Book Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

It’s time for a new feature of ABF: Book reviews! I have done plenty of movie reviews, but so far there have been no book reviews.  I am thinking that there might be some serious reviews in the future on theological and devotional books, but let’s start with something far more important: Harry Potter!

It seems that every Christian has an opinion on the fantasy genre and Harry Potter in particular.  Some (fundamentalist and very conservative evangelicals) think it is a tool of the devil; some (moderate evangelical to liberal Christians) think it is no big deal.

I read “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” a couple of months ago, but alas it is not fresh enough in my mind to really review it.  I am willing to let my 14 year old and 12 year old kids read it, but not my 9 year old or 6 year old! Some background in this endeavor is probably helpful.  My kids are VORACIOUS readers, and they come by that honestly.  I was taught to love to read as a kid so I love that my kids read.  My two oldest kids love to read too, and we work hard to help them know the difference between reality and fantasy.  Because they know the difference, we let them read the Star Wars EU and they are voracious readers of fantasy books.  In that vein I am reading the Harry Potter books to see if they are okay for them.  What follows are my thoughts.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” is the second in JK Rowling’s series. The plot synopsis can be found on Wikipedia, but in a thumbnail here it is: Harry Potter is a wizard in his second year studying wizardry at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  He is an orphan and a special guy, and this book is about Harry and his friends battling the evil Lord Voldemort and saving Hogwarts.

Caveat: if you believe that all fantasy genre is not okay for Christians, then stop reading.  This book is not for you.  End of subject.  If you think it can be okay, then read on.

The Good:

First off, JK Rowling is a good writer.  I thoroughly enjoyed the plot of the book and never once felt like it was a formula or that I knew what was coming next.  It held my attention from start to finish.  I read through it over 24 hours; once I started it kept me turning pages!

Second, Harry faces several conundrums and his desire to choose right over wrong is admirable.  He is very loyal to his friends, to Hogwarts, and to Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts.  He risks his own life to save another person and never considers the cost of saving someone else.  He is very kind to others and doesn’t desire fame or fortune.

The best part of the book, in my opinion, was Harry’s discussion at the very end of the book with Dumbledore about why the Sorting Hat put him in Gryffindor rather than Slytherin.  Dumbledore’s insistence that our choices mean at least as much as our inclinations is significant.

I also think that there are some significant themes here about jumping to conclusions, about gossip, and about thinking that we know people by the image that they present.  There are several plot lines about people being misunderstood, which play well with kids and adults alike. 

I love how the Weasley family works.  Mrs. Weasley gets very upset at her sons for breaking rules and holds them accountable, but the love and self-sacrifice of this family is a big deal in the book.  They stand in stark contrast to the Dursleys, and while they are less affluent they are rich in love and good works.  They take good care of Harry.

The Bad:

Certainly, my biggest beef with this series is the treatment Harry receives at the hands of the Dursley’s, his aunt, uncle, and cousin.  Their treatment of him goes beyond cruel and becomes criminal in my opinion.  They are ridiculously mean and hateful to Harry, in a way that isn’t necessary to the plot but doesn’t overwhelm it.

Harry gets away with a lot of rule breaking.  Though he and Ron and Hermione get their fair share of punishment, they disregard instructions a lot and get into life-threatening trouble for it.

This is small, but Harry has a LOT of money.  The Weasleys take him in and care for him, but when Harry costs Mr. Weasley a LOT of money there is never any thought to Harry providing for that need, even knowing that the Weasleys do not have the money and Harry has more than he can spend.

Overall:

I really liked this book.  I will let our oldest 2 kids (14 and 12) read it; they are voracious readers and can chew the meat and spit the bones.  The younger two (9 and 6) couldn’t handle the suspense yet.

I think that for adults, this book has lots to commend it.  It’s easy to read, engaging, and fun.

For kids, I always recommend parents treat every child as an individual and read anything they read beforehand.  I think as a rule that kids 12 and up who know reality from fantasy should enjoy this book a lot, and it can spark some significant discussions on friendship, on decision making, and on choices in life.  If your family does not have a moral objection to fantasy reading, it’s good stuff.

Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I hope your Thanksgiving is filled with the blessing of knowing that God is at work in your life.

So what are you thankful for?  This year, I am grateful for some unusual stuff.  It’s been a very difficult year for us in some ways.  I have had my eyes opened to some significant pride issues in my own life and some ways in which I thought I was honoring God and was instead standing in His ways.  I have watched Laura go through some difficult struggles and had to stand by while she did.  I had to resign my position at Phoenix Seminary to have more time to be at home and be a better husband and father.

Here is where you’d expect me to list some balancing blessings.  Instead, I am actually grateful for the paragraph above and all it entails.  It has been difficult, but it has been necessary.  God has used it to grow me and grow my family in some amazing ways, and for that I am very grateful.  We are different in November 2011 than we were in 2010; that change came and continues to come via these revelations.

How about you? Where is God at work in you this year? What are you thankful for that others might not understand or appreciate?

The Heart of the Matter

This Sunday our elder who oversees finances said he needed to ask me a question about how to handle a gift in the offering, which was odd. (I am normally not involved in the offering at all)  I asked him what was up, and he gave me these:

CEC tokens
First, we all had a good laugh.  Hey, skee ball for the pastoral staff! 🙂 (okay, if you look close it’s actually 2 Chuck E. Cheese tokens and 1 Cabela’s token…so skee ball and animatronic shooting gallery!) Then I thought about it some more, and thought about how Jesus handled the same issue.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”” (Luke 21:1–4, ESV)

I can just imagine the disciples around Jesus looking at those coins (they were worth about a half penny each) and having a good chuckle. “Awww…isn’t that sweet?” Jesus, though, thought the world of that gift.  He saw the heart behind the gift and honored it.  He knew that the amount was not the key, but the sacrificial heart that prompted it that was important.

Some little one in our congregation wanted to honor God by giving of their finances this past Sunday, and they had some tokens to give.  What is not much to most of us, to them was probably all that they had.  And I think that honors God a great deal.

If we look at the larger principle, how often do we not serve God, honor Him, obey Him, and worship Him because we think our offering is too small? How often do we look at the outside rather than the inside, the effect rather than the heart? And are we willing to look past the appearance to see how God sees?

How about you? Do you look for the heart? Are you giving God your all, no matter how small? Are you focused on the activity or on the heart behind it?