It's amazing. For the first time in a long time, I'm ahead of the curve on something trendy. And then people want to ban it.
I'm talking about Harry Potter, a well-loved figure in our household. J. K. Rowling's stories featuring Harry--as you have read in a million places--occupy the first three positions on the New York Times best-seller list. Harry is the 11-year-old wizard who wears round glasses and attends the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Britain. Even we muggles--Rowling's word for those of us outside the world of magic--can recognize Harry stands for the right and the true.
I make no claim to independent trendiness. When we asked our first-grade son's teacher a year or so ago what books we might read to him, she suggested he (and we) would love Harry. She was right.
So it was with disappointment that I discovered there are people who want to throw our dear Harry out of libraries, ban him in schools and otherwise suggest he's a force for Satanism and other terrible, horrible, awful, very bad things.
Opening shots were fired in mid-October before the South Carolina Board of Education. In words that ricocheted around the country, Elizabeth Mounce, a parent, told the board that Harry's story had overtones of "death, hate, lack of respect and sheer evil."
"The occult and witchcraft are religious," said board member Jim White. "If Christianity and Judaism and any other religion is going to be banned from the public schools, then this should be, too."
In Omaha, the World-Herald's Michael O'Connor reported, Vic Fordyce, an English teacher at Omaha Christian Academy, said the books "didn't match up with Christian values."
Cecilia Chan reported in the Los Angeles Daily News that a parent in Moorpark, Calif., saw the Potter message as "sinister." Harry also caused controversy in Marietta, Ga., but a school principal eventually lifted restrictions on the book.
Several issues are getting confused. The first is whether parents have a right to influence what their kids see in libraries and read at school.
In a democracy, there ought to be no question that parents have rights to affect what their children are exposed to. Parents have a right to expect kids won't be allowed to read exceptionally violent or salacious literature without parental permission. They also have a right to protest books they see as racist or Satanist, or sexist or permissive or--well, they have a right to raise any issue they want.
But they shouldn't be in the business of banning books, and they should be discerning about which ruckus to raise.
My late mother was a teacher and, for the last decade and a half of her work life, a public librarian in a neighborhood storefront library. She was a serious Christian and had a passion for getting kids to read.
She took some risks in letting kids read "advanced" books if she thought such books would turn them into readers. But she also kept a small section kids couldn't get at unless their parents said okay. It's a rough rule of reason I suspect most librarians live by. My guess is my mom would love Harry and put him on the open shelves.
Then there's the issue of witchcraft and Satanism. A lot of people, including me, think the occult is not to be trifled with. People who worry about it should not be dismissed. But tales of magic are among the oldest of literary genres. If you believe Harry Potter promotes Satanism, you might as well see Steve Forbes as urging socialism and Dennis Rodman as an advertisement for humility.
Just before we read Harry to our children, we read all seven of C. S. Lewis's "Chronicles of Narnia," as profoundly Christian an allegory as you'll find. Far from negating Lewis's message, Harry's sense of good and evil, of right and wrong, is utterly consonant with what Lewis taught. The last thing you could say about these books is that they defend "death, hate, lack of respect and sheer evil." The opposite is true: Harry triumphs over all these things.
As for violence, 11-year-old Stella Williams wrote the San Francisco Chronicle to argue that " 'The Swiss Family Robinson' is more violent than Harry Potter." The first story "has guns, throwing of rocks, traps and knives." In Harry's books "the characters only use wands and magic."
For Halloween, my son decided to go out as Harry Potter. If I may say so, we helped him gin up a pretty good costume. My hope is that what he'll remember is the magic of the good values Harry lives by.