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The Trouble with Harry:Censorship and Magic in the Schools

As a parent, I am often in turns amused and disgusted about the complaints concerning the "Harry Potter" books and how they are teaching our children about Magic and Witchcraft. I often am amazed that people can think children can be taught to investigate and learn about the occult through fantasy literature. This way of thinking would have you believe that a child would become an instant athlete if they read a book about an Sports. Reading does not always make one run out and emulate the subject matter, in the same light that books meant to teach a moral lesson does not always get the message across as wished.
If you are interested in a subject, it is reasonable that you may naturally look into it. I remember that martial art's movies made me curious about the martial arts, and I did eventually study them; but I never became anyone who would give Bruce lee a run for his money. The countless books I read about colonies in space did not make me run out and study for the NASA Space program, although it would have done me some good to at least try. Using the “Harry Potter books” as an example, I understand that children may think that flying on brooms or zapping people with wands is fun, but they do understand that it is make-believe.

When we argue that children are so easily swayed by books, we are saying that children are mindless and lack the capacity to reason, that they cannot handle disturbing ideas, and they are unable to disagree with, or doubt an author. As a book store employee I have seen more than one child become disenchanted with an author or genre and give it up. I have seen in more than one instance, a book being questioned by a school board as “Satanic, or Evil” on the basis that it had a “Fantasy Theme.” For example-The game “Dungeons and Dragons” had a distinction of being labeled as evil for most of the 1980’s, as well as the “Star Wars” Film’s being labeled as “Liberal, and teaching our kids about Hinduism.” Most of the people who are against these things see them as evil and have made up their mind against it, before they ever learn more about the subject. In most cases they are just looking for something to work against, and they pick things that are hard to defend because they are frivolous, are not literature, and are not labeled scholarly. This makes the texts easy to attack, because they will probably get few l egitimate defenders from the academic field.

Even if there is a remote danger for some in the Harry Potter phenomenon, there is also a danger in overreacting -- in treating innocuous pastimes as unqualified evils. Christian arguments against true social and spiritual evils are weakened if we squander our moral capital preaching against imaginative children's literature. (Wolverton)

If you were to ask a parent if they believe in the ability for Children to fly around on brooms, defying the laws of gravity, they would have to admit that they do not. They may perhaps believe that witchcraft and all magic is “Satanic” and there could be a possibility of it existing, but ultimately they don’t believe in the fictional portrayal of magic. For the most part, the people who are apposed to the idea of Magic in Children’s literature don’t want to think about the idea of the Mystical and the Occult, and they don’t want their children thinking about it either. Why would parents work so hard to ban something they know nothing about? In the book “The Pleasures of Children’s Literature” there is a definition called “Agnosis” where a person does “Not want to know.” Their mind is set against thinking about something. The parents who oppose books with a fantastic, Magical theme are threatened by the the books that display this subject matter. By proxy they do not “Want their children to know” about it either. Also, the parents may be afraid about what their children “Already Know” so they hunker down and avoid the subject. This does not only happen with books of a fantastical nature, but books about race, religion, spirituality, and basically anything complicated.

