Michael O’Brien responds to his critics re: Harry Potter
by Steve Jalsevac
July 26, 2011
The July 18 LifeSiteNews story, Harry Potter expert criticizes Vatican newspaper’s glowing review of Deathly Hallows 2, was widely read and elicited many comments both pro and con, especially regarding the statements of Potter critic Michael O’Brien. In response to this, LifeSiteNews conducted an additional, in depth interview with O’Brien to allow him to expand on his views and respond to some of the 72 reader comments entered beneath the original story.
In the interview O’Brien explains why he became involved in critiquing the Harry Potter series, his views on why the series has become so popular and the astonishing and at times hateful criticism that Potter critics have received, such as O’Brien himself being called “the anti-Christ” by a Potter fan. O’Brien also answers the question of what he meant by “the evil means” used by Harry to defeat Voldemort, why Harry Potter is not just “entertainment”, why it is appropriate for LifeSiteNews to cover the Harry Potter issue, how Rowlings pro-homosexual views may be reflected in the novels, and more:
Bishop Julian Porteous, Auxiliary Bishop and exorcist of the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia: “Like Michael O’Brien, I believe that Catholic parents need to be alerted to the possible negative influences these books can have on the moral and spiritual formation of their children. Any parent concerned about the formation of their children’s character should read this book.”
The Harry Potter Series, book by book. Parental Strategies for Healthy Family Culture. Pope Benedict and Harry Potter. The War of Disinformation and Opinion. Harry Potter and the Gnostic Mind. Where Is It All Going? Twilight of the West. The Golden Compass or the Moral Compass?
Preface to Harry Potter and the Paganization of Culture
by Michael D. O’Brien
[published May, 2010]
This book grew out of a series of articles which were written over a ten-year period for various Christian periodicals. At first, I had no interest in reading the Harry Potter novels, and indeed felt that I had already expended considerable time researching the field of fantasy literature when writing a book on the subject in the mid-1990’s. Moreover, the constant reviews of the Potter series had given me a general sense about the stories and the popular opinions. Oceans of spilled ink and electronic text seemed to cover the pros and cons well enough. No need for me to add my opinion.
The astonishing success of the Twilight series of vampire novels written by Stephenie Meyer ranks second only to the Harry Potter series in publishing history, and the two films released to date also repeat this pattern. Meyer’s series builds upon the foundation of older novels and cult films, themselves based on the European legends of vampires. The legends predate even these, for there is a long tradition in ancient religions of supernatural beings who are predators on humans, consuming the blood or flesh of the living, tales that can be found in Babylonian, Greek, Persian, Hindu, and Hebrew lore, as well as throughout Africa and the pre-colonial Americas.
Christian parents everywhere are facing the dilemma of raising their families in the midst of a tsunami of cultural corruption—and extremely invasive corruption it is! We sense the dangers but so often do not know what to do about it. We know that our children are especially vulnerable to the spirit of the times, and that the older they get the more they must live with one foot in the family and one foot in the world around them. As they move outward from the foundation of the family into the wider community, which is a necessary stage in the process of maturing, they will need wisdom and grace in a way different than any other generation before them.
The conversion of traditional archetypes of evil into morally good ones makes a quantum leap in a film based on a novel by British author Philip Pullman. It is titled The Golden Compass, which is also the North American title of the first volume of Pullman’s fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials. According to interviews with Pullman, the author’s stated intention is to reverse the traditional Biblical account of the war between heaven and hell. In his introduction, Pullman says that he “is of the Devil’s party and does know it” (a line adapted from a poem by William Blake).
Where is the road of modern culture taking us? The real question is not whether there are intriguing, entertaining, and even edifying details along the route, but what is the final destination. Are we Christians asking this question as we consume contemporary cultural material? Or are we gradually losing our bearings, the moral compass spinning aimlessly? What is the dominant terrain, the pitch of the slope? I believe it is heading downward, and the occasional bumps in the road that offer a sense of upward mobility (such as the “values” in the Harry Potter books) contribute to an illusion. In order to see clearly the extent to which we have been absorbed by the illusion, we first must recognize how strong is the need in human nature for confidence in the world, and the instinctive aversion to the threat of “negativity” or “intolerance.”
Most contemporary films are infected with some degree of symbol-erosion. A case in point is the Spanish language Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno, 2006), by the Mexican film-maker Guillermo del Toro, whose previous work includes Hellboy and Backbone of the Devil, films that draw on strange fiction, fantasy, and war themes. Pan’s Labyrinth is particularly interesting for its integration of fairy-tale, classical myth, horror, and political propaganda. Profoundly beautiful in parts, it is graphically brutal and subtly anti-Christian in its use of symbols. It won several international awards and three Academy awards and was listed in the top ten favorite films of many film critics.
Lev Grossman, in the July 23, 2007, issue of Time magazine, writes, “If you want to know who dies in Harry Potter, the answer is easy: God.” In this he has expressed the core problem with the Potter series. There is much that could be written, and has been written, about the specific problems in the books. Without neglecting the valid point that good fiction need not be overtly Christian, need not be religious at all, we might ponder a little the fact that the central metaphor and plot engines of the series are activities (witchcraft and sorcery) absolutely prohibited by God. We might also consider for a moment the fact that no sane parents would give their children books which portrayed a set of “good” pimps and prostitutes valiantly fighting a set of “bad” pimps and prostitutes,and using the sexual acts of prostitution as the thrilling dynamic of the story. By the same token we should ask ourselves why we continue to imbibe large doses of poison in our cultural consumption, as if this were reasonable and normal living, as if the presence of a few vegetables floating in a bowl of arsenic soup justifies the long-range negative effects of our diet. Leaving aside a wealth of such arguments, let us consider Lev Grossman’s insight.
Many of you will recall the controversy that arose in the world’s media a few years ago over the Harry Potter series of fantasy novels for young readers. Numerous articles appeared in the press praising the books as a breakthrough to a more literate form of culture for young people. They exalted its dramatic qualities, imaginative story-telling, humor, and promotion of “values.” Little serious reflection was given to the fact that the foundational element of the series is witchcraft and sorcery, which is glamorized and offered to the reader as normal, even a saving path. The central character, Harry, is a sorcerer in training. This is not the place to restate the arguments, pro and con; I have done this in previous articles, which are posted on this website. However, I would like to emphasize again that few if any cultural works in the history of mankind have spread so far and so quickly as the Potter series.