On Harry Potter
I received a comment on one of my book reviews that go me to thinking…that can be dangerous. Why do I like Harry Potter? That’s a complicated question to answer.
To be completely honest, I read the Sorcerer’s Stone (yes I’m an American and our population does not understand the many uses of the word Philosopher, so they dumb things down for us) out of defiance. I was in my fourth at University when a friend of mine who was interested in children’s lit read the book. You must understand that I attended an Evangelical Protestant University, and anything that was linked to magic was assumed to be of the devil. Add to that the fact that this particular friend had a lot of negative and odd experiences with self proclaimed witches in her family’s life, you can see who I saw an extremely irrational trend of people condemning a book with out even reading it just because of it’s content. And being one of the few free thinkers left on the campus, I decided I would read the first book in the series to form an educated opinion on the subject. Did Harry Potter really teach kids to work the Devil’s magic, and entice them to “stray away from the path of God.”
My thought at this time was, “The only thing more scary than a powerful idea, is large groups of stupid people who think an idea is scary.”
So I read the first book. I looked for any signs of classic which craft, calling of the elements to do work for you, invoking of spirits to do you will, creation of potions in order to entice higher powers to do your will. And I found things that most of my fellow Christians did not take the time to even think about. I found a boy, who forged a relationship with friends even though they were social outcasts and he was the cool kid (Harry). I saw teachers the encouraged students to do great and wonderful things, even if there were incapable of doing simple things like make potions (Sprout). I saw students who stood up for what was right at their own person risk (Nevil). And I saw a family adopt Harry Potter as if he was one of their own, even though he was forced to return to his unloving family every year (Author and Molly). But my fellow Christians had a point, there were spells being cast. But were spells really being cast?
At this time I completing my Battlers Degree in Biblical Studies. I was required to take a class called comparative religions in which we studied the religious doctrines of all the major belief systems in the world today, as well as a large number of minor ones. The teacher was a retired missionary who served among the nomadic tribes of Yemen, and had some amazing stories about the kind of things the Shamans were able to do for their tribes that had no logical explanation. As his PHD was in Folk Religion, I went to him during his office hours to ask him what he thought of the magical world of Harry Potter: Did he think it was a “gate way to witch craft” like so many extremists at my university were proclaiming? His answer was an emphatic no, and spelled a list of reason that we actually spent the next three weeks of lecture discussing as the basis for many different kinds of folk religion and practice. But he and I agreed that the level of violence and darkness that appear in the books does warrant parents taking an active roll in their children’s lives (which they should be doing anyway) in order to make sure they understand the theme that occurs over and over again: Magic does not save Harry Potter, he would be nothing if he did not use is head, and rely on his friends, because even people who have magical powers have problems in their lives that do no go away.
I had my answer. I had my reason to be defiant, and throw it in the face of those around me that hated Harry Potter that they simple were short sighted and being lead like sheep by people who did not think beyond their own prejudices. It was at this point the danger of the Harry Potter saga sank its fangs into me. I finished the first book, and had to know what happened next. Before I knew it I had bought the whole collection in hard back, and was waiting for the Goblet of fire to come out. I was hooked. I was addicted. I had to know how the thing ended.
So…there is my lengthy answer to what sparked me interest in reading Harry Potter. My nature is to question authority and go against the grain. Harry Potter does that himself, and I kind of like that. The story is full of rich characters that really could be people from my own life that I know (aside from the whole magic thing). I currently work in schools as a crisis counselor, and see the impact that Harry Potter has had on a lot kids who never wanted to read a book before. Now all of the sudden I’ve seen students pick up books that still challenge their reading abilities, but leave them begging for more just like me.
I think my favorite book thus far is The Goblet of Fire. It is action packed, addresses the a lot of important issues like civil rights and prejudice, but is also put Harry in a position he has never been before: he is all alone. Book four really shows us how much Harry depends on Ron and Hermione for support as well as other Hogwarts students. He has a falling out with Ron that almost leads to his death because Ron won’t talk to him. He never really thinks to talk to Neville about how to survive in the lake because he is so focused on doing it himself (Shame on the movie for changing that). And he comes to understand that Dobby really does enjoy being an individual while other House Elves really do enjoy their lives as servants. Harry does a lot of growing up, which is a good thing because he suffers the worst tragedy (in my opinion) next to the one he suffers in book six (if you don’t know what either of these are, read the book). Harry not only has to face his inadequacies, but his worst fear: What if he is not strong enough to defeat Voldermort? All in all, this book launches the rest of the series forward and signals a change in maturity in the characters, and the start of a new dark era for the wizarding world (and as book six shows, the world at large).
So that’s my feeling on the books. The movies were a travesty. I own them all because I’m an addicted fan, much like Starwar Fans own all the movies in spite of the fact that the last three released sucked! I have a personal bias against Christopher Columbus as a director, because I don’t think he understood that the stories did not need any special additions in order to be great stories. He spent so much time on special effects and quiditch that we had to sacrifice important story elements that showed us important parts of specific characters. The third movie was very well done, and stayed closest to the story, but again we see scene added (night bus squishing between two buses) that were unnecessary and took up screen time that could have been given to other things that are more important to the story. The fourth movie really is hard for me to decided weather it is good or not. They left out the whole house elf story line completely, which is a very important story element. They changed the fact that Barty Crouch Jr. was the one who set off the dark mark, and left Winky out completely, so how are we going to understand the roll that Winky and Doby play in the next movie if we don’t have any reason for her to be there. I know that there was a large amount of story to cover for a movie, but the choice of things kept, the things added, and the things dropped, made no sense to me at all. That being said, I think that the director did an amazing job of showing teen as they truly are at their age.
I can not wait till the final book comes out. There are so many theories, so many ideas, so many guesses as to how it will end that you could spend days on the internet reading it all. My wife and I do not agree on how it will end, so it will be interesting to see which of us is right (most likely her if the pattern holds true).
Thanks for the great question from Rohan, which sparked this post.