Exclusive LifeSiteNews Interview on July 20, 2011
Editor’s Note: The July 18 LifeSiteNews story, Harry Potter expert criticizes Vatican newspaper’s glowing review of Deathly Hallows 2, was widely read and elicited many comments both pro and con, especially regarding the statements of Potter critic Michael O’Brien. In response to this, LifeSiteNews conducted an additional, in-depth interview with O’Brien to allow him to expand on his views and respond to some of the many comments readers posted beneath the story.
In the interview O’Brien explains why he became involved in critiquing the Harry Potter series, his views on why the series has become so popular and the astonishing and at times hateful criticism that Potter critics have received, such as O’Brien himself being called “the anti-Christ” by a Potter fan. O’Brien also answers the question of what he means by “the evil means” used by Harry to defeat Voldemort, why Harry Potter is not just “entertainment”, why it is appropriate for LifeSiteNews to cover the Harry Potter issue, how Rowling’s pro-homosexual views may be reflected in the novels, and more:
LIFESITENEWS: How did you become involved in critiquing Harry Potter in the first place? What sparked that interest?
O’BRIEN: As the editor of a Catholic family magazine in the early 1990s I began to receive letters from parents asking my opinion on a new phenomenon that was appearing in children’s literature, with greater frequency. I really had no opinion on it, and then well meaning people began to give such books to our children for birthday presents, or urged them upon our family, and I thought, “Well, thank you, but I think I’ll take a closer look at the material first.”
The more I read, and the more I researched, the more I realized there was a radical change happening in the literature, and culture in general, and especially in material aimed at young people. Certainly, the themes were increasingly violent, although to some degree children’s literature has always had an element of violence.
More worrisome was the corrupting of Western civilization’s traditional symbols of good and evil, and also the growing presentation of occult powers as the way to defeat evil, as though occult powers were morally neutral.
LIFESITENEWS: So this is more than just about Harry Potter. There were a number of other book series as well.
O’BRIEN: Yes, this has been going on for quite a long time. Some influential writers have promoted these themes, beginning in the 1950s and accelerating, until with the appearance of Harry Potter we have a worldwide phenomenon of unprecedented power and grip on the imagination of a generation. Potter is unique in the history of literature; nothing like it has ever happened before.
LIFESITENEWS: How do you account for it? What has made it so popular?
O’BRIEN: Part of it is due to the fact that J.K. Rowling is a talented storyteller, but she has also used the style and technique of modern television and cinema media, which seizes the imagination by pummelling it, bombarding it with powerful stimuli, in a rapid pace, with plenty of emotional rewards. So, in the matter of style alone she has made a major change in the way stories are told, and how they are read.
Most important, she has taken the paganization of children’s culture to the next step, in which sorcery and witchcraft—traditionally allied with supernatural evil—is now presented as morally neutral. In the hands of “nice” people it’s an instrument for good. In the hands of not-nice people it’s an instrument for evil. She has shifted the battle lines between good and evil, which can have a disorienting effect, especially on the young who are in the stage of formation.
Regardless of how wildly imaginative it may be, good fantasy points us towards ultimate reality, “the moral order of the universe” as J.R.R. Tolkien called it. Corrupt fantasy points us, or forms us, in a consciousness that can lead to thinking that evil is good and good is evil. In the worst case, this may have long range effects, prompting the reader intuitively, subconsciously, to do evil while thinking they’re doing good.
All my critique is about the potential. Nobody whom I know is saying that those who read Potter are destined to plunge into actual witchcraft or sorcery. However, studies conducted by the Barna research group revealed a twelve percent increase in occult activities among Christian students in the U.S.A. after reading the Potter series, and which the students themselves attributed to the books. Serious critics also raise concerns about other effects of saturating the mind in symbols of evil and adventures in which evil and good are redefined.
LIFESITENEWS: Regarding the various types of children’s literature that you’ve critiqued, I gather the strongest reaction by far that you have received has been in response to your writings and comments on the Potter series. Is that correct?
** See the COMPLETE, IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW HERE **