No Wizard Left Behind
Harry Potter and Left Behind are more alike than you might think.
They are the titans of their literary universes.
Of the six best-selling books of the past decade, five have been Harry Potters. "Left Behind," the apocalyptic Christian series by Tim LaHaye * and Jerry B. Jenkins, has sold more than 60 million copies; currently there are four LaHaye-Jenkins books in the Christian-books Top 10.
Suffice it to say, some secular critics dismiss the Left Behind books as of the wackos, by the wackos, for the wackos. Based on the New Testament's Revelation, the series begins with the world's believers disappearing, "raptured" up to heaven. Those "left behind" must struggle through a seven-year ordeal in which the Antichrist comes, much of the population is murdered, and Jesus returns.
Some Christians view Harry Potter as anti-Christian because it glorifies witchcraft. "Where will the fascination and emulation end?" asks Richard Abanes in Fantasy and Your Family. "With experimenting with 'fun' practices like the divination or spellcasting at Hogwarts? With taking college classes on occultism? As Harry Potter fans mature, will they desire to delve deeper into occultism?" J.K. Rowling, he argues, promotes moral relativism because "Harry, Hermione, Ron, Hagrid and other 'good' characters habitually lie, steal, cheat, ignore laws, break rules and disrespect authority." Oh, and Hagrid is an alcoholic.
The series seem to live in parallel universes, as different as books could be. But as we absorb their latest milestones (the upcoming release of the third Potter movie, the recent release of the climactic Left Behind volume), I have bad news for both camps: The two have a lot in common.
Most obviously, in both cases, we see not a fight between individual good guys and bad guys, but a Manichean struggle between good and evil. That's the case in Left Behind from early in the first book. Harry Potter starts out as a more limited skirmish between Harry and the evil sorcerer Voldemort. But by the fifth book, the number of combatants has increased, with the entire wizard cadre the Order of the Phoenix battling a vast conspiracy of Voldemort-worshipers and death-eaters.
The good guys are not believed. Heroism is doubly admirable when the protagonist has to not only fight his enemies, but convince his friends. Harry's classmates don't believe that Voldemort is back, and non-believers don't believe that the Antichrist has arrived.
The evil one cannot stand on his own two feet. In both series, the bad guy must occupy a human "shell." In Left Behind, the devil takes the body of Nicolae Carpathia *, the charming Romanian politician who becomes head of the United Nations (natch), creates a world government, unifies religions, and promotes abortion. In Harry Potter, Voldemort possesses the body of the stuttering professor Quirrell.
Bad guys' wormy sidekicks. Voldemort's helper is Wormtail. In Left Behind, it's the foppish Leon Fortunato and one named Cankerworm. Presumably they were influenced by C.S. Lewis' Wormwood, or Grima Wormtongue in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.
Steven Waldman is editor in chief ofBeliefnet, the leading multifaith spirituality and religion Web site.
Still from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets © 2002 Warner Bros. All rights reserved.