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Harry Potter finding more fans among Christians

By Jennifer Garza -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Saturday, July 16, 2005

Four years ago, Connie Neal attended a Christian booksellers convention and was widely criticized for her book about Harry Potter.
This year, at the same conference held this week in Denver, the reaction was different.

"People approached me and thanked me," says Neal, who has now written two books about Christians and Potter. "They said they finally read the books or saw the movie and they weren't what they thought."

Connie Neal with her first book about the Christian perspective on the "Harry Potter" series.
Sacramento Bee file, 2001/Chris Crewell

While some religious leaders still criticize the "Harry Potter" books - the pope has reportedly expressed concern about them, and a Texas pastor plans a book-burning - Neal believes the books have gained a greater acceptance among Christians who may have been reluctant to have their children read them a few years ago.

"I think they saw that none of the dire predictions about kids turning to the occult came true," says Neal, who lives in Antelope. "The kids saw it for what it was - a fairy tale."

The debate over the use of magic and wizardry in the books is sure to be renewed with the release of the sixth book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." The fourth movie, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," is scheduled to open Nov. 18.

The story of an orphan with magical powers and his friends at a school for would-be wizards has captivated millions. But the theme has also caused a stir among some Christians who believe the books promote witchcraft. Pastors have preached parental caution regarding the books, and most Christian bookstores refuse to carry the "Potter" series.

Berean Christian Store in Sacramento does not carry the books. "It doesn't meet our criteria. I know it would make some of our customers unhappy," says Leslie Garcia, store manager.

Garcia's store did, however, carry another fantasy series - "The Lord of the Rings."

"Those were different because they had a Christian frame of reference," says Garcia. But even then, she says, some customers complained.

Garcia does agree with Neal that more Christians are accepting the "Potter" books: "I know a lot of people have read them. My grandchildren have read them."

Neal, who has written "What's a Christian To Do With Harry Potter?" (WaterBrook Press, $2.99, 224 pages) and "The Gospel According to Harry Potter" (Westminster John Knox Press, $14.95, 166 pages), says many of the most vocal opponents of the "Potter" books have never read them.

She adds that there are many biblical themes running through the series.

"Harry's mother dies so Harry could live. That's pretty obvious, don't you think?" says Neal. "That's only one of more than 50 parallels."

Neal says kids see the good vs. evil theme and apply it to their own lives.

At this week's book conference, several children mentioned the location of one of the bombings in London last week, Neal says. One hit King's Cross Station, which in the "Potter" books is where Harry and his friends catch the train to Hogwarts, the wizard school.

"Because Harry faces evil, they feel they can, too," says Neal.


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