The Vatican offered its latest view on the good vs evil debate over the immensely popular Harry Potter series in a recent edition of its newspaper, headlining an article by an expert in English literature who calls the teen wizard "the wrong kind of hero".
In the article, "The Double Face of Harry Potter", published by the Vatican's official newspaper L'Osservatore Romano this week, Edoardo Rialti writes about the harmful effects of the "half-truth" messages presented by JK Rowling in the Potter saga.
Rialti's attack echoes the sentiment of Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who voiced fears in 2003 that the "subtle seductions" contained in the Potter series could "corrupt the Christian faith" in impressionable young children.
Young Christian minds will "lose the spirit of discernment between good and evil and that they will not have the necessary strength and knowledge to withstand the temptations to evil," Ratzinger wrote in a March 2003 letter to German Catholic sociologist Gabriele Kuby, author of the book Harry Potter - Good or Evil.
Rialti writes that many have tried to establish a parallel between the "fantasy masterpieces" JR Tolkein's "Lord of the Rings" and CS Lewis "Narnia" books with the Potter series. He argues that other than "superficially apparent common points", there is nothing similar between them.
Harry Potter "transmits a vision of the world and the human being full of deep mistakes and dangerous suggestions, even more seductive since it is mixed with half-truths and compelling story-telling", describes Rialti.
The author recalls Tolkien's essays in which the fantasy writer said, "...fables can depart from the physical world and the universe created, but not from the moral order." The fables can present "a universe illuminated by a green sun" but should not positively portray "a reality in which the moral and spiritual structure are inverted or confused, a world in which evil is good", wrote Tolkien.
But that is exactly what happens in Harry Potter, Rialti points out.
"Despite several positive values that can be found in the story, at the foundations of this tale is the proposal that of witchcraft as positive, the violent manipulation of things and people thanks to the knowledge of the occult, an advantage of a select few: the ends justify the means because the knowledgeable, the chosen ones, the intellectuals know how to control the dark powers and turn them into good.
"This is a grave and deep lie, because it is the old Gnostic temptation of confusing salvation and truth with a secret knowledge," he adds.
The fables by Tolkien and Lewis, the article continues, describe the "rejection of magic and power" and offer "grave and destructive consequences" for those who are seduced by magic.
In contrast, Rowling's story shows a disregard for the "muggles", the humans in the story who do not possess magic, Rialti observes.
"There is nothing more antithetical to Harry Potter than Tolkien's young Frodo or Lewis' Pevensie siblings."
Tolkien and Lewis portray "the extraordinary discovery of true Christianity, for which the main character of history is not an exceptional human being, like in the ancient paganism or in today's ideologies, but a person who says yes to the initiatives of God's mysteries."
In Rowling's stories "we are told that, at the end, some things are not bad in themselves, if used for a good purpose: violence becomes good, if in the right hands and [used by] the right people, and maybe in the right dose."
Rialti concludes that "Harry Potter proposes a wrong and malicious image of the hero".
The English literature expert said that the model of an unreligious hero is worse than an explicitly anti-religious one.
In the Bible, the Devil "never says 'there is no God,' but presents instead the seductive proposition: 'you will be like God,'" writes Rialti.
He also warns that the Rowling books point toward a "new age spirituality" and lead to an "unhealthy interest" among youngsters in Satanism.
Representing an opposing view, Catholic essayist and writer Paolo Gulisano writes that Rowling's work is for a "post-modern" and individualistic world.
He contends that "behind the fabulous adventures of the different characters you can see the author's anthropological vision". She "wants to help the young reader understand that 'doing good' is the best thing to do," says Guilisano.
The article comes out as reports indicate the final installment in the Harry Potter movie franchise will be split into two parts, giving fans a double dose of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows . The seventh and last book of the Harry Potter series was released last summer. The books have sold millions of copies every time and have been adapted into several movies that report record-breaking high box office sales.
Vatican slams Harry Potter as 'wrong kind of hero'
Published 16 January 2008