Saturday, July 16, 2005

Two More Cents on Harry Potter

Thomas of Catholicae Testudines gives his thoughts on the HP "controversy" here. I would respond in his combox, but since I have my own blog and the comment would be pretty long, I just decided to post here.

1) I think parents must decide for themselves and their children if HP is appropriate for them and I would never presume to tell a parent they were wrong for forbidding their children to read the books. As I said before, I don't think they're appropriate for kids under 11 or 12. The problem I have is with parents who refuse to let ther kids read the books even though they've not actually read the books themselves and are basing their beliefs on second or third hand knowledge. Seriously, is that what you want to teach your kids? When confronted with something that might be a challenge to your faith, to let other people do the heavy work and not investigate it yourself? And most of the sources parents who haven't-read-but-don't-like-the-books are using are really off-the-wall anyway (that the books are sexualized, blur distinctions between good and evil, etc.)

2) That said, I think the only thing that presents a possible problem for kids over 11 or 12 is the magic itself. But just a few observations: I attended an HP release party last night at which about 600 people were present, about half of them children. I'd say about 1/3 of the attendees were in costume, most of whom were children. And I saw only 2 people actually dressed as a witch or wizard. One was an older lady who worked at the store who looked like she was going for the Professor Trelawny look. The other was a 17 or 18 year old girl who wore a black witch's cap and a pink feather boa, which seemed to be an indication that she was there more for The Experience than actually anticipating the book. All of the other kids (with the exception of one girl who dressed up brilliantly as the Fat Lady, the portrait that guards Gryffindor Tower) were wearing Hogwarts robes - and there's nothing distinctly magical about them. Additionally, I saw no one with any wands or attempting to say any spells. The only magical accessory I saw was one girl with a broomstick that looked a lot like Harry's Firebolt. And if you've read the books, you know that the broomsticks are used mainly for playing Quidditch (a combination of soccer and rugby played in the air) and that the broomsticks are mechanical like cars in that someone needs to steer them, but it is not the witch or wizard's power that makes them fly or gets them to fly faster or slower (you can buy a fast broomstick like a Firebolt, a pretty good one like a Nimbus or a cheaper, slower one like the Cleansweep). Finally, I visited the "Christianity" section of the store to see if they had In the Beginning in (for our August book club) and the Christianity section is next to the New Age/occult stuff. There was no one - not one person out of the 600 who were there - who visited that section in the 30 minutes I looked at the Christianity stuff.

3) While it is true that Harry, Ron, Hermione, et al are regular humans, the world Rowling created is not as average as non-readers think. In addition to humans with magical powers (witches and wizards), there are centaurs, dragons, giants and goblins. Finally, the only two books Rowling has published aside from the yearly HP books are two short works that are supposed to be some of Harry's textbooks. And neither of them concerns itself with charms, potions, divination, transfiguration, spells, etc. The first is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which, if anything, expands upon the fact that Rowling's Britain is not so average as one might think. The second, Quidditch Through The Ages, is about, well, the history of quidditch. And again, the broomsticks are more mechanical than magical and though the balls in quidditch fly, none of the players uses magic to actually play the game (i.e. you can't use spells against someone in the course of the match, it's all pure athletic ability and luck).