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Hi, I’m Given Hoffman. I’m an author of young adult novels, an international blogger on Christian worldview, and a fiction writing coach. The topic of magic has long interested me as a reader, writer, and as a Christian, because I love discussing how a person’s worldview impacts what they teach in the stories they write. I’ve spent many an hour researching and talking with writers and readers about what magic is, what the Bible has to say about magic, and what authors and readers should consider when taking on this topic. Ultimately these discussions have led me to write several presentations on this subject and a number of blog posts, including this one.
When it comes to Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, there has long been division over these two series because of their magic content. Some families embrace both book series, other families won’t read either, and many families read LOTR but not HP. Let’s take a look at the magic in these books—what they have in common and what sets them apart.
When discussing magic, it’s important to realize there are three distinctly different types of magic encompassed under our English word “magic.”
—Entertainment Magic (deception and trickery)(stage magic)
—Fantasy Magic (make-believe)(un-real)
—Supernatural Magic (accessed/sourced power)
By definition fantasy as a genre includes imagined elements, so it is very common for fantasy novels to have fantasy magic—like unicorn blood that gives immortality, trees that enchant people, etc.). LOTR and HP are both fantasy series and both contain fantasy magic. LOTR is considered “epic high-fantasy,” and HP is considered “low-fantasy.” This might seem odd until you consider Rowling used the existing world as her backdrop in HP, whereas Tolkien developed a whole new world, races, languages, histories, etc. for LOTR. Both series, however, also have the additional inclusion of supernatural magic.
What exactly is supernatural magic?
Supernatural from Merriam Webster Dictionary [https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/supernatural]
especially : of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil
2. a : departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature
b: attributed to an invisible agent (such as a ghost or spirit)
Magic (supernatural) from Wikipedia [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_(supernatural) ]
“Magic, sometimes spelled magick, is the application of beliefs, rituals or actions employed in the belief that they can manipulate natural or supernatural beings and forces.”
Even though LOTR is considered “high fantasy” it is actually very low in the use of supernatural magic. HP on the other hand is very high in the use of supernatural magic. To illustrate this point, the number of blatant uses of supernatural magic via spells/incantations in the whole LOTR series is roughly equivalent to the same number of uses in one chapter of HP.
Who accesses and/or uses magic in LOTR and HP?
In LOTR, the outright accessing and using of supernatural magic is rare and encountered predominantly among the nonhuman and/or the evil. (Non-humans: wizards, elves, dwarfs, partial-elves, etc.)(The evil: Sauron, the wizard Saruman, servants of the Dark Lord, wraiths, spiders, the Balrog, etc.) Also, it’s important to note that wizards in LOTR are not human.
In HP, the whole “wizarding world,” of which Harry is part, is all about accessing and utilizing supernatural magic. Note, in HP, wizards and witches are humans who wield supernatural magic. They have access to magic through their blood, and at school they learn how to wield magic effectively.
What if anything distinguishes the magic itself and/or its uses as good or evil?
LOTR makes a very clear distinction between good and evil sources of magic, and communicates that all power sourced by evil is corrupted and will corrupt its user by betraying and destroying them. It is also made clear in LOTR that if someone tries to twist even good magic to their will, they and the magic will both be corrupted and end up serving evil. (Which is what we see of Saruman and Boromir in LOTR. It is also what we see Simon wanting to do in Acts 8:18-21).
In HP there is no distinction made between good and evil magic or magic’s source(s) being good or evil, rather the distinction in HP is in how the magic is used. Yet even within illegal, evil, and “unforgivable” uses of magic the standards that actually delineate the uses as good and evil are inconsistent. For instance, murder is called “the supreme act of evil,” but Harry is told by his “good” mentor that he is supposed to murder someone. This seeming ambiguity in HP makes more sense, however, when placed within the contents of white and black magic, not good and evil.
Quote about Magic (supernatural phenomenon) from Encyclopedia Britannica [ https://www.britannica.com/topic/magic-supernatural-phenomenon ]
“A distinction is also made between "black" magic, used for nefarious purposes, and "white" magic, ostensibly used for beneficial purposes.”
Who determines if the magic use is nefarious or beneficial? In HP, each person decides for themselves in the moment if their magic is black or white depending on the specific situation’s circumstances. Therefore, there is no solid moral code as to good and evil in HP.
LOTR is set in a make-believe world and acknowledges powerful good and evil beings who are the sources for the supernatural magic being utilized in the story. LOTR also presents a strident and routine warning against the story heroes trying to pursue gaining power through supernatural magic.
HP is set in the real world; acknowledges God, heaven, hell, and the demonic; and yet makes no connection between God and Satan and the supernatural powers utilized by its characters. Rather the source of magic in HP is said to be “magic” itself. HP also continually promotes the idea of the story heroes pursuing power through supernatural magic.
In other words, these book series have two different approaches to magic and each teach vastly different worldviews about magic.
Two questions I want to leave you with that should be asked when dealing with fantasy:
What kind of magic is in this story?
Does what this story teaches me about magic and right and wrong align with what God says in Scripture?
If you would like to learn more about the different types of magic and what Scripture has to say about magic, click here [ https://whentherocksspeak.wordpress.com/2022/07/11/what-is-magic/ ] to read the blog series Given Hoffman wrote on this topic.
Given Hoffman [ https://givenhoffman.com/ ] is an author of YA novels, an international blogger on Christian worldview, an instructor in communication, and a writing coach. Her fifteen years of experience in the realms of media and communication, has influenced her to help teach others the power of verbal and nonverbal communication, the importance of training in worldview, and the necessity of Biblical discernment. As a homeschool graduate and millennial, Given's greatest passion is teaching and helping parents and teens grow in their Christian faith and communicate well with each other and the world. As an author, Given is best known for her teen suspense novel The Eighth Ransom. [ https://givenhoffman.com/my-books/theeighthransom/ ]