I was amazed. I mean, I love Harry Potter. I love the books. I love the films. Any literature that can spark the imagination of adults and children alike must be pretty brilliant.
So, imagine my shock to read of a mother in Georgia who sued to have Harry Potter books removed from her child's school library. She said the books promote "religious" witchcraft.
Now, she wasn't upset that the books promote religion. She was upset that the books (supposedly) promoted a religion other than hers. Of course, the Harry Potter tales don't deal with organized religion. They deal with fantasy and morals and the battle between Good and Evil. They show children being empowered, problem-solving, thinking, questioning people with moral agency. They don't criticize Methodists or invite children to survey the nearest Voodoo shop. They just promote reading, thinking, and imagining. If we have come to a place in American society where those values are not welcomed as healthy parts of an educational experience, then as a culture we are doomed.
Luckily, the witch-hunting suburban southern mom lost her court battle. But, as if her misguided crusade wasn't disturbing enough, it seems that in the six short years of this new century, the Harry Potter series has been challenged 115 times! That makes it the most challenged book so far in the 21st century. I'm aghast.
Look - I remember Pinocchio. I never thought that a fairy would ever REALLY turn a puppet into a human boy. I remember Cinderella. I never thought that a fairy would ever REALLY give an abused step-daughter a pair of time-released glass shoes. I remember Sleeping Beauty. I never thought that three good fairies would ever REALLY be a medieval version of Charlie's Angels, protecting the princess Aurora and battling the mean fairy, Maleficent.
For that matter, I remember the sacred stories I was encouraged to read in Sunday School - where snakes and donkeys magically spoke and virgins and 90 year old women strangely had babies and a prophet plays magical bartender at a wedding, turning water into wine. These stories did teach something, but not that I should give up reality and invest in a flying carpet or genie's lamp.
In school, we read Shakespeare with his fairies, witches, and ghosts. We read ancient myths about gods and goddesses and their strange exploits. We read fiction and learned to appreciate it without ever thinking we were being led to join the cult or Apollo or seek in the forest for the mischievous Puck. I even remember Bugs Bunny cartoons. I never once believed that I could survive a grand piano or an anvil falling on my head. Come to think of it, I never even believed a rabbit (or bird or cat or rooster or pig) could talk. Somehow, all Bugs Bunny promoted was joy.
Have we really become so shallow that creativity frightens us and that complexity threatens us? Are we so ill equipped to deal with fantasy and fiction that our only response to magical tales is to try to ban them? Then we better close up our bibles too. Because if we aren't careful we'll read about people walking on water, talking to angels, battling demons, living inside a giant fish, making the sun (assumed to be traveling through the sky) stand still, and other acts that if taken literally would seem to be encouraging unlikely and bizarre behavior.
Maybe Harry riding on a broom doesn't pose any real threat to our children. Stifling their imaginations and teaching them to fear diversity, creativity, and artistic expression will, by contrast, have depressing effects on our world. We need more thinking, more creativity, more fun...not less. I say throw out the standardized tests and bring in more Harry Potter.