120spacer.gif (56 bytes)

Looking at Harry Potter

Michael Labriola
Writer's Craft Isu
EWC 0A0 ~ Mr. Aller-Stead
January 21, 2002.

     Throughout history, societies have always passed on their collective knowledge through the spoken word as well as through text. This process has created over the years of human civilization stories about life, love and the human condition. From the knowledge gained by the passing these tales, a set of common values were established. Although the characters and situations varied from region to region based upon the society's surroundings, the basic values and themes remain this same. This idea of a common set of ideas or morals, the basic understanding of to operate a society can be compared to religions as well. This practice has continued of storytelling has expanded due to our ability to transport the various messages through the media. This type of narratives, as they exist in modern times, consists in forms such as Cinderella, Peter Pan, and Little Red Riding Hood. The status gained from the repetition of narratives and narratives like them over time have catapulted such people as the Grimm brothers, Dr. Seuss as well as Walt Disney to an increased height of popularity. Although the stories the stories are often linear and simplistic, the message that they deliver through the moral, morals such as friendship, love an respect each other that are embedded in the story lasts a lifetime regardless of whether the adult remembers the fairy-tale or not. As the age and the mind of the reader matures and progresses, so do the subject matter and the themes that are explored. The tales are no longer a simple story where the "bad guy" is always dressed in black and the "good guy" wins the day. The reader, through the knowledge they have gained and with some common sense is meant to derive their own meaning from the story as well as the theme or live lesson that is being expressed. It is because of the ever-growing gap between the distinguishing of fantasy and reality, misinterpretation, fear about talking about "forbidden" subjects, as well as lack of past historical events that allow books go on to be made evil and banned. Two such series of books include the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Each author although separated by the distance of time has explored a similar theme of the Christian belief system. On one side, Lewis has taken his characters straight from biblical characters and the meanings that they in tale. Rowling on the other hand has indirectly approached the topic by immersing her characters in also immersed mythology but have her characters "practice" the occult through magic. Although these books contain ideas that are accepted and rejected by the Christian community, it is the misinterpretation as well as the presentation of the characters and their deeds that has stopped the flow of ideas and themes that are necessary in this period of time where the world had turned upside-down due to recent events.

The series Harry Potter as the story is basically summarized as a boy who on his eleventh birthday realizes he is a wizard and is then whisked of to a school where he may learn about his gift. It is here at "Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry" that he discovers his hidden past, triumphs over the wizarding world's most feared nemesis while maintaining his school grades. Here is where the problem lies. Many Christian fundamentalists will remind you that the bible states that the use of magic and the occult is a satanic practice and should be totally remove from all existence. Secondly the themes of anti-family themes that exist between Harry's only living relatives, The Dursleys and himself are also a danger today's family structure. To understand the point of view properly, let us break down each point one by one. In the books Rowling paints a detailed picture of the life and times of a British boy who walks through life, neglected by his would be family to only learn that he is a wizard. The need for us to have "power" beyond our own capacity whether it is through our own means or through another higher power, such as God has been a fantasy to many if not all people at one point in time or another. It is this appeal that comic books and the exploits of super heroes have been popular since the comic book's creation in the 1950's. Wizards have always been a part of European history dating back to the stories of King Arthur and his quest to search for the Holy Grail. Merlin, who was a wizard, guided the King on his quest. Not one criticism about that crusade or the moral or ethical of the forcing of another person's belief structure question has been opposed as heavily since the holocausts that have occurred in World War Two. The second point made, although not as publicized in the media is the anti-family tensions that exists between Potter and the Dursleys. The conditions that Harry finds himself accustomed to for the ten years that he has been living with his family is in almost total solitude from the rest of the world. I can guess that if anyone was put in that situation and be neglected and live in a cramped closet under the stairs such as the young hero has been for most of his life they too would have some negative feelings towards their oppressors. His living conditions alone would have any of today's child or human advocacy group up in arms and whisked away faster that any "Floo powder" transportation or any "disapparate" spell that magician can create for his treatment over the past years. As for the dealings of Lord Voldemort or as he commonly referred to as "You Know Who" or "He Who Must Not Be Named" tells us a great deal about how we as a society try to sweep away our problems with the attitude "Out of sight. Out of mind" attitude. Rowling tells us through this point that we cannot ignore our problems by hiding behind a false sense of security that we create for ourselves, but to call is as it is and take our fears head on.

Although this view of harmlessness in Rowling's words is a view that many people around the world have come to accept as just fiction and nothing more has eluded some members of the religious community, particularly the members of the Christ Community Church. The pastor, Jack Brock labels Rowling's books as a, "a masterpiece of satanic deception" and proclaims that, "these books teach children how they can get into witchcraft and become a witch or wizard, or warlock." (The Toronto Star, December 31, 2001.) The minister led his congregation as well as the neighborhood of followers and opponents in a burning of the books of Rowling as well as, Richard Roper of the Sun-Times states, " other 'unacceptable' works of literature by Tolkien and Shakespeare, 'Star Wars' merchandise and the obligatory satanic-themed heavy metal CDs." (Chicago Sun-Times January 3, 2002.) Although many may disagree with the pastors thinking and methods, Potter fans around the world can rejoice in this "un-holy" fire that was created. This action forever ensures the safety of the books. If one were to look at other banned material relating directly to the church, Galileo and Copernicus' name should pop up eventually. They promoted a different view of the world, a helio-centric one. Galileo, who promoted Copernicus' ideas was hailed as a heretic and was kept under house arrest. His book that was subsequently placed on the Vatican's list of forbidden material created the need became increasingly sought after, so in fact making a book banned or calling unnecessary attention to a subject creates the opposite effect that what was originally intended.

The argument that some might pose in defense of the pastor saying that this is just one instance where a religious figure has made a small mistake in the public forum. To these people I would call attention to another children's phenomenon and a public display that occurred in 2000. It concerned the children's television show "Pokemon" which was increasing in popularity in North America. Pokemon short form for "Pocket Monsters" came under heavy fire when a Pastor Ebeneezer Smith of the Landover Baptist Church in Freehold, Iowa claimed that his use of a blowtorch and a 40-inch Broad sword was to destroy, "all these little beasts before they make junior Satanist out of every child on the planet!"(Landover Baptist Church, October 1999) They way to strike fear into to the hearts of children was to take the 14 pierced plastic toys with the blow torch and grill them with a charcoal grill in front of seven hundred and fourteen children ages two and ten. This all came to a screeching halt when the Vatican-run TV station Sat2000 ran a statement give by the Pope who calls the series, "full of inventive imagination" and doesn't have "any harmful moral side effects", and above all has "ties of intense friendship." (Mindripper Online. April 21, 2000) So much for the devil's, army. As the past events show, what has been deemed to be satanic, the Pope gives his seal of approval.

Although the misinterpretation of meaningful and universal themes will continue to occur in the name of defending the faith, the masses will never be fooled by the misguided few when it comes to the thoughts and ideas that reading comes from. In this digital age of electronics and instantaneous messaging, the only thing that we should be really worried about is that are children or youth are not being engaged with the latest widgets or doohickeys because it is through the items whether they be books, cards, or games, children are being socialized to be better equip to deal with the society that they live in.



You may also contact me directly at martin@aller-stead.com