Rowling Said to Pen Potter-Universe Film Trilogy

Image: Daniel Ogren
Image: Daniel Ogren

According to Cinemablend, J. K. Rowling herself is adapting her Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them for a trilogy of films, the first of which is set to arrive in 2016. “The story is expected to pick up some seventy years before Harry Potter set foot in Hogwarts, and would follow fictional Fantastic Beasts author Newt Scamander during his exploration of the subject,” Cinemablend reports.

I confess that after the inflation of the Hobbit films to a ridiculous total length, I’m worried about the adaptation of even scrawnier source material for a trilogy. But, given Rowling’s direct involvement with the project, perhaps she’ll come up with a rich enough story line to actually merit the extensive film treatment. (I’ll see them regardless; I’m just wondering how much I’ll enjoy them.)

Incidentally, this would be a great time to more fully master the Potter universe by reading my lit-crit book, Values of Harry Potter. You can read more about it at

Fans of Harry Potter More Likely to Overcome Bigotry

Image: Jan Arkesteijn
Image: Jan Arkesteijn

“Kids who identify with the hero of J.K. Rowling’s popular fantasy novels hold more open-minded attitudes toward immigrants and gays,” reports Pacific Standard (hat tip to The Week). This is hardly surprising, given the strong anti-bigotry themes of the books. Incidentally, I discuss the various themes of the Potter novels in depth in my book, Values of Harry Potter—which would make a spectacular gift for the young reader in your life.

Harry Potter, Distinguished Toastmaster?

I’ve just published a new article over at the web page for my book, Values of Harry Potter, titled, “Harry Potter’s Magical Communication.” Invoking examples from the Potter novels, I show how the stories offer several lessons for public speakers.

I write, “Tellingly, the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort involves the two of them arguing, alone, in the midst of hundreds of their compatriots. Harry addresses Voldemort, but he speaks to inform the crowd of the truth of Voldemort’s evil and the virtues of Harry’s allies.” Read the whole piece!

This is relevant here: I’d like to congratulate Brad Beck and the other leaders of Liberty Toastmasters for creating a robust and amazingly valuable club. You can meet the future of Colorado’s liberty movement at these meetings.

Incidentally, I’m declaring this Friday “Sirius Black Friday,” in honor of Harry’s godfather. It’s the perfect day to buy my book!

Liberty In Harry Potter

I discuss the liberty themes of the Harry Potter novels in my book, Values of Harry Potter, and I summarize that material in a short talk delivered August 3 for Liberty On the Rocks.

I summarize five obviously pro-liberty themes in the novels: their anti-tyranny story arch, the heroes’ opposition to slavery and oppression, the stories’ acknowledgement that power tends to corrupt, their portrayal of heroes boldly standing up to abusive power, and their portrayal of government at its best as protecting people from criminal harm.

However, I point out, J. K. Rowling tends to be a typical English leftist, hardly a free-market advocate. In the talk I cite her comments about the Labour Party and the socialist Jessica Mitford.

Unsurprisingly, then, from the perspective of economic liberty or classical liberalism, several of the Potter themes are ambiguous regarding liberty. While there is no obvious welfare state in the wizard world, this may mean only that the government is not sufficiently advanced for that. The wizarding government maintains an ambitious regulatory state, controlling things from transportation to dragon breeding to cauldron thickness. Finally, the wizards enforce (limited) segregation from the non-magical Muggles, leading to more controls on wizards and Muggles alike.

Yet, on the whole, the novels are wonderfully pro-liberty, and that’s a big reason I love them so much.

How Not to Read Harry Potter

I’m in the middle of preparing my notes for a talk on the religious themes of Harry Potter. I came across some material that I thought about citing but that’s a bit too goofy to use in the talk. So consider this an outtake.

On her web page, Denise Roper quotes some material from her book, The Lord of the Hallows:

“How in the name of heaven did Harry survive?” asked Professor McGonagall at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (SS 12) This is the first of many examples of how the language of Christianity is used throughout the series. … In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Mr. Weasley asks, “Good lord, is it Harry Potter?” (CS 39) Draco refers to Harry as “Saint Potter, the Mudbloods’ friend.” (CS 223) Dumbledore even leads the Hogwarts students and faculty in “a few of his favorite carols” at Christmastime. (CS 212) In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban the manager of Flourish and Blotts says “thank heavens” (PA 53)… and Remus Lupin says “My God.” (PA 363) … In these numerous references and in many others, there is evidence of a belief in the Christian God in the world of Harry Potter. (The Lord of the Hallows pages 69-70) [Various page numbers Roper cites include abbreviations for the relevant Potter book.]

My initial response to that is simply: “Oh my God.”

For good measure, Roper adds:

[T]here are jokes about a wizard being “saint-like” or “holy” (George on page 74 [of Deathly Hallows]). That George Weasley would call himself “holy” (“hole-y”) refers to his missing ear, which was cursed off during a battle with the Death Eaters. St. George was a Christian saint…”

Sorry, but that’s just silly.

