Thoughts on the Harry Potter Controversy|
Posted: December 7th. 1999
Times Viewed: 34,008
I confess that some of what folks are saying about Harry Potter is true. No, not that part. The chronicles of a young wizard with unruly hair, brilliant green eyes and a lightning bolt scar do not glorify violence, advance Witchcraft or promote anti-family sentiments. (But I also confess to have only read the first book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." The two follow-up books are still only available in the rather pricey hardcover editions.)
What is true about Harry Potter is that he causes a stir whenever he goes.
In the storybook world, Harry enters the "Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry' with feelings of apprehension, expectation and excitement. And those same feelings seem to carry over into the 'real world' wherever Harry is found. While many children, teachers and parents love Harry and just can't wait to read about what happens next, there are some people in both worlds who wish he would just go away and leave them to their own narrow views about what is normal, decent and good.
The 'Muggles' of Harry's world-and of ours-are the non-magical folk. But not all Muggles are dreary, unimaginative or set in their ways. Some Muggle parents even send their promising children to Hogwarts! These, of course, are the parents who are secure enough in their own right to understand that their children may be not only different from themselves, but should also be given the opportunity to explore and develop in ways that have they themselves had not considered. I have to wonder how many second or third generation lawyers, doctors or military generals secretly wish that something like Hogwarts had really existed for them.
Children often feel that they live in a foreign land inhabited by strangers who do odd things for unfathomable reasons. They hear parents talk about how much they hate going to Aunt Edna's for the holidays; yet each and every year they all pile in the car and head off for a day in which they presumably spend the entire time wishing that they were somewhere else.
Words like 'duty', 'obligation' and 'because' become omens of dread-not because these concepts are bad per se, but because the parents themselves view the ideas as shackles that force them to go where they would rather not. Then they wonder why their children do not wish to inherit the family legacy of bondage, but seek another mode of expression or dream of an entirely different concept of family.
The only really bad Muggles in the book are those who see bondage to things, empty rituals and solidified ideas as the only true way . Harry is not a threat to family values, but he does challenge blind adherence to patterns that are unhealthy and inimical to personal expression and growth. Harry wants to belong to a family, but he understands in some intuitive way that he must belong to himself first.
Going off to school for most children is both exciting and somewhat terrifying. 'Will the other kids like me? Will the teachers be nice or mean?' Most children will find out soon enough that some other kids will like them and some won't ; that some teachers are approachable and others are forbidding. How they deal with these contrasts will depend largely upon their own sense of self-esteem. The reality that in life some people will never accept you as you are or want to be your friends is a harsh one, but it needn't be devastating. Like Harry Potter, who finds both friends and adversaries at Hogwart's, children can adapt if they have the inner strength to do so.
But this inner core can not develop unless it has the room and freedom to grow. It is perhaps no accident that early on in the story, Harry spends much of his time alone thinking about things. Unfortunately in this particular real-life time frame shaped by recent and tragic events, loners and thinkers are now held suspect. Choosing to be alone is often a 'warning sign' that parents are told is a signal that their children may be on the wrong path. I don't see how young people can possibly discover the right one without private time to think about it.
Which brings us to another element in the Harry Potter stories-choice. Children actually like being given a choice, a chance to choose from a list of options. Harry and his friends scurry through the pages of the book making choices-good and bad- and learning the consequences and rewards of choosing what to do next. In the process, they learn about self-sacrifice, trust, truth, discernment and deductive thinking. Not bad for a bunch of ten and eleven year olds!
The audience for the Harry Potter books seems to relate to these leaps of cognition with surprising ease. They can understand why Harry and his friends choose as they do and they can understand why the results were what they were. The lesson here for Muggle and non-Muggle parents alike may be-how can children learn to make good choices in adult life if they are never allowed to make any choices-and learn about the results of their choices- in childhood?
Finally, to address the main concern of the critics of the Harry Potter series- does Harry Potter use magic and wizardry? Yes, he does. But in the big ending scene, it is interesting to note that Witchcraft and spells play a very small role in the final victory over the forces of evil. Harry and his friends bring very human skills to play in their efforts to track down and stop the villains. Skills that they have learned to trust in themselves-and value in each other.
Ron, the game player, uses his knowledge of chess and strategy to allow Harry to pass one obstacle placed in their way. Hermione, the intellectual student, advances their cause by solving a puzzle using, not magic, but logic. And then there is Harry himself who must now go on alone to meet his nemesis. What finally gives him the insight on how to best the enemy was not found in any spell-book, but comes from within his own spirit. His intentions are pure and 'for the good of all' and so his actions cannot help but ultimately be the right thing to do in the situation.
The Harry Potter story is rich with universal themes. Learning to face what fears us, standing up for what one believes to be right and understanding that people who may be different in background or skills can work together-even be friends-are lessons that carry over from one world to the next.
The final mystery though remains until the very last pages. How was Harry spared from the same death that Voldemort (the villain in the story) had visited upon his parents so many years before? How was he saved from harm while locked in combat with Voldemort's ultimate evil minion this time? The answer comes from the lips of the Hogwart Headmaster, Dumbledore-
"If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He did not understand that love as powerful as your mother's leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign-to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever."
Knowing that we are loved gives us incredible strength, empowers us to try and try again and offers a firm foundation for all that we will ever do. No beastie, no nasty remark and certainly no book can harm what love protects. Love is the real magic in the Harry Potter books that makes all the other things possible.
There are always a few openings available every semester at Hogwart's. Children of all ages will probably be listening for the fluttering wings of a messenger owl and eagerly waiting for that invitation. Don't make them wait too long. Tell them that you love them-just as they are-today.
As for me, I'm hoping that this year I find the other Harry Potter books in my Yule stocking---and that they come wrapped in love.
Walk in Light and Love,
December 6th., 1999
The Witches' Voice
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