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A Charmed Life: the Spirituality of Potterworld
Author: Francis Bridger
Genre: Literary Criticism/Religious Nonfiction
Published:2001 (UK)
September 2002 (US)

A Charmed Life: the Spirituality of Potterworld

Description from publisher's website (Double Day):

In this enlightening look at J.K. Rowling's phenomenal bestsellers, a Christian minister illuminates the powerful, positive message Harry Potter and his magical world bring to readers of all ages.

Potter fever has swept the world and shows no signs of abating. the books and the recent movie have attracted millions of followers and fans, all of them eagerly awaiting the next installments. Along with the widespread enjoyment and appreciation of Harry Potter and his friendships, however, criticism of the series has also emerged. The opposition has focused on two issues; the darkness of the novels and their apparent endorsement of witchcraft and the occult. In A Charmed Life, Francis Bridger, a theologian and pastor, argues that far from promoting the dark arts, the Potter books are firmly based in Christian values, and offer valuable insights into our characters, our relationships, our priorities, and our spirituality.

Taking readers on an entertaining tour of Potterworld, Bridger shows that each adventure presents new ways of expressing and exploring key spiritual issues, from the meaning of justice, to the need to confront fears, to the debilitating effects of evil. As Harry and his friends deal with one another, face their enemies, cope with their variously dysfunctional families, and experience the common problems o fgrowing up, Bridger domonstrates, it is their intrinsic human goodness, love, and friendship--not wizardry or magic--that allows them to triumph over evil.

About the Author

FRANCIS BRIDGER is Principal of Trinity College, Bristol, England, and Visiting Professor of Pasoral Care at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. His previous books include Counselling in Context, and the award-winning Children Finding Faith.

Webmaster's Review: "as our children grow into adolescence and adulthood--moving from simple right and wrongs to the ever more complex maze of teenage years--we need to encourage them to ask difficult moral questions, too.

"This is why the Potter series is such a good ethics primer." - pg 64 A Charmed Life

Bridger argues in his book that far from teaching situational ethics, Rowling is simply presenting a realistic rather than simplistic moral world. Working with only the first four Harry Potter books (as the fifth and sixth had yet to be published), Bridger highlights both the things in Potterworld that are morally encouraging, as well as the things that might make us reflect on the moral state of the world around us.

There's a sort of melancholy as he recounts the empty suites of armor in the fourth book, that sing Christmas Carols ("Oh, Come All Ye Faithful" specifically) but forget half the words. It's perhaps an unintended commentary on our culture's forgetfulness of Christ's place in Christmas. However there is also hope.

"We should not, of course, blame Rowling as the messenger for bringing us the bad news. We should not even blame ourselves as Christians for having let the situation get so bad. We should, instead, concentrate on finding imaginative and inventive ways of helping people to learn the proper lyrics to the carols they happily sing, and of putting Christ back into the empty armor of Christmas." - pg. 93

Bridger also shows how Potterworld challenges us to balance faith and logic (or science/rationalism). To look beyond the surface of our preconceived notions of reality and be willing to experience wonders we might not see with human (Muggle) eyes. Bridger touches on sacrificial love, redemption by blood, mercy, and other Christian concepts that evidence themselves in Rowling's world.

He does not however say the Harry Potter books are above criticism, only that "our criticism must be the concerned and compassionate criticism of a friend, not the spiteful and self-righteous criticism of a foe." - pg 140

This is perhaps the greatest strength of "A Charmed Life". It's ability to recognize the flaws of Potterworld and yet still see it's potential. Faith, hope, and love could easily describe the tone of this criticism, and it could be argued that these three virtues are deeply woven into Harry Potter's story.

Bridger concludes that, while Potter world may only be a dim reflection of Biblical virtues, there are virtues, and this reflection could be used to open the door to the Gospel.

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