The sighs and joys of selling Harry Potter

I suppose a few of my few blog readers might want to know this, although, who knows, maybe you tire of it as I do: we have had as many negative comments about our stocking Harry Potter as we have appreciative ones. IÕve been quoted in local papers and in the national press—was it Christianity Today, perhaps, I forget—a few years ago about being thrilled with these wonderfully written books about virtue and kindness, loyalty and victory over darkness and how a thorough-going Christian worldview permits reading such novels. We thought maybe with each passing year, the Christian opposition would subside. And we would have been wrong.
Of course, Christians we know and like are reading them (alas, only a very few have bought them from us.) But some of those who donÕt like seeing them on our counter have bluntly told us so; a few other good-hearted souls have kindly expressed legitimate concern but have heard us out. I neednÕt review the whole long debate here, I suppose. Just know we are happy to sell fiction, some of us (although not me, actually) here are fond of fantasy, and, despite our serious attempts at holding up the importance of Christian holiness and nonconformity to the ways of the world (Romans 12:1 and 2, you know) we find Harry just not all that scary to fuss about. As always, the call is to be Òin the world but not of it.Ó We take a cue from I Timothy 4:1-5 (oh, sweet irony, eh?) and celebrate the good things in GodÕs creation.
We are not cavalier about witchcraft or evil; not at all. We would not sell books that minimize these things knowingly. We just donÕt think Potter is occultic. For one good study of this, check out The Gospel According to Harry Potter by Connie Neal. Or, the important book by John Granger (Looking for God In Harry Potter), who shows that there are some telling echoes and hints of Lewis in Rowling.
There isnÕt an exact parallel here, but a story comes to mind about U2. In their zany, hyper-ironic Zooropa tour days, Bono would dress like a schiester devil characterÑwith layers and layers of meaning and irony and deconstruction. He sometimes would draw a fan up on stage to dance with this devilish persona. Alas, one time a gal chastised him in his ear as they danced before tens of thousands. ÒYou shouldnÕt be dressed like the devil,Ó she scolded him, Òyou used to be a Christian band.Ó Lewis, he told her. ÒYou canÕt understand a thing we are doing if you havenÕt read The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.Ó
Which not only reminds us to think broadly about Potter but to root our 21st century sensabilities about fantasy (and this little controversy, if it has hit your circles) in the tradition of the formative work of Lewis and Tolkein. And, to continue to think about (and listen to) U2, again, in light of their significant Christian influences. Do you know that Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 by Steve Stockman is now out in a nicely expanded, new edition? (Click here to learn more about it, but do come back!) And did you know my best friend Ken Heffner (who works at Calvin College) has an impressive blurb on the book endorsing Mr. Steve StockmanÕs qualifications for writing this book? Way to go Ken. (And, that Tim Bogertman, big-time Hearts & Minds cheerleader at Messiah College, is also thanked in the preface.) Now, if we can just get the book into the hands of U2 fans who may not yet fully understand their work in light of Christian faith.
We stocked U2 since the month we opened, 23 years ago. And some customers have been critical. WeÕve stocked all the Harry Potter books, and, again, the criticisms, while not devastating, have buzzed around like pests in summer. They tend to be demoralizing.
So we rejoice for the gift of authors like Connie Neal and Steve Stockman, who give good, accessible introductions on these themes for those who need to have their dots well-connected. We are glad for the work of the Spirit in these expressions of common grace in popular culture, and glad to be in a line of work that allows us to talk about this stuff day by day by day.
And hey, if you donÕt believe me about Potter, just read the big fat things. My wife and daughter assure me youÕll love ’em. And, regarding U2, even if you donÕt like rock music (and who reading this blog doesnÕt) order from us ASAP the wonderful collection of sermons inspired by U2 lyrics. Real sermons inspired by real U2 songs. Brian Walsh (who co-wrote Colossians Remixed that I raved about at the website column in November) has two splendid chapters, importan, even, as they exegete the songs so well, and more so because they open up the Bible so well. And Steve Garber has two really marvelous chapters, again, faithful to Word and world, strong and beautifully written. That book is called Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching Through the U2 Catalogue edited by Raeawynne Whiteley and Beth Maynard (published by Cowley.) Give us a call if you want it.

5 thoughts on “The sighs and joys of selling Harry Potter

  1. Who reading this blog doesn’t like rock music? You just found one. I’m sure if I liked rock music I’d love U2. I think I like what they stand for, anyway, even if I’m not crazy about their sound. (Christie G. had to get on me for mispronouncing Bono’s name. But hey, I’m learning!). Thanks for your insights about Harry Potter. I truly appreciate what Hearts and Minds stands for.Peace,Michele

  2. M:Thanks for the good reminder. You know, I actually wrote that a bit tongue in cheeck, which is why I put in the reference to the book about the lyrics. I am sure some folks don’t care for their sound but would appreciate the idea of what they do, and would like the study of the lyrics. Hey, as I implied, I don’t like Harry Potter, cuz I just don’t care for big fantasy stories like that… There, I admitted it for all to see.Again, thanks for your encoruagement. Byron

  3. While I don’t think Rowling is the equal of Tolkien or Lewis, I enjoy her wit, skill, and allusions to classic literature. While reading this latest one, I noticed that she implies that love (not romantic love, but something like charity in its old sense) is a power greater than magic. I don’t think she is generally speaking a deep philosopher (more a very talented storyteller), but it seems that she has somewhere found an echo of charity and grasped its truth. That’s worth something, anyway.Hannah

  4. Hi Byron, and thanks for the “Get Up Off Your Knees” plug. I’ll link this post on the blog for the book when I get through my backlog. BTW, on the U2 topic, are you folks stocking “Bono In Conversation”? It’s a must-read for anyone interested in the Christian commitments underlying U2’s work and Bono’s choices in particular. I don’t believe he has ever been so candid about his passion for Christ.

  5. One of the many jobs I have had since becoming a “domestic missionary” here in Canada was selling Christian books (at highly discounted rates). I frequented the home school circles.Invariably I was asked about Harry Potter. I decided I would stock a good number of Connie Neal’s books on Potter, with a dabbling of the anti-Potter stuff to give balance. Despite the fact that I sold no one copy of EITHER title, I did get some interesting exchnages.Once, when asked what I thought of Potter, giving my diplomatically evasive answer (as I was not representing myself, but the agency at the time), I directed them to our collection of Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles. I was met with icy stares and was reproached for the suggestion.I’ll be honest. In a world where millions of people are starving, dying, etc. from highly preventable problems, Harry Potter should be the least of our worries. Great post!Peace,JamieP.S. I love the Potter series, myself.

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