To take but one example, Lupin says “My God” when he discovers that Scabbers the rat is actually Peter Pettigrew. Obviously he’s using the phrase as an expression of surprise, akin to “unbelievable.” We live in a culture with deep Christian roots, so it’s not surprising that people often use religious-sounding language in basically non-religious contexts. Tons of people say things like “God damn it,” “Jesus Christ,” “Christ Almighty,” “Lord help us,” and so on, when they don’t actually intend any religious meaning.

If religious humor is enough to indicate religiosity, then I have a few to tell you about the priest who walks into a bar.

Now, it’s true that the mere presence of words like “Christmas” in Rowling’s magical world indicates a shared religious tradition with the Muggles. That’s not surprising; the stories are set in England, and wizards do not formally segregate themselves from the non-magical Muggle world until 1689 (see page 13 of The Tales of Beedle the Bard.) But the incidental use of Christian language indicates nothing more profound than that.

Roper also makes some valid points about the religious themes in Harry Potter, but, to learn about such topics, you’d do much better to read my essay for eSkeptic“Religion in Harry Potter.” Or read my book.


Anonymous commented August 2, 2011 at 7:52 AM
Hi Ari,

When viewed through a strict Christian lens, Harry Potter is nothing more than black magic and witchcraft.

Ari commented August 2, 2011 at 8:02 AM
The comment by anonymous is false, for reasons I explain here:


Anonymous commented August 4, 2011 at 7:44 AM

According to the Holy Bible, if it is not the Holy Spirit, it is Black Magic.

You pick where Harry gets his power.

Anonymous commented August 4, 2011 at 8:02 AM
I followed the link you provided. I read it. You are a good writer however this is no substitute for your lack of Biblical understanding and lack of Biblical Faith. Using David Kopel, a man I know and respect, is no excuse. David’s comparison of Harry Potter and CS Lewis is a mistake by David. CS Lewis purposely used subject matter children could relate with, to spread the message of the Holy Bible. The chosen tactics of CS Lewis are questionable as he did have a past with the occult prior to conversion. To compare CS Lewis to Harry Potter implies J.K. Rowling was also using an understandable subject matter to transport the Christian doctrine. David Kopel and his comparison are irrelevant and misleading. Shame on David.
As an avid reader of the Holy bible, I can say this. God is incredibly possessive. If it does not originate with Him and glorify Him, it is from the dark one. In Gods Eyes, there is no in-between.

Ari commented August 4, 2011 at 9:21 AM
… and I think “anonymous” has successfully self-parodied!

antiplanner commented June 21, 2012 at 9:21 AM
So automobiles, computers, and refrigerators, none of which “originated with Him,” must all be from “the dark one.”

Psychology and Harry Potter’s Scar

I have a new video out briefly explaining my take on Harry Potter’s scar, which connects Harry to Voldemort. We should not view this is some sort of original sin, but instead as our psychological potential to let ourselves be overtaken by bitterness and rage to the point that we betray our values.

Update: On July 13, eSkeptic published my article, “Religion in Harry Potter.” This week eSkeptic published “Harry Potter and Jesus Christ,” Tim Callahan’s review of Harry Potter Jesus Christ. I will address this later; for now I will say merely that I’m underwhelmed. But read my article and the new one and see what you think.

Check out my book, Values of Harry Potter.

Reaction to ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’

The final film based on J. K. Rowling’s novels, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, is a fabulous movie, featuring great production and effects and fine acting. I especially enjoyed the addition of Ciaran Hinds as Aberforth, Albus Dumbledore’s brother. Michael Gambon turns in his best performance as Albus, and it is wonderful to see Gary Oldman (briefly) return as Harry’s godfather.

My wife and I watched the double feature, and viewing the two parts back to back was definitely the way to go. The second part returns to Dobby’s grave, giving his death some of weight and emotional impact lacking in the first part.

We saw the film in 3D, which seemed distracting at first, but I quickly got used to it. I didn’t think I’d enjoy the 3D, but it did give the both the architecture of the castle and the interactions of the characters lifelike depth.

The rest of this review contains spoilers.

After the three leads leave the safe house on the beach, their first major test comes with breaking into Gringotts bank. Here the effects and cinematography become especially stunning with the rail ride to the vaults. Helena Bonham Carter, still dressed as Bellatrix, carries Hermione’s persona perfectly, and her misplaced courteous vulnerability creates a lot of fun. (Also, Emma Watson’s Hermione looks awesome in the black witch’s dress.)

Soon we meet Aberforth outside Hogwarts castle. Unfortunately, while Ariana Dumbledore’s image appears in a painting, we learn little about her backstory. Thus, the film leaves viewers mostly ignorant of Albus’s past mistakes and redemption, something central to the final novel. True, even a two-part film must omit some elements of a lengthy novel, but the film devotes a hefty sequence to a trivial exchange between Harry and a Hogwarts ghost.

The trio’s return to the school and reunion with the other students bear the expected excitement and triumph.

