Saturday, April 21, 2007

Harry Potter and the Banning of Books

A few years ago, I left a summer Jazz Fest around 11:30 p.m., and realizing I could just reach the Barnes & Noble superstore before it closed at midnight, I set off to purchase a CD.

I had forgotten about the release of J. K. Rowling’s “Order of the Phoenix.” Every square foot of that superstore was packed with costumed children and their parents. As I made my way back to the music section, I observed child after child, regardless of the section of the store, sitting and reading, pulling other books from the shelves, sitting and reading more—all patiently waiting for the midnight release of their new Harry Potter book.

I found my CD and made my way to the counter. “Hello,” I joked with the clerk. “I’m not here to buy the new Harry Potter.” “Oh—so you’re the one!” he joked back. I paid for my CD and headed home.

“Damn,” I thought. “Anyone who can get hundreds of children to read, especially such a long book, has MY respect.” And the next day, largely out of curiosity, I bought all five of the then available books. When book six became available, I ordered it through Amazon (I remembered all those people in the superstore), and I’ll soon order book seven, due for release this July. They’re wonderfully written (with perhaps the exception of some dragging parts in book five) and well conceived—not a poor reading choice at all, despite the mumblings of a few educators here and there.

In elementary school, my classmates and I regularly received small catalogs of books we could purchase for a dime, a quarter, later thirty-five cents—and I did, saving my allowance to buy every book about dogs I could find. When I had exhausted their supply, my mother pointed out that the local library would lend me books for free. I hopped on my bike and got a library card. When I had exhausted the canine offerings in the children’s section, the librarian suggested another book: “Call of the Wild.” “White Fang” was next. When I finished Jack London, she suggested branching out to other animals: “The Jungle Book.” “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” was next, and I was off on a journey to discover this fascinating world that stretched from the Alaskan tundra to the jungles of India. Soon, raiding the adult contemporary paperback rack, reading Saul Bellow and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., I realized this was also a world of ideas, and included non-fiction works. I didn’t always understand them, but I knew that my reading would improve, that the journey was worth the effort—all because of dogs and a mongoose. Today, I’m fascinated with the language itself—especially Joyce.

But others don’t see Harry Potter in this light. J. K. Rowling’s website notes that Harry Potter books are again among the most commonly banned books. I’ve heard people complain about them, claiming that witchcraft is an affront to Christianity (I wonder if they also ban “Macbeth”). “Alice in Wonderland” is also commonly banned, since animals talk, in defiance of God’s creation. Somebody isn’t grasping the concept of fiction. What are these people afraid of? That children will start performing magic? Or listen to talking animals? Or are these people simply threatened that the real world is a world of ideas, a world contradictory to such a narrow, restrictive view of existence.

The Bible itself contradicts such fundamentalist foolishness. Consider Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12: 4-12:

"Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ."

Seems Paul believes in magic—or just maybe, unlike fundamentalists, he doesn’t see God as impotent, drifting if they don’t rush to his defense. Or, perhaps Paul is actually a disciple of Christ, turning the other check, spreading love and understanding—and new ideas. Paul gets it.

First, though, he needed to be dramatically knocked off his horse—even though he had thought he was doing the right thing.

Fundamentalists need to go riding. Christianity is about inclusion.

Some reading and thinking might help too.


No comments: