It seems that every time something good comes along, something else comes along (usually in the form of a money-hungry lout or a misinformed idiot) to try to spoil it. The great comic book Spawn, for example, might be forced to cease publication because some football player took offense at the name used as one of the villains, and is suing for more money than Todd McFarlane can pay out without shutting down the title. That’s the sort of thing that I’m talking about.
Now, Jennifer has recently converted me to being a Harry Potter fan. I had gotten the first book from my dad as a Christmas present just this past year, and started reading it — but sometimes when I’m reading a book, I get easily distracted by other things, and I just sort of put Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone aside for awhile, intending to pick it up again later, and just never did. However, when news about the fourth book came out, Jennifer decided that she wanted to read the first three, and she thoroughly enjoyed them. And I couldn’t help but notice the Potter-mania that was going around, especially as the release date for the fourth book, Goblet of Fire, came closer. Then my sister informed me that my niece really wanted the fourth book for her birthday; and so on the Friday night before the release, I found myself standing with Jennifer at Borders, waiting for one of the coveted unreserved copies, while kids dressed up like wizards cavorted and adults — some looking exhausted, some looking enthralled — gazed eagerly at the counter and employees made periodic announcements about special giveaways that would be given out with the first fifty copies. It was actually fun, in a way. I had stood in line for six hours to be one of the first people to see Star Wars Episode I, and this was kind of similar. But this hype was for a book, not a movie, and I’d never seen this kind of hype for a book before.
So last week I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone again and started re-reading from the beginning, not bothering to try to find where I had left off before; and over the next two or three days I read all three of the Harry Potter books, then borrowed Jennifer’s copy of Goblet of Fire and read that (that one took me four days, partly because of the length and partly because I found that I had very little time to devote to reading even while Jennifer was gone in Ohio for her family reunion).
The hype was worth it. The Potter books are certainly not brilliantly-constructed fantasy the way that The Lord of the Rings (or my personal favorite, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams) is, but they are a lot of fun, and well written. And anything which encourages kids to use their imaginations, to explore the world around them with wonder, and simply read more books deserves high praise, in my opinion.
So, of course, some people have to try to ruin it. One author from the east coast is suing J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, over an alleged trademark violation (you can read more about this at The Unofficial Harry Potter Fan Club); and the Harry Potter books are actually banned in some schools in at least thirteen U.S. states (more about that at Muggles for Harry Potter). The lawsuit kind of makes sense, if you squint in an intellectual sort of way (though I think it’s tantamount to A. A. Milne being sued over the use of the word "Piglet" as the name of a character); but I’ve never understood the reasoning process behind the desire to ban books. Okay, some books (such as The Turner Diaries) are deservedly jeered and most bookshop owners with an ounce of decency wouldn’t carry them; but what is the logic behind banning books like Harry Potter? The perpetrators claim that the books undermine traditional Christian values and that they promote Wicca and paganism (though I can also see how Wiccans and pagans could find elements of the Potter books that are offensive), but, again, you have to stretch to see it.
Part of the reasoning that I’ve seen for banning the Harry Potter books claims that these books teach children that the world around them is worthless, that people who can’t use magic are losers and not worth paying attention to; I have to disagree. Of course, all novels are escapist, to a point; but children don’t lose themselves in a novel and then despair that their world isn’t like that in the novel. On the contrary, children read novels about heroic deeds and create their own worlds to match. The characters in Harry Potter — especially Harry Potter himself and his friends — are brave and heroic and courageous, and I believe that these are values that we ought celebrate children learning. And the lessons that children learn while acting out their own stories as heroes are carried over into their own lives — at least, that was my own experience as a child, and that’s what I see in children around me today.
So my thought is this. Everyone knows that somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we lose the power to see or make magic in our world; some of us retain some of that ability, though it’s usually just a ghost of what we possessed in childhood. And some of us become so bitter at the loss that we can’t imagine that children still do have that power; so we deny that children have that power, and we try to bring them into our own world, just as bitter and jaded as we are, long before they are ready. "This is the real world," such people say, "and there is no place for magic or wizards or other fairy-tale nonsense."
But in reality, the world is a magical place, and full of wonder. Those of us who have had the misfortune to grow up can’t see most of the magic or wonder anymore, and so we have to Muggle our way through a world of taxes, difficult job transitions, broken cars, insurance, noisy neighbors, and so on. I’m glad that there are books like the Harry Potter books to remind me, at least, of what else could be out there.
It’s a shame that there are other people out there who feel like they have to spoil it.