Jewish World Review Oct. 22, 1999 /12 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760
of Harry Potter
BOOK-LOVERS, BEWARE: Muggles are up in arms. They're demanding that schools
banish Harry Potter. They say he is a negative influence. They even fear
he will cause "the next Columbine."
Muggles, as any nine-year-old reader will tell you, are very dull humans
who resent intellectual curiosity. They are miserable and
magically-challenged. Harry Potter is the young orphan and inquisitive
wizard-in-training, created by Scottish author J.K. Rowling, who escapes
the Muggle world on a quest for truth, adventure, and identity. Millions of
kids are flocking to libraries, saving their allowances, and pawning their
Pokemon cards to get their hands on Harry Potter books.
How could this global reading frenzy be a bad thing? Is Harry guilty as
I ducked into the kiddie section at Barnes and Noble last week and snagged
a copy of Rowling's first book, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," to
see what the fuss was about. Now I'm addicted, and I'm not alone among
grown-ups. Three volumes, 7.5 million of them in print, have been
translated into 28 languages; the books have spent nearly 40 weeks on the
New York Times fiction best-seller list. Four more installments are
More than 2,700 readers have posted reviews of Rowling's series on
Amazon.com, the Internet bookstore site. Nannies and grandparents and
traveling businessmen are reading it on the sly. British publishers have
even issued plain-covered, incognito editions of the children's series so
that adult commuters won't be embarrassed to read their Harry Potter tales
on the subway.
Harry is a social outcast despised by his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon,
the prototypical Muggles who force Harry to live in a cupboard under the
stairs. He wears taped-together glasses and ragged hand-me-downs from his
rotten cousin, Dudley. The boy is rescued from this drab realm by a gentle
giant named Hagrid, who takes him school shopping at Madam Malkin's Robes
for All Occasions.
Soon, Harry is off to the Hogwarts boarding school for witchcraft and
wizardry. He rescues a schoolmate from a 12-foot troll; rides a
top-of-the-line broomstick (the Nimbus Two Thousand); inherits an
invisibility cloak; and confronts the evil beast that killed his parents.
Such "black magic" frightens Muggles in both Harry's world -- and ours.
"I surely would not want my children wearing an invisibility cloak or any
of this other nonsense," complained David Williamson at a state school
board meeting last week in Columbia, South Carolina. One can only wince at
the nonsense-free bedtime reading a surly literalist like Williamson might
find acceptable for his kids: The dictionary? Road maps? Nutritional
"The books have serious tones of death, hate, lack of respect and sheer
evil," said Elizabeth Mounce, another Potter critic from Columbia. In her
irate search for incriminating evidence, Mounce skipped over the books'
endless inventions of fun -- from Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans
(including spinach, liver, tripe, and earwax) to Quidditch (Harry's
favorite co-ed sport of student wizards, it's a crazy combo of extreme
soccer, basketball, and lacrosse played while flying on broomsticks in
Sure, there's witchcraft and mayhem. But good triumphs in this well-told
tale without a trace of overbearing didacticism. Phoebe Oshirak, a
from Lewisburg, Pa., wrote in an Internet book review: "I laughed, I cried,
I could not put the book down…Harry Potter teaches kindness, humility,
bravery, manners, responsibility, loyalty and a whole lot of things that we
'Muggles' ought to practice more often."
Harry Potter fans are heirs to a rich legacy of inspired children's
fantasies – from Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,
to The Hobbitt and The Chronicles of Narnia. Generations of readers have
shared the covert thrill of sneaking their treasured books under the
bedcovers and devouring the tales by flashlight. Now, Harry is luring a
new generation under the sheets and away from their Nintendo sets and crude
cable TV cartoons.
Yet, Teresa Schmidt, an outraged mother from Moorpark, Calif., will have
none of it: "Harry Potter erodes all of our morals, all of our standards."
Other concerned Christian parents are pushing for the book's removal in
New York, Michigan, and Minnesota schools. Their crusade is pitifully
misplaced. Harry is a blessing. Rowling's books grow from one of God's
greatest gifts: creativity.
C.S. Lewis, the Christian author who created the Narnian tales, wrote:
"Reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of
meaning." Both need vigorous exercise early and often. Children's fantasy
books are not obstacles to moral understanding, as Harry Potter's
persecutors claim. On the contrary, these vivid stories help prevent
sclerosis of the
JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.
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©1999, Creators Syndicate