Saturday, September 8, 2007

Platform 9 and 3/4

So after about one month's worth of reading, I have finally finished the Harry Potter series from start to finish. I must say, these books were awesome! This series will go down in history as a classic, of that I am convinced. The books represent much more than what they may appear to be on the surface. On the one hand, the series is a set of coming of age novels; however on the other hand, they represent a fairly traditional take on the struggle between good and evil. Of course, by no means are these genres mutually exclusive, but Rowling puts an interesting spin on the concept by writing in a style which appeals not only to college literature courses and adult bookworms, but which brings children into the library too.

The books have generated quite a bit of press, and I'm not sure that I can say anything new on the topic. I can, however, express my admiration for Rowling's style. The books were so full of twists and turns that Law and Order should consider basing a couple of episodes on them. I never was able to predict the ending of a book until the very end (or should I say "at the close?"). These books were indeed page-turners. I hesitate to remark on the substance of the books because I don't want to ruin the plot for future readers, and I must commend the Harry Potter fan base. Even though I didn't start the books until several months after the series was completed, I did not overhear or have told me the ending of the books. As to that ending, all I can say without being too revealing is that it is both unexpected and ingenious.

For those of you who haven't read it yet, I recommend it hands down. I may not be a literature critic, but it wins two thumbs up from me. I know that I will be keeping these books on my bookshelves until they are worn out (as was the case with my copies of the Lord of the Rings). I have already decided to reread the series immediately; this is primarily because I feel like I will gain more from the series by going back and looking at things again with the end-perspective in mind and also because I can't find anything that can compete with what I have just accomplished.

And it is a feat to have read such a large amount in such a short time; not because the number of pages is ornerous, but because I came to love the characters in the book, yet I had them ripped away from my active life so suddenly. Whereas before I would encounter Harry, Ron, and Hermione on the Metro, in the classroom, and in coffee shops; I must not console myself with having their company only in my memory. As I said in a previous post, a good book is not only one which you cannot put down, but one which you can't bear to pick up because it means nearing the end. I think Harry Potter knows what it means though. Time and time again, he faced a sure end with out trepidation and without shirking his duty. There is much to be learned from his selfless actions, fictional though he may be.

Throughout the history of mankind, we have been introduced to fictional characters, yet to downplay any morals that can be learned from their stories would be foolhardy. The reason books are considered good is because they speak to us somewhere deep inside. They reveal a truth which we can relate to on some level of our consciousness. The Harry Potter series definitely measures up to that standard.

That's why I am so upset by efforts to ban it by (among others) the religious right. During my time in Atlanta, I remember reading news reports about a woman in Gwinnett County who repeatedly has tried to have the books banned from school libraries. Setting aside my views on censorship (and the religious right) I must reiterate my statement of the foolhardiness of rejecting morals from fiction. Anyone who believes that Harry Potter is a series about a boy who goes to Hogwarts and learns what it means to be a wizard is taking a position analagous to believing that Aurthur Miller's "The Crucible" is a historic account of the Salem witch trials. While this element is certainly an enjoyable read, the main elements of Harry Potter lie deep below the surface of the reading, deeper, in fact, than the gold in Gringott's. Of course, for many it seems that reading between the lines, as it were, is fairly difficult.

As a planning student, I understand the importance of history, but it must be said that history is important not because it happened in the past, but because it can tell us about ourselves in the present. Aurthur Miller's penmanship would not have been interesting were it a geneaology of witches and the burnings thereof in 17th century Massachusetts. Instead, Miller writes of McCarthyism in a way which allows people to analyze the situation from a different perspective. The religious right claims that Harry Potter encourages children to believe in/practice witchcraft. Other than prove how overrun the Christian conservative movement is by muggles, this tactic has done little to make the issue clear. This is because the religious right prefers to keep people in ignorance about its motives. If people really understood the changes to our society the religious right wants to inflict, they might be more eager to pick up a copy of "1984" before it too disappears down a memory hole.

Harry Potter does about as much to encourage witchcraft as Indiana Jones does to encourage children to become gun-toting archaeologists. Why then does the far-right want to have Mr. Potter banned from the classrooms and libraries of this country? That's a good question, however, I believe that even they don't think that droves of suburban American children are enrolling in Mr. Snape's potions lessons. There is probably a plethora of reasons out there for the right-wing opposition, yet I think the primary reason is that the religious right does not want to admit that their monopoly on morality has always been about as fictious as Norbert the dragon.

Allegory exists to help us understand concepts which are often to complex to be viewed from our current position. The banning of books like Harry Potter only handicap the learning of America's children. I would encourage any parent who wants the books banned to first read the series; if that doesn't change your mind, I'm afraid that your children have as much hope for growing up as free-thinking persons as Dudley Dursley.

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