Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Dear parents: let your children read Harry Potter

One of the courses that I'm taking this semester is a study of the work of C.S. Lewis, and the class recently concluded reading the first book of The Space Trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet. To sum up the book, a professor named Ransom is kidnapped by two men and whisked away into space, eventually landing on a planet named Malecandra.

He escapes captivity before he is to be handed over to the aliens of the planet, only to meet another benign alien species. As Ransom adapts to life on Malecandra, Lewis then begins to introduce an adapted theology that mirrors Christian ideals, allowing the reader to understand what exactly is going on. The secular theme of expansionism is also introduced from the two antagonists, and readers soon find themselves figuring out what Thulcandra, or The Silent Planet, is, and how this all ties into Christian ideology. Regardless of your belief system, I would recommend reading this book not just because of how Lewis artfully explores Christian theology, but also because it made me feel like I was reading a certain beloved series of books.

If the first thought that came to mind was Harry Potter, then your instincts are correct. I started reading Harry Potter in third grade, and I can proudly say that I own and have read (and re-read numerous times) all seven books, have seen all eight movies, and that I am a Hufflepuff at heart (and because Pottermore totally sorted me into Hufflepuff).

Yet the reason I was able to start my magical adventure with J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was because my mom encouraged me to read the series. Yet, I grew up in a Christian household. Surely, my faith should prohibit me from reading books that contain witchcraft and spells and potions and even *gasp* some inappropriate language (read: Mrs. Weasley's epic annihilation of Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)!

I think I'm a pretty okay guy....mostly.

I'm primarily writing this as a response to the fact that, unfortunately, most parents don't want their kids reading certain books because they contain elements of magic or they may refer to the gods of Greek or Roman mythology or any other factors that a highly traditional Christian would deem "unacceptable" for their children to read.

Yes, I am a born-again Christian. But it hurts to see that there are still Christian parents won't let their children access wonderful pieces of literary work, such as the Harry Potter saga, just because magic is part of the story. Even outside of faith circles of any faith-based lifestyle, my heart breaks when parents don't want their children to read these wonderful books because they're "weird" or "full of crap".

It also concerns me when some Christian parents try too hard to create an alternate version of stories to make it "appropriate" for their children. A stay-at-home mom named Grace Ann, though I'm sure she had good intentions at heart, created a Christian Harry Potter fanfiction for her kids to read since she didn't "want them turning into witches" and it "won't lead your children astray".

If reading Harry Potter leads children away from Jesus, then I am so far from God, I'm sitting in the Ninth Ring of Dante's version of Hell from The Divine Comedy.

Sarcasm aside, I have read plenty of books, played lots of video games, and watched TV shows and movies that feature magic, aliens, dinosaurs, and demons. I have yet to read The Da Vinci Code, but I have seen the movie, and I enjoyed it and plan to read the book. Yet none of this has ever made me question my personal faith nor have I desired to rebel against God. I was raised in a house where I was encouraged to expose myself to those things, and as a result, it's helped me understand how to take those messages and apply them to my faith. I took the message of friendship from Harry Potter, and I've managed to build a strong circle of friends who I know I can count on because we can all count on each other to be there in our darkest hours (also for later: how you've probably been using that "blood is thicker than water" argument wrong for years). I was fortunate to have a mom who not only raised me to mature into a strong and outwardly loving Christian, but who also told me that reading these books was okay because they helped develop my worldview even more than I could ever imagine!

To divorce faith from it for a moment, reading these books also helped me understand the injustices that still plague our world. Reading Harry Potter helped me, in my own unique way, understand why racism still exists and how I can fight it. The character of Dobby helped me pay more attention to child slavery. I've seen with even more open eyes why we, as humans, have to care for our environment and our animals as they quickly are hunted and treated as cruelly as Umbridge did the centaur. Characters like Harry, Hermione, Ron, Luna, Neville, Sirius, and Ginny all have reassured me that who I am is actually really cool and I need to keep being myself, no matter how much someone will desperately try to change me.

So, why should parents, both Christian and non-Christian, let their kids read Harry Potter? Here's a quick list.

1. J.K. Rowling is not an evil witch who is encouraging children to practice magic.

2.  Magic is a core element of the universe of the Harry Potter books, not the central message (more on that in a bit).

3. The saga exposed key social issues that our society as a human race has seen before and sometimes still sees today, primarily"purity" based on lineage (mirrors racial purity, a key ideal of the Nazi party and the Ku Klux Klan, by comparing "mudbloods" and "purebloods").

4. The central message of the saga was that friendship and unconditional love was the real magic that ultimately wins over the forces of evil in a world that is falling to darkness.

5. The series is inclusive as all get-out. Characters from different cultures, socioeconomic statuses, family structures, and personality types are represented beautifully here.

6. It may have a few character archetypes, but good ol' J.K. creates a series that has its own spell for enchanting millions of boys of and girls across the globe.

That being said, I'll end this post with a quote for you to ponder on.

"We can find a book bad only by reading it as if it might, after all, be very good."
         -C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

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