Book 3: The Boy Who Lived
[This is part 3 in a weeklong series about Banned Books. Part 1 and Part 2. Join in on the Link Up here!] Let’s launch into the 21st century with today’s pick, shall we? Or at least something contemporaneous: a boy who lived and a school for wizards.
Yes. Harry Potter.
In the early 2000s, I remember watching one of those 24 hour news networks and they were talking about the controversy surrounding Harry, the boy wizard, and the craze that was sweeping the nation. Parents were challenging the books in schools, stealing them from libraries, and even, in some places, burning copies. The reason? Magic!
I got hooked on Harry Potter right after graduating from high school. I had some gift cards to Barnes and Noble, and I figured, why the hell not, and bought The Sorcerer’s Stone. The next week found me persuading my dad to take me to go get book five (yes, I read all of them in a week, and there were only five out at the time).
When I moved into my dorm for my freshman year of college that fall, my roommate saw my Harry Potter books and told me that she had never been allowed to read them in her house. It was less than two weeks before I walked in to see her holding my copy, completely absorbed in the wizarding world.
There is a magic in Harry Potter, but it’s a magic that exists in the relationship between the world on the page and the reader reading. Harry Potter provided role models, vocabulary, and a part of an identity to many young children and has become a part of the cultural zeitgeist. You’ll find people identifying with certain Houses – I’m a Ravenclaw, for the record – and you can tell different (generalized) personality traits based on which characters people identify with the most. There is a magic in books that can capture that, in books that have multiple heroes and complex realistic characters.
And indeed, as I argued in my thesis for my Master’s degree, a Christian reader in particular can understand the depth and reach of a Church-esque community through paying attention to the ways in which Harry must depend on others and cannot “go it alone.” The Holy Trinity of Harry, Ron and Hermione is reminiscent of the Holy Trinity of the Christian tradition, in that it reflects equal contributions and inter-dependence necessary for a functioning community. In short: it takes a village to save the world, not an individual.
But, many children, like my freshman year roommate, have been denied access to this tale and this message because of a fear of a device – magic. Magic, in the wizarding world, is not the end all be all – it is a device used in creating the world, but it is not the world itself. It is value-neutral, and hierarchal, with love being the most mysterious and most powerful force of all.
The arguments many had can get more nuanced than that – arguing that because the magic is value-neutral, the books elide the distinction between good and evil, whereas Narnia, for example, always had a solid distinction between good magic and bad magic (which is laughable because, hello, Magician’s Nephew?). This is hogwash – the true message of Harry Potter is that the decisions we choose to make within our flawed, sinful world are what has the greatest impact, and we are most empowered to make good decisions when we understand our place within a loving community that bouys and challenges us in the right ways – a community that knows us as human beings and loves that we are.
And that, truly, is the Deepest Magic of All.