The Harry Potter juggernaut continues to delight with "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." This installment gets off to a slow start with lots of tangents and a lack of momentum. (This might be because it's an adaptation. Readers always say there is so much in the books that's left out in the movies.) But we don't much care because we know it's going to be good. The actors portraying the three main characters, Harry, Hermione, and Ron, continue to endear and manage to look like they're still in high school. We feel the screws tightening as Lord Voldemort's evil attacks mount and gain strength. Hogwarts School is now subject to tight security. But friendship and young love can flower anywhere and does.
Some of the funniest moments and sweetest touches are the budding romances. Young people should see HBP just for these parts! Too bad every romantic comedy doesn't charm like this. There are mispairings, jealousies, longings and general lovelornness. Ron Weasley eats too many chocolates infused with a love potion intended for Harry. Two girls fight over a recuperating Ron in his sick bed. All of this while being schooled in the intricacies of how to be a powerful wizard without ever resorting to the dark arts, black magic, wrongdoing, evil. Of course, here's "the rub" when it comes to HP.
As Christians, we know that NO magic is good magic or so-called "white magic," or "natural" magic like Wicca. Sorcery is not make-believe. It's real, comes from "below," and is never to be used, even for "the good." Thus, many Christians have shunned the HP books and movies all together. Other Christians maintain that lots of classic fairytales and folk stories contain witches, spells, etc., and that we just need to make sure children and youth know they must never dabble in it themselves. I'm somewhere in the middle on this, because HP presents the use of magic BY young people in such a modern and compelling way, that it seems to me extra precautions need to be taken. However, if I were a parent, I would definitely accompany my child through this cultural phenomenon (allowing them to read/watch), not because it's "inevitable," but because I would want my kids to be equipped to reach the culture, their peers with the Gospel, and that would mean engaging WITH the culture. J. K. Rowling says that she is a Christian, and she has certainly embedded Christian virtues in HP: obedience, love, kindness, truth, loyalty to friends and family, heroism, sacrifice, bravery, etc.
Many of our favorite characters re-appear. Snape (still looking like Trent Reznor twenty years on) is still a bit of a mystery, and we are introduced to all kinds of new gadgets, devices and creatures in Rowling's enchanted world. More and more layers of information and backstory are dispensed. There are some truly Tolkien-esque moments when Dumbledore seems more like Gandalf than himself.
There is a real apprenticeship going on with Dumbledore and Harry. Harry is "the chosen one" (chosen to defeat Voldemort's evil), but he is still young and has a lot to learn. The HP series teaches that none of us can go it alone. Each one plays their part, however humble. Everyone has a strength and a gift that the others need. The professors at Hogwarts know that evil is tricky and that constant vigilance is needed, but they also have to know and trust who is on their staff. They truly form their students to use their consciences and abilities well in difficult situations. HP teaches that love is greater than fear: Harry's mother sacrificed her life for Harry, and he stands ready to make the same kind of sacrifice. Harry is not afraid of his nemesis, Voldemort, or to say his name, as some of the adults are. Truly, our worst enemies are ourselves. As Dumbledore tells the students: YOU yourself can be the worst weapon of those who seek your harm.
Whenever I watch an HP movie, I reflect that there is a REAL spiritual warfare going on around us at all moments: angels, devils, sin, grace, death, eternity, heaven, hell, etc. Do we teach young people this reality in their religious education? Do we stress it? If not, it seems to me we do them a great disservice. They're clearly interested and up for the challenge.