Harry Potter Year 1-3

 

What Is It?

This is the super popular series about an average boy growing into teen and adulthood while attending a boarding school for “witches.” The series seems to hook you with the fantasy aspects and then keep you with the true to life coming of age stories.

It starts in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with the discovery of his (Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter) powers and his integration into a new world. He discovers that his parents died to protect him from the most powerful evil wizard ever. He is thus the only one to ever survive an encounter with the evil wizard Voldemort. This makes him a celebrity for a little while, but he quickly falls in with the underdogs.

In the second film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, he goes back to school and has to deal with strange voices and people being frozen. It seems that a secret chamber has been opened, and it causes a new wave of prejudice against Mudbloods (a half mortal, half wizard – a “mud blood”).

Then, in the third year, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, he runs away from his “mortal home” only to find a former friend of his dad’s is now an escaped wizard coming to kill Harry. Now that this wizard, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), is on the loose, the school is being guarded by dementors – dark robed figures, a cross between “The Grim Reaper” and a “Ring Wraith“. With the help of the new “Defense against the Dark Arts” teacher (the third in so many years.) Harry will try to overcome all that is coming for him.

In all three movies, Harry continues to be picked on by Malfoy (Tom Felton) and other peers at the school. He is intimidated by a teacher named Snape. (Alan Rickman) He is mentored by a professor named Dumbledore. (Michael Gambon) At the center of it all, he is has a growing relationship with the too smart for her own good Hermione  (Emma Watson) and the upper-average Ron.(Rupert Grint)

How Was It?

(NOTE: at this point I have only read the first and third book.)

There is a huge effort to stay true to the source material. The author, J.K. Rowling,  is consulted on all the films. If you have read the books, you will get to see everything. In the first movie, there was a plot line about a pet dragon that was cut out, but they made sure that it was mentioned and that we got to see the dragon on the screen. It almost seems as though the books and movies are made to be used together.

They have a “live action cartoon” feel, and include long dialog explaining all the new rules for the world so that some of this makes sense. This makes more sense in the first movie, but becomes tiresome as things go on.

The acting is stellar – if these kids can break the typecast their careers are unstoppable. (And if they have a good accountant, after this series their bank accounts will be unstoppable.)

The first was the best. They continue to get darker, which isn’t a bad thing. Still, it can feel like they are adding “darkness” to make up for any absence of continuing depth.

The effects get better as their budgets grow. Though the subject mater will draw constant comparisons, this series will never get to the technical level of Lord of the Rings, but that doesn’t matter if you see it as a kid’s movie with an edge.

Is it good for Children?

I have a few thoughts on this:

First, some of this may be scary to kids. Unfortunately for the worried parent, each movie is a step deeper into the wood, so if one film seems okay for your child, the next probably will not be.

You can check Screenit.com for a complete break down of what is on the screen.

My second thought is just my “artsy snob” side coming out. These are well done films based on well done books. This being said, these themes and styles of characters are done much better in other places (The Chronicles of Narnia, Dracula and The Lord of the Rings). It’s sad to me to see so many kids with this as the standard to which all fantasy is judged.

And finally…

What About Spiritual Issues?

The first problem most of the Christian community sees in this series is the use of magic. Yes, the Bible condemns it. Yes, it is flaunted in these books and movies and the only people who think poorly about witchcraft are given a horrid sounding name and are characters of unthinking hatred, fitting of a Roald Dahl book.

The magic here is from an undetermined source. (This differs from “Lord of the Rings” where all power is attributed to either the Author of Evil, or the Creator and Ruler of Good.) Yes, this uses the term witch, and yes, this could cause a child to look into or stumble upon the fastest growing religion in American high schools. (I personally know a witch who first though to leave the church for a coven after being introduced to Harry.) This becomes more confused in the third film. There is a creature that has no power but to come to you in the form of whatever scares you the most. The spell to defeat the boggart is to think of the object of your fear in a silly way (such as imagining the scary man in a funny dress or the giant spider flopping around on roller skates). Once you have the silliness in mind you say the magic word “Riddikulus.” Though your child will never be attacked by a “boggart” this does include some advice with a lot of common sense. But that is not the point of these stories.

The thing that will continue to draw people to Harry is the familiar in the midst of that fantastic. Harry lives his life in a school. He’s not the most popular, he’s not the teachers pet, and he’s not the smartest. He’s just a regular kid trying to deal with life as a student. The way he interacts with his teachers and fellow students is what kids are going to take out of this. Here we see that as long as you have a “good” reason for it, breaking the rules is not only okay, it’s necessary. This begins at Harry’s first broom class where they are told to stay off their brooms until the teacher returns. When a bully steals a boy’s glasses, Harry mounts his broom and retrieves the glasses. He is caught on the broom. The consequence – he’s made the seeker on the Quiddich team (the equivalent to a freshman being named quarterback.) Hermione tells him that this may make him think that breaking rules is good, but he will find out otherwise. I though the story would play out to teach Harry that lesson. Hermione and I were wrong. In a scene where the truth is very reasonable, Hermione makes up a lie for the teachers to keep her friends out of trouble. From there on in we know that deception and rule breaking for the sake of friends, family and justice is the only rule to follow at Hogwarts School. In fact, in the book it specifically states (around page 96) that Hermione was a much better friend now that she knew the rules were not that important.

Even if this line is not in the film, the idea is reinforced again and again. At the end of the first movie, Headmaster Dumbledore explains that he hid things in places that were off limits knowing Harry would need them and find them there. The second movie ends with Dumbledore explaining to Harry that he has broken almost every rule in the Hogwart’s book. After this mock scolding Harry is told that he will be receiving the highest award a student can receive. In the third film Harry is restricted to the school for his own protection. He is given a map that shows him where everyone is, thus allowing him to be able to sneak out at will. (In the book you find out that this map was authored by Harry’s father.) The sneaking around then helps the real bad guy get caught. The map is called “The Marauder’s Map” It is opened by solemnly swearing that the user is “up to no good” and closed by saying “mischief managed.” These magic words also open and close the cast and credits rolling at the end.

What Is Your Recommendation?

I do not think that we need any more encouragement to think that we are a law unto ourselves. Children and young people are at stages where they are still deciding if they will fight their impulses to disobey their teachers and authorities. I can not see this series helping them to make the right decision. (It blows my mind to think that there are teachers all over this country embracing and encouraging a series about a kid that accomplishes good by means of disobeying his teachers.)

Still, there is an interesting twist to all this. Though most of the “magic” has unknown origins, there is a power that Harry has that can fend off the most powerful of evil. This power comes directly from the sacrificial love of his parents. In a story that rebels against all the basic tenants of Christianity, it’s fascinating to see that at the center there is a longing for love that is embodied in the person of Jesus.

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