Harry Potter

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British edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

The Harry Potter books are a hugely popular[1] series of seven popular fantasy novels by J.K. Rowling about three children at a British boarding school: Harry, Ron and Hermione. The children grow from age 11 to 17 in the books, giving them appeal to a broad range of readers including children and teenagers, but also appealing to adults.

Harry Potter

Harry Potter is the protagonist and the plot of each book focuses on Harry's adolescence and fight against the antagonist wizard Lord Voldemort. The books combine elements of whimsy reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, the strange adult immaturity of Through the Looking Glass, and the implacable good vs. evil fight of The Lord of the Rings.

When Harry was a mere baby, Voldemort murdered his parents, and he never found out that his parents were wizards until his 11th birthday (it came as a giant surprise). Hagrid took him to Diagon Alley for robes, books and wand; then on to Hogwarts, a boarding school for wizards and witches. He had many adventures there learning magic and using it to fight the forces of the wizard who killed his parents when he was an infant. Lord Voldemort seeks to become immortal by any means. Voldemort also leads forces of "Death Eaters" who follow Voldemort's ideology of a "pure-blood" (wizard who was born to wizard parents) society and persecute Muggles, non-magical folk. Along the way, Harry learns about life and death and grapples with questions of morality and friendship. There are seven books in total to the series.

The books have been fabulously successful, selling 300 million copies, and Forbes estimates that they have made Rowling the first billion-dollar author in history.[2] To date, five of them have been made into movies, the sixth to begin filming September 2007.

The Harry Potter series of books are sizable volumes. The 870 pages of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, even though printed in large type, contain 255,000 words—about twice as long as A Tale of Two Cities. The "Lexile" measure of reading level puts the series between 880L and 950L,[3] comparable to sixth-grade texts[4]

Christian Theme in Harry Potter

Spoiler warning
This article contains important plot information

Despite some criticism from mainline Christians who oppose Harry Potter for allegedly endorsing witchcraft, the series includes some aspects that parallel Christianity. Harry's death and rebirth at the end of Book VII (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) can be seen as mirroring the rebirth of Christ. Just as the savior of humanity was reborn, so Harry Potter, as the fictional savior of the magical world, is reborn. Further, this rebirth carries a special, significant guardianship trait: as Christ died to forgive the sins of humanity, resulting in salvation for all mankind, so Harry's death grants a protective magic to himself and to his friends. It could be said that Harry Potter teaches the nobility of meaningful sacrifice.

Praise

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This article contains important plot information

The Harry Potter series has earned a lot of praise for some (but not all) of the moral messages it conveys to readers. A theme thoughout the series is Hermione Granger's fight to acheive equal rights for non-wizards, house elves in particular. However, the books also snub political correctness, shown when Hermione tries to free the house elves working at Hogwarts to no avail, who are happy and content with their job. While Hermione's attempt to raise house elves to equal status with wizards is praiseworthy, her attempts to 'free' house elves at the price of their own happiness is not.

The books also encourage readers to turn away from the temptation of evil. Throughout the series Harry is shown to have powers viewed as dark and evil, including a direct link to Voldemort's mind. Despite this, however, he is never tempted to become evil himself (as Dumbledore thought he might), similar to the way in which Jesus resisted the temptation of the Devil.

Criticisms

The Harry Potter series is written in a way that embeds fantasy and wizardry into a real world setting. This could potentially lead to some children potentially exploring witchcraft, Wicca, and paganism. Indeed, the Pagan Federation in Britain has received a flood of inquiries from young Harry Potter fans.[5]

The Catholic Church has taken a more neutral position. In 2003, a Vatican representative said the books, "aren't serving as the banner for an anti-Christian theology.... I don't think there's anyone in this room who grew up without fairies, magic, and angels in their imaginary world." [6]

Some expect children's literature to present characters that are role models and teach simple truths that will help children grow and know the difference between right and wrong. However, the world of Harry Potter is one in which adult authority figures are complex, imperfect, and occasionally ludicrous. Some teachers in the series are boring, or outright incompetent, while others are supportive and protective (like Dumbledore and Lupin). In the first book Harry disobeys the teachers and is successful and later praised, a questionable message for younger minds.

Literary Criticisms

Spoiler warning
This article contains important plot information

It is also possible to accuse the author of poor planning or writing. Throughout the series a constant theme is the almost criminal incompetence of the Ministry of Magic. We are told at various stages throughout the book that some of Voldemorts followers managed to escape justice by lying to the courts that they were controlled by the Imperius curse. However, in book four it is revealed that there is a potion which forces the victim to tell the truth. Why, therefore, didn't the Ministry use this potion on the defendents to find out if they were really controlled or not? This would have led to their imprisonment, preventing them from assisting Voldemort to return to full strength. The use of this potion would also have allowed the Ministry to find out about Peter Pettigrew's betrayal, perhaps leading to his arrest and preventing him from assisting Voldemort to regain his strength (Pettigrew was the man who found Voldemort and nursed him back to a state of health from which it was possible for him to prepare for his rise to power). It is possible that J K Rowling had not thought of this potion at the start of the series, causing her to introduce a near Deus-Ex-Machina miracle on behalf of the evil side.


Notable Ban Attempts

On the week of April 10, 2006, Georgia mother of four Laura Mallory filed an appeal with the Gwinnett Board of Education in an attempt to remove the Harry Potter series from Gwinnett schools. Ms. Mallory (who has only read excerpts of the books) stated on the appeal form that she wished the books removed due to their "evil themes, witchcraft, demonic activity, murder, evil blood sacrifice, spells and teaching children all of this.".[7] The local board of education denied the request, as they felt the banning of Harry Potter would necessitate the banning of all books with reference to witches, including plays like Macbeth and even stories like Cinderella.[8] Ms. Mallory has since appealed the ruling twice to no avail.[9] [10] [11]

Similar concerns have been voiced by Christian cartoonist Jack Chick, pastor and author Dave Hunt, the British group Christian Voice and various others. None of these have resulted in any form of legal action.

Series titles

References

  1. The author has sold 350 million books and counting, been translated into 65 languages and had her work made into highly successful movies. ABC News
  2. J. K. Rowling And The Billion-Dollar Empire.
  3. For comparison: Charlotte's Web 680L, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland 890L, Moby Dick 1200L
  4. The Lexile framework for reading.
  5. About.com: Agnosticism/Atheism - Does Harry Potter Promote Wicca or Witchcraft? Is Harry Potter a Pagan Book? (page 2)
  6. Sink, Mindy (2003), "The Split Verdict on Harry Potter," The New York Times, March 8, 2003, p. B6; representative quoted is Rev. Don Peter Fleetwood, who "helped draft a Vatican document on New Age phenomena."
  7. [1]
  8. Georgia mom seeks ban on Harry Potter
  9. [2]
  10. [3]
  11. [4]