Tuesday, December 14, 2010

To Harry, or Not To Harry

While briefly in London, we saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I at the Odeon in Leicester Square, where it premiered. Yes, we love HP. We have read all the books at least once, and seen all the movies asap (we agreed to save this movie until we were together to see it). Back when HP and the Half-Blood Prince came out, we voraciously shared it with friends on a cruise, when they purchased the only copy we could find from a small shop in the Scottish Orkney Islands. Since I taught English, I even used it to show students the differences in "translation" between the Great Britain version and our Americanized version.

I honestly do not understand the argument against letting "our children" read the HP books. Yes, I've read their views, and heard their side, but really? Is the manic protection of children's minds against wizards and magic seriously an issue? And even if so, why is it so selective?

How many of these same parents taught their children to believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and read them stories about Cinderella (the tame Disney version of course, since if these same parents had ever read the "real" gory Cinderella where her sisters' toes are cut off and eyes poked out by birds, they would probably banish Cinderella also). Did they ban C.S. Lewis' Narnia series or J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books? These also have rampant magic, wizards, imaginary animals and powers, struggles between right and wrong, and use children as intelligent, moral heroes. Did they ban science fiction, such as Madeline Engel's A Wrinkle in Time, Lois Lowry's The Giver, or even the TV series Bewitched?

Don't get me wrong, I believe in censorship of what our children read. But we must be very careful and determine why we are withholding anything from our children. Is it out of fear and over-protection, or is it so we don't have to answer questions and open their minds to bigger ideas? When A was in 5th grade and flying through books so she could earn AR points, some of her friends read William Golding's Lord of the Flies. I told her she couldn't read it. Not forever, just not then. I was teaching it as part of my Pre-AP English I class, and although she could have easily read it and understood it on a child's level, I wanted her to wait to read it until we would discuss it in depth, and she could understand it on a mature level, reaping all the deeper nuances and allusions and truths. 

When we read, it opens our minds to experiences outside our own experiences (within the safe environment of reality), and that is part of the joy.  Pirates, cowboys and Indians, princesses and frogs, and exotic travels into space or in time machines are not in our everyday lives. The stories allow us to explore, to learn about others and ourselves. Perhaps the problem is that we fear our children cannot distinguish fiction from fact. Some parents prohibit cartoons, based on their violent content. Really? I never once thought I could jump off a cliff and live, like Wile E. Coyote. I never thought I could shoot someone with a shotgun and water would run out the holes like Yosemite Sam. I never thought animals could talk, or witches flew on brooms, or cars could fly. Yes, I wished it were true sometimes, and would daydream about "what if", but that's the point! Even a child knows the difference between reality and fantasy.

Further, good literature enhances our lives beyond mere enjoyment and entertainment: it challenges us to become better people ourselves. When we read, we put ourselves in the protagonist's position (or sometimes the antagonist's, like John Milton's Paradise Lost, where we identify with Satan), and we wonder what we would do in their shoes. Would we stand against evil, or take the easy way out and join the crowd? Would we be loyal to our friends, or put ourselves first at all cost? Would we face danger with the slight hope that we might prevail, or run away? Would we fight for the greater good, or only for our own self-interests? Would we risk our lives for anything at all? Would we stand against friends and family for what we know is right, even if they don't? Every one of these issues is addressed in HP. Every one of these issues is important in daily life. The more we think about what our actions would be and should be, the more likely we will act that way.

No, I don't believe in Hogwarts, but we did visit Platform 9 3/4 King's Cross Station years ago. No, I don't believe in wizards or Mudbloods, but hatred and discrimination based on race definitely exists. No, I don't believe in magic wands and spells, but miracles abound. No, I don't believe in dragons, but they are mentioned in the Bible (Revelation 12, 20). 

I don't want to be HP, but I do want to be loyal, moral, honest, and courageous. And I want my children to want to be that way too.

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