Walk into the Logos Bookstore in Oak Park, Ill., and you’ll find Bibles, the “Left Behind” novels and a lot of other works you’d expect at a Christian shop.
But go to the children’s section, through a make-believe castle door at the back of the store, and you’ll see a series of titles that make Logos unique among its peers: Harry Potter books.
“Our thinking is that because the mainstream public is reading the books, Christians should be aware of them and use them as an opportunity to bring in Christian themes and values,” manager Beth Ann O’Reilly-Amandes said.
The sixth Potter book, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” is scheduled for release in July and Logos expects to sell it even though J.K. Rowling’s fantasy series has long been attacked by Christian groups because of its themes of magic and wizardry. Some libraries have pulled Potter from their shelves and, in 2001, the Pennsylvania-based Harvest Assembly of God Church burned some of Rowling’s books, along with other allegedly “anti-Christian materials.”
Not surprisingly, the vast majority of Christian booksellers have avoided Potter. While many say they have no personal objections, they believe that patrons would object to having Potter books on sale.
“I know a lot of Christians who read them and enjoy them, but it just wouldn’t fit with what our customers expect of us,” said Chris Childers, owner of the Georgia-based Macon Christian Bookstore and chairman of the Christian Booksellers Association’s board of directors.
But O’Reilly-Amandes believes the Potter books fit the store’s mission to bring in more customers. The Oak Park Logos is part of a 30-store chain in the United States, Canada and the Bahamas that targets both Christians and non-Christians. The philosophy is to attract “hidden people,” including those who don’t shop in religious bookstores, and “are completely unaware of the wealth of Christian literature written on their level and addressed to their needs.”
Books ‘would cause an uproar’However, among Logos stores, the Oak Park retailer is an exception when it comes to Potter. A Logos member in Jacksonville, Fla., the Oasis Christian Bookstore & Coffee Shop, does not stock the books because of “the community we live in,” said inventory manager Quinn Parman. “It would probably cause more of an uproar than it would be worth.”
At Logos of Ohio, based near Kent State University, store manager Shane Cardos said he has read all the Potter books and enjoyed them, but didn’t think it was “worth the fight” to actually sell them.
“I’ve had people complain about the ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and I feel like I’ve got good reasons for carrying that,” Cardos said. “But with the Harry Potter books, I don’t have the same number of arguments to use that would justify carrying them.”
O’Reilly-Amandes said that the Potter books are popular with her customers and that she is ordering 100 copies of “Half-Blood Prince,” comparable to what she would order for one of the “Left Behind” novels, the million-selling apocalyptic series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.
Her store carries other secular works, including Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” which has angered Catholics by implying that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. The Oak Park Logos also sells J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, another fantasy series criticized by Christians.
Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, is a liberal community, O’Reilly-Amandes said. But the occasional protester does turn up.
“One time, we had a book on world religion and we featured it in the window. Somebody came in and said we shouldn’t feature other religions if we’re a Christian bookstore,” she said.
But while Rowling’s books are off limits, fantasy stories and works about Potter remain in demand. “Christian” alternatives to Potter, such as C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” and G.P. Taylor’s “Shadowmancer,” have been popular fiction titles. Meanwhile, numerous religious works about Potter have come out in recent years.
John Granger’s “Looking for God in Harry Potter” is a Christian author’s defense of the series; Granger argues that Harry’s fight against of evil reflects Christian values. Richard Abanes’ “Harry Potter and the Bible” makes the opposite argument, that the books contradict such values.
“We had Richard come into the store a couple of years ago for a seminar on Harry Potter,” Chuck Wallington, president of Christian Supply, Inc., in Spartanburg, S.C., said. “We had about 60-70 folks show up and it was an interesting discussion. Richard is not in favor of the books, but he was very fair on the subject.”
“If a customer has a question about why we carry the Potter books, then we’ll suggest one of the Christian books, like (Connie Neal’s) ‘What’s a Christian to Do With Harry Potter?”’ said Amandes-O’Reilly, referring to a sympathetic Potter book.
“It’s a way of bringing more people into the conversation, without preaching to them. It’s something that opens us all up.”