HARRY Potter wannabes, grab your wands and turn those Muggles who want to ban the film version of JK Rowling’s book into toads. The latest killjoys are the mis-named Sparkes, a married couple who, on behalf of something laughably called the ‘Free’ Church, have sent a petition to their local cinema demanding that it remains a Potter-free zone for fear of encouraging children to dabble in the occult.
Although they have neither seen the film nor read the book, JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings also falls foul of what this dismal couple consider appropriate. I expect they would also like to ban Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy from the library and leave only the saccharine Little Women. At least the March sisters say their prayers and when Beth dies, she remains firmly in her grave.
I agree with the Sparkes in only one respect: that we should be aware of what is feeding our children’s imaginations, particularly since there is no doubt that children’s taste in literature is getting darker, less hooked on happy endings and less accepting that clear delineations between good and evil should be firmly rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition.
This last is what many parents, not just the Sparkes, find disturbing. Retrieving Pullman’s Northern Lights from under the pillow of a child who had fallen asleep, I began reading it myself and wondered what dreams this extraordinary and shocking fantasy was fuelling.
As in so much popular modern fiction, the aura, architecture and language of Christianity have been taken and distorted. We are presented with "Pope John Calvin" and with Oblation Boards (‘oblates’ were, in medieval times, children placed in monasteries by their parents) that kidnap youngsters and send them off for experimentation. Spirituality is transformed into magic. Half-worlds of demons and spectres, angels (although not of the Christian variety) and witches struggle for supremacy. Human love and loyalty, not an omnipotent God and prayer, provide anchors for readers to hold on to. In Harry Potter, although Hogwarts School unashamedly resembles a medieval monastery, Christmas has little to do with the birth of Christ. The Lord of the Rings is full of pagan sorcery - the whole concept of a ring being the source of all power pushing both reader and cinema-goer away from the Bible and back towards a more heathen history.
Should Christian groups worry about this? Should they promote only CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, where the Christian analogies are clear and unambiguous? Of course not. Whether we like it or not, we live in a post-Christian society. Asked at school how many children believe that Christ was born at Christmas, my daughter was the only one to put up her hand. But when asked to discuss concepts of good and evil in relation to the books of Pullman, Rowling or Tolkien, all children have opinions they are only too happy to expound.
If Christianity has been distorted and discarded in favour of the occult, bans are not the answer. Modern Christians must look to themselves and see how they have failed to capitalise on the extraordinary God-as-Man story of Christ - a story so phenomenal that it should effortlessly manage to outstrip even Harry Potter, particularly at Christmas. That it does not cannot be blamed on film producers and authors. The fault lies with us and the way we have allowed the Christian message to become so dreary and unappealing.
Which brings us back to the Sparkes. We live in intolerant times. Banning is the new black. If you feel threatened, call for prohibition. Children, please take no notice. If you have to use the occult to turn the banning brigade into toads, this Christian will bless you. I wish everybody apart from toads, orcs and gobblers a very Happy Christmas.