Focus Review: Harry Potter Respects Life

James Dobson may think that Harry Potter is dangerous, but that hasn’t stopped the arm of his Christian media empire that reviews entertainment and pop culture, from releasing an extensive review of “Deathly Hallows.”

And, guess what? We hope this doesn’t get her fired, but Focus on the Family reviewer Julie Smithouser found a multitude of exceedingly positive things to say about the last book in J.K. Rowland’s series. “Excellent character development leaves no doubt as to the value of nobility and morality,” Smithouser writes, going on to praise undeniable themes of friendship and self-sacrifice.

But don’t worry. Smithouse also found stuff to criticize, like “sexual subjects” (as when the werewolf Fehnrir Greyback makes “disturbing, sensual comments); alcohol abuse (Harry drinks firewhiskey); and the use of “crude and profane language” (including “d–n,” “h—,” “b–ch,” “bleedin'” and “effing.”)Further, violence peppers almost every chapter, Smithouser writes. In fact, “some of the imagery would do Stephen King proud.” There’s rotting flesh and snake attacks. Characters die – and worse. “In several places, Harry contemplates the `peace’ of giving up.”

And there are the insinuations of “mercy killing,” the reviewer notes. Still, Smithouse writes, “despite such musings and enticements, it could be argued that, on the whole, the book is more often respectful of life.

The review appeared Tuesday on Focus on the Family’s PluggedIn Website, which analyzes TV shows, movies and popular culture in the evangelical Christian worldview. (It’s motto: “Entertainment is a potent influence on our culture for both good and evil.”)

Last week, Dobson, the founder of Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, issued a stinging retort after the Washington Post mistakenly claimed that he had “praised” the popular Harry Potter series. Rather, the correction noted, “Dobson believes their focus is on the occult and therefore potentially dangerous.”

This week’s PluggedIn review extensively praises the last in the Harry Ptter series, and then offers up critiques. Here is the conclusion:

Conclusion:?As confusing and troubling as it may seem to have a lightning bolt-branded boy-wizard as a Christ figure, J.K. Rowling tries to create one in Harry. But while he is “savior,” he is also He-Who-Must-Be-Saved. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows conjures a world that practically begs for something to have faith in.

Rowling’s mythology is closest in construction to that of J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, but it doesn’t give evidence of godly faith in any of the ways their stories do. Time columnist Lev Grossman noticed this when he wrote, “If you want to know who dies in Harry Potter, the answer is easy: God. Harry Potter lives in a world free of any religion or spirituality of any kind. He lives surrounded by ghosts but has no one to pray to, even if he were so inclined, which he isn’t. … What does Harry have instead of God? Rowling’s answer, at once glib and profound, is that Harry’s power comes from love. This charming notion represents a cultural sea change. In the new millennium, magic comes not from God or nature or anything grander or more mystical than a mere human emotion.

In choosing Rowling as the reigning dreamer of our era, we have chosen a writer who dreams of a secular, bureaucratized, all-too-human sorcery, in which psychology and technology have superseded the sacred.”

There is no doubt that J.K. Rowling will be remembered as one of the most well-read writers of our age. She will also be remembered for ignoring the simple truth of a very old-and sacred-text: We love because He first loved us.

Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential, and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at

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