On Harry Potter

Exploring the Dark Side

By Christopher J. Patrick, Ph.D.

What accounts for the unprecedented appeal of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels among readers of all ages around the world? Could it be the magical places, people, and events that populate each book–including Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; endearing characters such as Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Hagrid; ghosts, goblins, trolls, centaurs, dragons, unicorns, and other mythical creatures; the game of Quidditch, played at lightning speeds high above the ground on flying broomsticks; Diagon Alley, Gringotts Bank, Flourish and Blotts bookstore, Ollivander’s wand shop; the Sorting Hat at Hogwarts; the Weasleys’ flying car? Could it be the heroic characters of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, and the unique friendship they share? Could it be the important challenges they face together during each passing year at Hogwarts, depicted in each successive book? Or . . . could it be the themes of evil, darkness, destruction, and murder that permeate the novels?

Wait a minute! Darkness, evil, murder, and destruction? In the whimsical world of Harry Potter? Can this be the case? The Potter books are supposed to be entertainment for kids, right? Of course. The books are enormously popular among children of all ages. But themes of evil and death are featured prominently in many classic children’s fairytales (examples include Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Snow White), and one needn’t delve far into the Potter books before encountering evil of the worst kind. Early in the first book of the series, we learn that Harry’s parents  …

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