I maintain that children’s literature, while having some basic influence is not a corrupting vehicle. There are those who disagree, and I want to have some balance in this argument, so I am including some contrary opinion. The Opposing viewpoint is that children can be influenced heavily by the momentum that a work of fiction takes, in the same way that they can be with a film. This is much more significant if the work has a heavy merchandising to follow it. "Selective searches [on the Internet] turned up more than 100 high profile web sites devoted to the [Harry Potter] series, many of which offer links to advanced occult web sites under titles such as 'Learn More about the Secrets of the Occult' and 'How to Become a Witch.' In an interview with Newsweek, a spokesman for the Pagan Federation in England reported that he receives an average of 100 inquiries a month from young people who want to become witches unprecedented phenomenon which he attributes in part to the Potter books. An article in the December 17, 2000, issue of Time magazine reports that a similar organization in Germany deals with an increasing number of inquiries, which it also credits to the Potter factor. Rowling herself [the author of Harry Potter] has expressed surprise at the volume of mail she receives from young readers writing to her as if Hogwarts were real, wanting to know how they might enter the school in order to become witches and wizards." (O’Brien) While that may be a chilling paragraph, you must also remember that George Lucas get's thousands of letters per week asking him how one can become a "Jedi Knight", a construct of Mr. Lucas's imagination. Children will seek also to become "Cowboy's" “Robin Hood” “Bob the Builder”, "Firemen" and I could name other occupations both real and imagined. The problem and issue herein, is that Witches (Druids, -ect.) are both a fantasy construct, AND a fact at the same time. How did this happen? How can it be true that a fictitious character can be real and imagined simultaneously? This happens because there is a Demographic of the population that call themselves Witches. Wicca, a Pagan religion, is also known as Witchcraft, and its members are known as Wiccans, or witches. For many people, the word "witch" conjures up images of evil, of ugly, green-faced old women who put curses on people or worship the devil or eat animals and children, when in fact, the number one rule of Wicca is "and if it harms none, do as you will," Wiccans do not believe in the devil (he is a Christian invention), and Wiccans are people of all ages, both male and female. (Reida) While there are people calling themselves Witches, and this title is also found in the Children’s fantasy books, -We can distinguish between the two. It is apparent that when reading about the practice of Modern Paganism that no one is claiming to be able to ride a broom, or turn themselves into a toad. The Magic in Paganism is Prayer, and the rituals perfomed by these folk are religious in nature, and have nothing to do with the works in Fantasy. While there is some influence from fantasy books into modern Paganism, Paganism has little real influence on most Fantasy books. (I.E. Many Pagans are influenced by Tolkiens “The Lord of the Rings.- The Lord of The Rings was written by a devout christian, and there is no pagan influence in the Novels other than historical similarities that are vague and have nothing to do with Modern Neo- Paganism.) So, when we ask ourselves about the idea of our children reading about fictional magical characters, junior wizards and witches, is it so wrong to let our children believe in such a thing? I don’t’ think that any children really want to get too in-depth when thinking about the constructs of fantasy. It’s like talking about psychology with a child who has an invisible friend. We have to admit that “It’s just an invisible friend, why bother talking about it?- Why dissect it? Why over- analyze it?” None of the characters in most fantasy books call themselves “Pagan” or approach the subject of magic from a point of view that is religious. Usually the approach to magic and sorcery is done in a fun and imaginative way that bears little resemblance to a “folk way” or a Religious Path. Quite commonly the authors leave much about the science of magic to the readers imagination. It is taken for granted that when a spell is cast, a wand is waved it “Just is so.” And that is all a person with an imagination needs. It needs to be simplistic in order to make the story work. Too much detail and explanation would make a child drop the book in boredom. From the viewpoint of a parent, I can understand the concern behind wanting to monitor what our children read. I would not want my son to read “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess unless he would put it in the right context. I don’t think he would suddenly run out and join a gang or snappy dressing Russian slang speaking hoodlums, but you get the idea. I do however worry about my son reading such things as “The Anarchist’s cookbook” (A Bomb Recipie Book )or “The Turner Diaries.”(A White Supremest Survivalist Tract.) Both books are scary to me. Would I therefore not allow my son to read them? Yes,and No. No, I would not forbid him to read them, if he showed an interest, this would make them more provocative to him. I would talk to him about it, and discuss the subject matter of the book before and after he read them. I would let him know that the “Anarchist cookbook” is not something that is to be played with, and has resulted in many young adults getting harmed. After reading a few articles on the internet, I was relieved to find a few minds that were not caught up in the sensationalism of the notion of Harry Potter being an evil influence. But Harry Potter has as much to do with the real world of the occult as do other magical literary characters ranging from Mary Poppins to the Cat in the Hat. (Wolverton) This important distinction seems to be lost on many who've jumped on the Potter-bashing bandwagon. This is no surprise. Organized religion has traditionally been uneasy with theater, with fiction and with imagination itself. C.S. Lewis was criticized for his Chronicles of Narnia, in which good characters and bad alike use magic to battle each other. Today those books -- which author J.K. Rowling acknowledges as her inspiration for her Harry Potter books -- are widely revered as Christian classics. (Wolverton) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis, in which the children physically enter the imaginary world of Narnia by walking through the back of a wardrobe is a Christian Classic that is often suggested reading for Christian youth. If you read the books, and you know this ahead of time, you can see the references that are vaguely made to Christianity. Nothing is apparent though, and a non-Christian could read the books and just enjoy them as simple fantasy tales. A non-Christian Parent would not have to be afraid that the author is indoctrinating their child through the use of fiction. I am often left scratching my head at the fear that many Christian parents seem to feel about their children reading anything that would let them see another point to view. The fear of them learning about Paganism, Shamanism, magic, Witchcraft, Wicca, or Shinto-ism from a children’s book is somewhat silly when examined, and if asked if many children who read books that had magic in them, if they believe in magic outright, you would probably get an answer in the negative. To close, I maintain that while parents should be concerned with what their children are reading, they should not get so obsessed that they imagine threat where it does not exist. Also, there is the danger of assuming that our children cannot tell fantasy from reality. If this were the case, we would be in much more danger from Film, Television and Video games than from what is in print, as special effects are so excellent today that it makes the separation from visual reality and fantasy harder to discern. I believe that people who argue against books like “Harry Potter” have an agenda, and have only picked on that specific book because it is popular, and gets the protesting groups “Air Time” or “In Print.” We must trust our children to know where imagination ends, and reality begins, and to have fun with what they read, as childhood is fleeting, and the reality of the 9-5 world comes far too soon.

Bibliography:M/center>
Nodelman, Perry and Reimer, Mavis. The Pleasures of Children’s Literature. 3rd Ed. Allyn and Bacon. 2003. pg 101-105 O'Brien,Michael D. A Landscape with Dragons: The Battle for Your Child's Mind, Ignatius Press. 1998 Reida,Britta , The Portrayal of Paganism and Wicca in Children's Literature 1999http://members.aol.com/believeinchildrn/paganlit.html Wolverton, Monte : Faith, Fantasy and Paganism:The Plain Truth Ministries Home Pagehttp://www.ptm.org/02PT/SepOct/faithFantasy.htm Dean Jones blackthorne6@hotmail.com


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