Note: This has been the week the earth stood still. Partly because I didn’t get my nap on Sunday, which always messes up my entire week (hey, it’s called the Day of Rest for a reason), and partly because I was up till midnight on Monday watching the Tide roll into its 14th National Championship (21 to Zereaux, Roll Tide). Since Bama Football is usually on Saturdays, my body thought it should be the weekend…all week long. Ergo: Longest. Week. Ever.
I had a blog post that’s been rolling around my brain for the last couple of weeks, but I didn’t have the energy this week to put pen to paper (or…cursor to screen). I still don’t have the energy. But, since I’m starting to feel a little frantic about neglecting my New Year’s Resolution, (and because I kinda like having an outlet for my brilliancy), I thought I would share the email that started it all… This was the first tiny little seed that began to germinate the idea that maybe, just maybe, I should, you know, maybe write a blog…or something…
The first Harry Potter book became popular when I was in college, but between working 40 hours a week and taking 20 hours of classes, I really didn’t have time to pay attention to anything in the outside world. I do remember, however, reading an article about J K Rowling at the time. She was pictured reading Harry Potter to a group of eagerly listening 2nd graders. The article basically proclaimed her as the “Hero of Reading Teachers Everywhere” …stating that her Harry Potter books had done what no other book in the history of education had been able to do: get children interested in reading. [Personal Rant: I am all for reading. And I pretty much will stoop to anything to get a child to read, and LOVE reading – especially boys. I have an entire shelf of “My Life As..” and other fascinatingly gross adventure books, that I used when I was teaching 5th Grade, to get my boys to read. There are plenty of books out there to get kids to read. One book (or series of books) isn’t magical. The magic comes when a teacher can look at the child who has never finished a book report in five years, and can find that one book that is perfect for him and say, “If you read this, I promise you’ll love it.” An author isn’t magical. A teacher who pours her soul into her students and inspires them to desire greatness, to reach for it, to search for it – that’s magical. …ok, I’m done with my personal rant now.]
Anyway, for some reason, Harry Potter has been all over Facebook this week. I don’t know why. But it’s made me think of this email I sent to my brother this past summer. I had just finished reading the first book in the HP series, and this was my gut reaction:
Here is a very quickly typed and truncated version of an essay. Just had to get it out of my head.
“Why I will never allow my children to read the Harry Potter books”
“The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”
“There is no good and evil, there is only power and those too weak to seek it…”
– Professor Quirrell
Harry is the underdog – the hero. You want to pull for him. You want to like him. You want him to make the right choices…but he doesn’t. He makes terrible choices. He lies. He disobeys the rules. One would think that his actions would bring consequences, but the consequences are minor, and on a few occasions, he is actually rewarded for breaking rules (being allowed to join the Quidditch team after disobeying an express command to not ride the brooms while the teacher was gone). He enacts revenge on those he does not like and the book ends with his plans to torture Dudley with his magic all summer – which was expressly forbidden by Hogwarts.
In the beginning of the book, Hermione (I wonder how that is pronounced) is presented as a snob: a stuck-up spoilsport. She studies hard, she knows the answers, and in fact, memorized a large portion of the textbooks before the start of term. But Hermione’s biggest detractor is that she follows the rules. Ron characterizes her as someone who is “no fun” and who “must know she has no friends.” It is only when Hermione (needlessly) lies to protect Harry and Ron that they begin to look favorably on her. Her willingness after this point to join in on the lying and misbehaving is considered a good thing. “Hermione had become a bit more relaxed about breaking rules since Harry and Ron had saved her from the mountain troll, and she was much nicer for it.” In fact, this one lie proves to be such a dramatic change that throughout the rest of the book, Hermione shows no qualms whatsoever at “living by her own code.”
Hagrid deserves special recognition apart from other authority figures in the book. He is technically an authority figure, yet he is so inept at his job that Harry is constantly getting him out of scrapes. Hagrid doesn’t understand “Muggle money” so Harry has to purchase the tickets. He isn’t supposed to use magic, but adjures Harry not to tell when he “bends the rules.” Even though he is entrusted with a very important errand in the bank, he cannot handle the cart ride. Later in the book, Hagrid proves once again to be unreliable when he trades the secret to calming the guard dog for an illegal dragon’s egg – both of which situations, Harry must rescue him from.
This is classic undermining of authority in literature: set someone up as an authority figure, then show how they are utterly incapable of operating as such. (Even in the forbidden forest, though Hagrid was the protector, it was the centaurs that saved Harry’s life.)
Authority Figures in the Book
Authority figures in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone are treated as either cruel, inept, or unnecessary. Almost the entire drama of Hogwarts is enacted among the students. The professors are immaterial and only make an appearance in order to show disapproval of the student’s actions (with the exception of Professor McGonagall on two occasions), and the authorities in these situations usually have entirely the wrong story and are portrayed as either stupid or short-sighted.
The Dursleys are Muggles and are characterized as ignorant and cruel. They have little knowledge of magic, but they hate it passionately – and hate Harry as well. They send the message to young readers, “your parents don’t understand you; they don’t know what you are going through; they are mean and stupid.”
The one authority figure that seems to “get it” is Dumbledore. He condones all of Harry’s actions and goes so far as to leave him the Cloak of Invisibility “just in case” – encouraging him to break the rules and get himself into some serious hot water.
Right vs. Wrong
Throughout the entire book, there is no clear delineation between right and wrong. Harry, Ron, and Hermione break rules and lie to cover it up – but it’s all ok because they were doing it for a good reason….except when they weren’t.
Students use spells to get back at one another or just out of pure spite. They are never taught to only use their magic for good.
Lying is the name of the game. In fact, the entire premise of the book could be summed up in Dumbledore’s words that I quoted above: “The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.” (We know from the Word of God that Christ stands in direct opposition to that view, for He declares: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free!!”)
There are other reasons I don’t care for the book – these are just my personal opinions or preferences.
I don’t like how the book is in a “here and now” setting. I feel it’s too modern. I like the other-worldliness of the LOTR series. (And there are many other ways I could contrast this book with the LOTR books.)
I also don’t care at all for the section devoted to the Dursleys. It reminds me too much of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, and I hated that book.
And what is up with lumping ALL the mythical creatures ever thought of into this world?? Ghosts? Really?…Reminded me of that annoying Casper movie about all the dumb ghosts.
So there you have it…my opinion of Harry Potter. Of course, that was just the first book. I eventually read the entire series, and someday I’ll write critiques of them too…maybe…if I ever get around to it.
Oh, and my brother’s response?
“What do you mean, you’ll never let your kids read Harry Potter?? You’re almost 30. If you ever have kids, Harry Potter will be long gone by the time they’re old enough to read.”
…by the way…I’m looking for a new frying pan…mine seems to have this mysterious dent in it…