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Jewish World Review Oct. 22, 1999 /12 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Michelle Malkin

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The persecution
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 charged?

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 planned.

More than 2,700 readers have posted reviews of Rowling's series on, 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.

Harry Potter
"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 labels? Zzzzzz.

"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 mid-air).

Sure, there's witchcraft and mayhem. But good triumphs in this well-told tale without a trace of overbearing didacticism. Phoebe Oshirak, a 61-year-old nurse 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 soul.

JWR contributor Michelle Malkin can be reached by clicking here.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate