The third Harry Potter movie has just ended, and a birthday party of sugar-stoked eleven-year-old boys begins laying waste to the movie theater lobby. One boy separates from the group with a bright idea. He runs, full tilt (I am not making this up), straight at the movie theater’s brick wall. The result is a staggering, completely unforeseen display of the laws of physics, in which the brick emerges victorious. (Who knew?) After regaining consciousness, the boy’s mother asks him why, if he wanted to deprive himself of his senses, he didn’t just leap into oncoming traffic. He wails, “But Harry Potter can do it!…” The rest of the birthday party watches eagerly while sucking down cans of Red Bull. Other moviegoers begin backing away before the other boys start impersonating the hamsters from a preview.
The above is a true story with an important moral: Never, never combine sugar and eleven-year-old boys. Or at least let them wear helmets. But the second moral, only slightly less important, is that stories move us. (Literally, in this case.) Stories shape our motives and enlarge the world we live in, for kids even more so. (Just ask the hundred or so children who flushed their own goldfish down the toilet after “Finding Nemo,” only to find out Guppy was taking the Long Swim to the water treatment plant.)
It was an intense discussion for a while there, whether Harry Potter was the devil or just his apprentice. It went something like this:
Person 1: Harry Potter will turn your child into a Satanist!
Person 2: No, Harry Potter will help kids to read!
Person 1: About evil!
Person 2: No, about being a kid! It isn’t real anyway.
Person 1: YOU’RE a Satanist!…
and so on, until both are so worked up they’ve got to sit down and sort out which one of them was 1 and which was 2 all over again. Here’s the deal, folks: If, one morning after reading Harry Potter, you wake up and think that, by waving a stick, you can turn your mother into a lampshade, you have other problems. Get help now! Operators are standing by! What Birthday Boy above needed was a good dose of reality (and let me tell you, he sure got it).
On the other hand, J. K. Rowling’s “magic” is a cousin to some very dangerous stuff that doesn’t belong in quotes or children’s books, and readers better be discerning enough to know the difference. The question becomes, what are you willing to be desensitized to? I’m personally not concerned about Harry’s brand of magic unless it leads to other things.
Stories may not turn us to the Dark Side, but they influence us. So what’s more dangerous than Harry’s magic? Well, real life.
We learn about human relationships from books too, and, though I hate to say it, Rowling’s characterization is lacking. Rowling’s characters, while they feel complete and believable, don’t develop like real people. (Come to think of it, that is like some people.) Harry, Ron and Hermione barely change throughout the series. They don’t learn from their mistakes, and they interact in excessively predictible ways–Hermione nags, Ron sulks, Harry turns narcissistic. It gets a bit irritating. I find that, after I read this series I’m crabby and irritable and selfish with the people around me. I swear it’s the characters in the books rubbing off on me. This never works for an excuse (“Harry made me do it!”)–but it reminds me how much I learn from the books I read. Harry’s relationships are just as significant as his magical fantasy world, and they will be to readers too.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, if she can get this way over a kid’s series, keep her away from the serial-killer novels…
Yeah, I know, it sounds paranoid; I’d just rather read books with my eyes wide open. (As opposed to the other way, where it gets real dark and it’s hard to find your spot…)
I love these books and will end by applauding J. K. Rowling, who excels at (at least) two things: creating a world and spinning a plot. The wizarding world is incredibly well-imagined, from a bureaucratic Ministry to a highly original sport (where in the world of sports do we have a Snitch?) down to the candy names like Fizzing Whizbees and Toothflossing Stringmints. Rowling picks the kinds of details that not only sound true, but make me wish it were.
Rowling also spun a vast story that kept readers guessing, weeping, and up all night. (Um, not that I would know…) The seventh book is brilliant, really brilliant, in the way events pull together. I was thoroughly engrossed–a live hippogriff in my room could not have made me look up. Great books. But not because of character development. I can still enjoy Rowling’s fantastical plot in spite of her rather flat characters. I just wish that Harry had grown up as much as he thinks he has.
Books are meant to be shared–what was your experience of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and the series as a whole? Did you find the books irritating and inspiring? And have you ever tried to reach Platform 9 ¾ ? (Would you admit it if you had?)