The Challenges Harry Potter Must Face - From Dad's Point of View
by Jim Zola
It is Halloween night as I write this. Appropriate enough. All the trickers and treators are in bed. My two little ones went out with homemade dinosaur costumes and were happy with bagging some goodies from five houses on our block. My older one, at that awkward age, not yet ready to let go of the last vestige of childhood, especially when it involves lots of free candy, threw on last year's store bought costume and hit as many houses as possible with a couple of sweet-crazed like minded buddies.
There are those that would ban every aspect of Halloween altogether, and others who simply want to water down the fun until all that is left is the hollow shell of this quirky holiday. It is this thinking that now is behind the challenging of a new series of children's books by the British author J. K. Rowlings. If you haven't heard by now about the three recently published "Harry Potter" books, welcome out of your cave. The "Harry Potter" novels have hit the U.S. shores with the force something similar to the Beatles landing stateside some 35 years ago. Each of the three books hit the New York Times best seller list with a vengeance. What makes this so unusual, beside the fact that the books are not out of the bestseller mills of King or Steele, is that these books were written for children. But apparently, as seen by the overwhelming sales numbers, it is not only children who are picking up these books.
Yet, despite the success of Rowling, or more likely because of it, parents in a school district in South Carolina went before their school board and declared the Potter books "evil" and demanded they be banned from the schools.
As a librarian, a children's librarian, I might naturally be expected to defend any novel from censorship. But my opinions are not so black and white. For I am also a parent and I am a reader.
I have read all three Harry Potter books. Without hesitation, I would recommend these books to any child or adult. Without delving too deeply into the plot, suffice to say that these three books could hold there own against any classic work of fantasy fiction. I found strong echoes of the books of Roald Dahl in these new books. Admirable company. The center of the plot in the Potter books is the battle of good against evil. Harry Potter, a young wizard, is the hero. Harry, although not perfect, could be any child's role model. His actions promote friendship, love, bravery and self-reliance. All fine characteristics in my opinion. There is a strong emphasis in the books on the need for a loving, healthy family life. The "bad guys" in the books are bullies, liars and cheats. I certainly have read more than a few young adult novels that wouldn't hold a candle to the positive virtues emphasized by the Harry Potter books. So what's the big deal.
The big deal is that the phenomena surrounding Rowling's books make them an easy and desirable target. So why am I taking the bait and even acknowledging the issue. Because I am a children's librarian and, by extension, a child advocate.
By banning a book, the banners defeat their own purpose. Think about how much more desirable a book becomes if it is taken off the shelves and locked away. If we start banning any literature that involves supernatural elements ö ghosts, witches, magic ö we are going to lose a wide sweep of the children's literature collection. Think of all the fairytales, folktales, tall tales, legends, picture books and fantasy novels that would be thrown on the heap. What about The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings. Or how about Shakespeare with all his ghosts and witches and curses.
As a parent, I respect the right of any parent to limit and filter the media intake of his or her own children. I respect it, but I also question the outcome. When I was in college, I knew a girl who was not allowed to watch any television except for an occasional educational program. Her first semester away from home she was glued in front of the TV, catching up, skipping classes to watch reruns of Leave It To Beaver and Gilligan's Island. The bottom line for me is that Harry Potter and his wonderful magic has brought kids into the bookstore, the library and between the covers of books. Perhaps some of these children might never have taken that step. With all the real evil that exists in the world, to do battle with a work of fiction that might turn a child from a non-reader into a reader is losing battle.
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