The first battle sequence plays forcefully, filled with drama and impressive effects. This transitions well into Harry’s eventual confrontation with Voldemort. Snape’s backstory, including his love for Harry’s mother, comes across exceptionally well. (Much of the last half of the film drew audible sobbing from among the audience, largely due to this sequence.) And Alan Rickman performs the part in tragic beauty; he’s perfect, really. And both the resurrection of Harry’s parents and guardians and the King’s Cross segment come across very well.

Unfortunately, I thought the film muddles the final battle a bit. For no reason that I can detect, the film alters Neville’s killing of the snake, and it totally discards the final public dialogue between Harry and Voldemort. That’s too bad, because that meaningful exchange serves to educate the partisans of both sides about the basic facts concerning Voldemort and Snape.

I really enjoyed the epilogue, except it inexplicably shortchanges the son of Lupin and Tonks, wasting the earlier setup of his appearance.

In all, it is a great movie and a deeply emotional and satisfying conclusion to the series.

For in-depth analysis of the themes of the novels, see my book, Values of Harry Potter.

Values, Religion, and Politics in Harry Potter

I’ve taken three shorter videos from my interview with Diana Hsieh about my book, Values of Harry Potter.

In the first, I discuss the basic values of the novels. Harry and his allies fight for their lives and safety, for the safety of loved ones, and for a wold in which they can live and work in peace, free from tyranny.

In the second, I discuss the religious elements of the novels. (See also my follow-up note about Ratzinger’s letter.)

Finally, I discuss the political themes of the novels, particularly the corruption of the Ministry of Magic and the rise of Voldemort’s tyranny.

The Pope and Harry Potter

Did Joseph Ratzinger condemn the Harry Potter novels before he became Pope?

In my book Values of Harry Potter, I write on page 10: “Before he became Pope, Joseph Ratzinger warned Catholics to beware the books’ ‘subtle seductions,’ according to Catholic News Service.” My source is a January 15, 2008, story by Cindy Wooden titled, “Writers in Vatican newspaper debate lessons of Harry Potter novels.”

In my article published just yesterday by eSkeptic, “Religion in Harry Potter,” I use a different source to make the same point. I write, “Before he became Pope, Joseph Ratzinger said the books threaten to ‘corrupt the Christian faith’…” For this I use a January 16, 2008, article by Katherine Phan of Christianity Today, “Vatican slams Harry Potter as ‘wrong kind of hero.'”

However, in his 2008 book How Harry Cast His Spell — which I also cite in my eSkeptic piece — John Granger claims the story about Ratzinger is false (see pages 266-67). Is it true that “Pope Benedict XVI has condemned Harry Potter,” Granger asks? He writes that LifeSiteNews “started this absurd Skeeter effect that won’t go away.” (Rita Skeeter is the corrupt and deeply dishonest journalist in the Potter series.) To Granger, claims that Ratzinger “commented on [the Potter novels] critically” is “laughable.”

Granger writes, “[A]n article in the Catholic News Service the week the LifeSiteNews post was made… denied the Pope had taken a position on the matter.” Granger continues, “The Harry Potter books… have not been opposed, condemned, or criticized by any agency or person of authority in the Vatican… The Pope certainly hasn’t spoken on the subject. … The Pope doesn’t oppose Harry Potter.”

However, while Granger accuses LifeSiteNews of bogus Rita Skeeter-like journalism, in fact it is Granger who is distorting the record.

The LifeSiteNews article of July 13, 2005, “Pope Opposes Harry Potter Novels” (which was apparently updated at some point) includes a translated transcript of Ratzinger’s letter. (Granger suggests the letter may have been written by “a page in [Ratzinger’s] office,” but regardless the note carries Ratzinger’s name.)

The web page makes available a scanned copy of the letter. It is written on the letterhead of “Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger” and dated March 7, 2003. While English translations may vary, the letter clearly talks about the possible “subtle seduction” (“subtile Verführengen”) of the novels. The letter also talks about corrupting the soul (“das Christentum in der Seele zersetzen”).

Is Granger correct that another article “denied the Pope had taken a position on the matter?” No.

It turns out that Cindy Wooden also wrote the July 14, 2005, article forCatholic News Service, “New attention given to 2003 Cardinal Ratzinger letter on Harry Potter.” Here is what Wooden writes:

In the cardinal’s letter, excerpted on [recipient Gabriele] Kuby’s Web site and published widely since late June, he praised the author’s attempt to ‘enlighten people about Harry Potter’ and the possible ‘subtle seductions’ that can distort children’s thinking before they mature in the Christian faith.

Contrary to Granger’s suggestion, the article does not deny that Ratzinger took a position on the Potter novels. Instead, Wooden writes:

Although the Vatican press office July 14 said it would have no comment on the letter since Pope Benedict XVI and his secretary were on vacation in the northern Italian Alps, a former Vatican official said Harry Potter books must be read as children’s literature, not theology.

Granger seems to be playing something of a game here. He says “the Pope” has not taken a position on the Potter novels, but that doesn’t change the fact that Ratzinger in fact took a critical position, before he became Pope. And that remains the interesting point.