On Harry Potter (and Other Controversial Stories)

"Some of these things are true and some of them lies. But they are all good stories."
-Hilary Mantel
I recently heard about a discussion taking place on the topic of Harry Potter. One person had stated that she was going to read the series. A second person warned her to be careful, and a third person put the second person down for implying that they're dangerous, telling the first person to have fun. The discussion between the second and third people's points of view went on. At various points in the conversation, they left, and other people joined to carry on their thoughts. But I found two basic opinions in the conversation. One, that Harry Potter should be eschewed, and the other, that it should be enjoyed. While I can't say much for the tone of the conversation, I found myself both agreeing and disagreeing with points made here and there. I see similar conversations about Harry Potter and other stories rather often. Here, I'll be going over some of the arguments I see more often, and then explaining my own views.

In the arguments for Harry Potter, I often see the defense that it's just a story. It's harmless fun. After all, the story doesn't actually teach you witchcraft and wizardry. It doesn't teach you how to cast spells and enchantments. All of that is just the setting for a story that's much deeper, and has a good message to boot. This negative idea that Harry Potter is dangerous is not only an extreme overreaction, but also hypocritical, since the same people will often read and/or allow Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and many other stories that involve magic. This being the only excluded story doesn't make sense, especially since it has good, positive messages about love and other virtues.

Against Harry Potter, we don't see only the basic argument of witchcraft and wizardry. I've seen a number of different cases against Harry Potter, usually different from eachother. One argument is that the main characters are consistently disrespectful towards authority and mean towards eachother. The adults are portrayed as villains and the children as heroes, and one of the very few "good" adults is gay. Another argument says that it's only prudent to avoid stories delving into witchcraft and wizardry for the sake of keeping our minds pure. Narnia and Lord of the Rings are clearly different, as their authors were Christians, while J.K. Rowling is not. I've even seen Harry Potter compared to pornography. You don't look at porn to see what the author thinks about life, so why would you read Harry Potter to learn about the author's opinions if it's clearly a sinful series?

I agree and disagree with various aspects of both sides, so let me tell you about my history with the series before going into greater detail in debunking those arguments. I wasn't allowed to read Harry Potter as a child. I assumed that this was because of the magic. When I was almost eighteen, I was discussing the series with some friends and my dad, and learned the true reason for my not being allowed to read them (which I'll cover in a few paragraphs). At that point, I checked the books out from the library and read them over the summer, finishing after I turned eighteen. I later found used copies either in boxes marked "free" or at used book stores and sales for extremely low prices. At this point (that is to say, as I'm writing this post), I own used copies of all seven books and have read the series twice. (Once in order, and once in the order that I found them used.) I do not, however, recommend them to anyone (though I don't try to keep people from reading them, either).

I'll now go over some specific flaws with the arguments made above, and then explain my overall reason for my stance. I'll begin with the first of the arguments against Harry Potter. I will admit that the main characters are not ideal role models, but this is about as far as the argument goes with regards to accuracy. While they occasionally behave in a rebellious or disrespectful manner, I believe that, far from being glorified, this behavior is put down. While some adults are portrayed as villains, many are also portrayed not only as "good guys," but even as heroes. Similarly, many of the students are seen as mean, and if they rebel against the teachers, foolish. In addition, Dumbledore is not portrayed as gay within the series. The author stated in a separate interview that she had always thought of the character as gay, but that isn't how he's characterized within the story.

Next, the issue with the comparison to porn. Pornography is not meant to convey what somebody believes. If somebody is making pornography, you already know what they believe. It's meant to bring about lustful thoughts and actions, not to build people up or to teach people. Stories, on the other hand, are intended for good (whether they fulfill that goal or not). They are meant to teach. If one person writes a story, their goal may be very different from that of another writer. Where they are alike is in that writers are attempting to teach people, even if the people don't realize it. This brings us to the very important point that is at the base of my opinion: stories have power.
"I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word."
-Emily Dickinson
The very reason that writers write is because they know that stories have power. After all, if we think that our writing is useless, then why do we do it? A story portrays some characters and character traits as good, and other characters and character traits as bad. It puts people in certain situations, and tells you whether the characters made the right choice by what happens as a result. As we read, we learn, because stories are there for the purpose of teaching. Even here, my style of teaching is not as direct as it could be. While I write my opinions in these posts and share them with you, teaching you about this particular topic is only a sub-goal. As I've said from the very beginning of my blog, my true goal is to make thought and analysis a regular and easy thing. I hope to achieve this by analyzing various topics on a regular basis, regardless of whether or not people agree with my individual posts. Similarly, fiction writers display their own worldview in their writing and hope for it to become normal. In this way, Harry Potter is dangerous. It's easy to become desensitized to the nature of the world, including the witchcraft and wizardry. (As it turns out, I have another post on Magic and its Types that covers this in a bit more detail. As it also turns out, Tolkien and Lewis were fairly interested in paganism, which worked its way into their stories. Thus, it could be argued that because it's more subtle, their stories are even more dangerous than Harry Potter.)

I wasn't originally allowed to read Harry Potter because my parents knew that I can get sucked into fiction very easily. They didn't want it to take over my life, and they didn't want me to learn subconscious lessons as so many do. Now that I'm older, I attack stories as I read them. I still enjoy them, but I also look for what they're trying to teach me. I fight back against them. I want to be able to root it out before it gets into my subconscious. I am then able to learn not how the world supposedly works, but rather, something about the author's worldview. I write stories because they have power, I read stories because they have power, and I'm careful with stories (especially ones with subtle messages like Harry Potter does) because they have power. I also have to know where to draw the line. I do not, for example, read erotica. And even though I very much enjoy Star Wars, I don't read any Star Wars novels, because I know they'll take over my life. This is why I neither recommend Harry Potter nor urge people to stay away from it. People need to know their own limits and what will be healthy for them. For children, it falls to the parents to make informed decisions about what their children can handle without getting sucked in or absorbing lies.
"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."
-Abraham Lincoln

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