes (and I think kids make mistakes) eventually were faced with making choices involving self-sacrifice for high purposes. Also, there was little question about who was bad and who was good, which is important. One character winds up being a bit ambiguous in that regard, but in the end you sort out the puzzle. It seems to me that the author herself evolved in their writing.
About the magic thing. Many good books have magic in them. I wouldn’t deprive children of the great experience of reading, for example, Tolkien‘s books. I would only be concerned were children to want in any way to play at casting spells in any serious way, etc., or be a witch in the worse sense… I mean even worse than some of the staff of the seminary I was in, that sort of thing. I would absolutely forbid children to have anything to do with things associated with black magic. Some will say that the Potter books are in fact associated with black magic. I am not convinced that they are, except when the bad guys are up to their nefarious plots. And when Harry himself uses a dark spell – things go terribly wrong and he learns a horrible lesson.
Kids make mistakes.
Back to the question: No, unless your Mommy told you not to read those books, and you read them anyway, you don’t have to confess that you read about Harry Potter and his adventures.
For additional reading on the confusion surrounding the books, you might want to look at this story on Lifesite.
I am sure there could be a good, vigorous and spirited discussion in the combox, so long as people stay on target and remain more concise than I have been in answering.
NB: There may be "spoliers" in the discussion that follows. I don’t like spoilers. But it is hard to avoid them in such a discussion, since examples must be provided.