My son hates evil because of Harry Potter.
On a cold January night, Jack and I sat by the fire. He was immersed in a Harry Potter book. I watched him turn pages, eyes racing, shoulders tense. He was near the end. He’s almost there…I thought. Almost at that part….
He put the book down. His eyes were wide and disbelieving.
Whispering, he told me of the grievous wrong he had read in the story.
“I know, Jack. Voldemort is evil, and evil is evil.”
He stared at me for a long time.
“Mom,” he said at last, “I hate evil.”
“Me too, son,” I answered, my heart bursting.
Over the years, many parents have looked at me askance when I share that in our home we seek out stories with dark elements. In addition to the Harry Potter series, a few favorites are The Lord of the Rings, The 100 Cupboards series, The BFG (and others by Roald Dahl), The Chronicles of Prydain, and original fairy tales. We are not sadists who enjoy sadness and fear, nor are we careless with the fragile inner worlds of our little ones. We simply believe that children need to experience darkness in order to love the light.
Children and adults respond differently to moral dilemmas, which is an opportunity to orient children’s affections to God and truth. To adults, glory and fallenness can appear hopelessly mingled, leading to complex dilemmas. To children, however, it is simpler. Good is good, and bad is bad. Far from being a time to shelter them, this is an opportunity to form their souls. When we fail to impart the nature of “bad,” we withhold what they need in order to reject “badness” when it is not so simple anymore. In our home, we have always taught our son the dangers of evil, but it was a story that made him hate it. Through the story, he engaged with truth through an experience of loss, which knit that truth to his soul. Now it is his. He owns it. Why? He loved the character who died and therefore hated the darkness that marred him. His grief caused him to reject the evil that caused it. Our kids’ reactions against darkness in a story gives them, in a sense, skin in the game. If grace inclines, they become invested in goodness by the time the choice between good and evil becomes more complicated in their lives.
When children feel the depth of dark elements in a story, they more fully experience the glory of redemption, which influences how they experience the gospel. Superior authors employ darkness purposefully, in order to generate satisfaction in the resolution. As gatekeepers of our children’s stories, we choose worthy stories on their behalf and then trust the story. Kids feel the weight when Voldemort murders Harry’s parents, when the giants steal children from their beds to eat them in the night, when the ring degrades Gollum to a scheming, crawling wastrel, when Judas senselessly betrays Our Lord to a bloody execution on a Roman cross. Like their heroes in the great stories, they hate the darkness that appears to conquer, and they choose, alongside their heroes, to participate in the light that defeats it. Only then do they viscerally rejoice when Harry defeats Voldemort, Sophie and the BFG imprison the evil giants, Gollum and Frodo destroy the ring, and Christ rises in triumph from the grave.
From this perspective, I look askance at the parents who attempt to hide darkness from their children. I worry for them. It is far more dangerous to hide reality than to reveal it. On a hot July day, I can attempt to protect my children from sun damage through didactic or experiential means. I can lecture my children about the dangers of heat stroke and command them to stay inside, or I can slather them in sunblock and take them to the pool to play. Probably only one of those choices will teach them to love summer. I have the same choices with their spiritual and moral imaginations. I can inform them about the wages of sin and forbid them to engage it; I can also read them a gripping story in which grace and goodness overcome evil. Wise parents do both. What I cannot do is convince them that the heat, and the darkness, do not exist. I will be lying to them, and they will get fried.
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