The One about Harry Potter
July 27, 2011 § 5 Comments
I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II, this weekend and, yes, I cried.
A friend asked me recently what I thought about the Harry Potter books. She wondered whether she should encourage her almost-3rd-grade grandson to read them.
I understand her concern. She’s not read the books or seen the movies, and has heard the criticism of some conservative Christians—that Rowling’s books promote witchcraft, and should be banned in Christian homes. I suggested she read the books for herself and decide. (That’s a lot of reading, too!)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (June 1997); Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (July 1998); Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (July 1999); Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (July 2000); Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (June 2003); Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (July 2005); Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (July 2007)
So, what is it about Harry Potter and the seven-wonders-of- kid-lit? And why do some think they are harmful? HP is fantasy! Kids know what fantasy is. Fantasy is Superman, Batman, Winnie-the-Pooh, Cinderella, and that Moose who ate all those muffins!
The Harry Potter books are fun, inventive, scary, and so chock full of imagination, details, characters, and twists and turns, that they are hard to put down, even for an adult. They are a tale of heroic proportions. They are also, individually and collectively, a morality play that uses the guise of an English boarding school for wizards and witches, to teach a lot of good stuff … and I’m not talking witchcraft!
The universal themes are amazingly clear without preaching or moralizing. Rowling shows the drama, and leaves conclusions to the reader. She never has to say “the moral of this story is” because we get it!
For instance, in every book, Harry Potter has to make choices, and often, as at the end of book one, he questions thechoices he’s made. Professor Dumbledore reminds him that only he can decide whether he has chosen well, and that it’s the choices we make that inform our lives. (My words, not his).
Harry’s loyalties are tested at every turn, yet he stays true to his friends and those who have given their lives to protect him. Even when tempted to take the easier path—one less dangerous—he assumes responsibilities beyond his years, and forges ahead, ready to give his life to rid the world of the evil of Voldemort and his followers.
In the books, but not in the movies, Hermione champions the elves who are actually slaves of the wizards, even at Hogwarts. When she organizes the elves to strike for freedom, she proves that she really is “the greatest witch of her age” in more ways than one! Her fight for what is right and empathy with those in bondage, be they dragons or elves, are her strengths.
Ron is a comic foil at first glance, funny, wide-eyed with wonder and awe. He is the younger brother who begins to find his own true worth as he shares adventures and trials with Harry and Hermione. In the end, he and Hermione make it possible for Harry to meet Voldemort on an even field.
Throughout the books, these three and their friends show an enormous amount of ingenuity, deductive reasoning. and bravery. They become what every kid wants to become! Often, they also end up rescuing the adults instead of the other way around. In this, Rowling stays with one tenet of writing for children we should all remember … children in a children’s book must solve their own problems.
Other universal themes abound, but for me, two interlocking super themes over-arch them all … the ugliness of racism, and “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
Harry’s world is made up of muggles, muggle-magicals (both referred to as mudbloods), and magicals.
A muggle is a non-magical person. Hermione’s parentage is muggle—she did not inherit her magical gifts from her parents and is, therefore, an anomaly. In book one, Draco Malfoy calls her a mudblood and we know immediately that it’s not a polite word.
Harry’s mother was a muggle with magical powers, like Hermione, but his father was born of a magical family. That makes Harry half-muggle/half-magical.
Ron’s family is magical, but accepting and supportive of those of muggle or mixed heritage in the magical community.
Others do not share these feelings. From the beginning, this conflict between the “races” is strong, hinting at a wish by some pure magicals to rid their world of the non-pure. By the end of the last book, when the threat of a purge of all Mudblood from the magical world is strongest, we finally see what drives Voldemort. He hates that half of himself that is muggle and would purge all mudbloods to fully deny his “impurity”. [Shades of Hitler!]
Finally, Voldemort’s obsession to wield absolute power is driven by what he fears most … death. All of this struggle leads us back to that first theme. Voldemort must destroy Harry, the only wizard who can prevent him from reaching his goal.
So, yes, I recommend HP and company, in spite of the witches and wizards; in spite of the clichés and the criticisms heaped on Rowling’s head by other children’s writers. In spite of those who say she’s too political, or too socially conscious for a children’s book.
As with Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, in the HP fantasies, we find truths about ourselves and our world. Besides, I love it when the hero completes his journey, saves his world and gets his girl in the end! J.K. Rowling provides a whomping great rollercoaster of a read!