Why Doesn’t Everyone Love Harry Potter?


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Natalie Hoyle

LIS 450 Censorship Case Study

Summer Session 2001

Instructor: Loretta Gaffney

Why Doesn’t Everyone Love Harry Potter?

Harry Potter, originating in England, has taken the United States by storm. In J.K. Rowling’s first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the reader meets Harry. He is an orphan, who lives with his abusive Aunt and Uncle Dursley and their cruel son Dudley. One day, Harry receives a letter inviting him to enroll at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft. Harry’s decision to enter Hogwarts changes his life permanently. Harry, once a school outcast in the Muggle (non-magical) world, finds a sense of belonging and friendship at his new school. He learns secrets that allow him to understand the significance of his past. In each of the books, Harry stands up against the evil, blood-sucking Valdemort. J.K. Rowling has written seven books in the series, but only the first four books are in circulation; including Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1998), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1999), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000). Scholastic, the Publisher will release the next three books within the next two years.

Many educators praise this series for even encouraging the most reluctant of readers to become excited about reading. In 1999, the American Library Association commended J.K. Rowling for bringing reading into the hearts and minds of kids (“Doesn’t Everyone Love Harry?” 2000). “The books are interesting, not boring like a lot of books,” says nine-year-old Phillip Zelonky (Moore, 1999). Eight-year-old Adam Holland has this to say about Potter books. “Lots of books are interesting at the beginning but then just fade off, but I liked these books because they kept on being exciting” (Moore, 1999). Eleven-year-old, Nurya Gilbert, says, “The books are very clever. They fit together like a puzzle. I found them so fascinating that I couldn’t put them down” (Moore, 1999). “There is really nothing like the Harry Potter books,” says eleven-year-old, Jeffrey Morse (Moore, 1999).

Children and adults alike have shown their support and interest in the Harry Potter series. Children wait in line for hours for the newest Potter book, or for J.K. Rowling to sign their personal copies. Last August, when book four, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released, the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenberg County (NC) ordered more than 200 copies. Despite the large order, all the library’s copies have been checked out and the reserve list is at least a yearlong (G., 2000). Therefore, children’s librarian, Melanie Huggins, does not know when she will have the chance to read the book the coveted book. “Librarians say that they’ve never ordered as many copies of a children’s book—or in some cases, of any book—as they have of the newest Harry Potter book” (G., 2000). New York Public library may have placed the largest order of 950 copies (G., 2000). The New York Times Book Review started a bestseller list for children’s books, because Harry Potter books kept dominating the adult bestseller list.

J.K. Rowling’s life experiences help to create the Harry Potter phenomenon. J.K. Rowling’s own life. As a struggling single mother on welfare, J.K. Rowling took shelter at a heated café to write her first book. After diligently writing, she had trouble getting publishers to accept her book. Finally, she found a willing publisher and the bookstore owners couldn’t keep her books on the shelves. Rowling’s life is a fairytale, which has come true. She portrays our modern day rags-to-riches story, as her popular books brought her off of welfare and into a life of luxury (Zipes, 2001).

Books alone hardly encompass the entire Potter craze. There are many other Scholastic books tied to the Potter fad such as the rules of Quidditch at the local mall or bookstore. Conveniently located next to the books are key chains, notebooks, electric spin-offs, school supplies, and other accessories (Milliot, 2000). Mattel plans to make a line of dolls and action figures. Hasbro plans to market its electronic toys; collector’s cards and candy products line this fall (Maughan, 2000). The Pottermania is also coming soon to a theatre near you. The Harry Potter movie, is directed by Chris Columbus, and is scheduled for release in late 2001 with an English actor playing Harry (Rees, 2000). As we can see from the Potter craze around us, many people are potty for Harry!

Although some strongly support the right to read Harry Potter books, others feel as fervently, that the books may be detrimental to children. The hoopla over Harry helped to create into a Potter phenomenon (Zipes, 2001). The fact that Harry Potter is an icon and a household name makes those who oppose the books all the more aggressive. It is difficult to point to one main source of opposition. There are many individuals that are stepping up to face the Harry Potter icon in various ways.

Censorship is “the suppression or prescription of speech or writing that is deemed obscene, indecent, or unduly controversial”. The word derives from a neutral word of the duties of the Roman censor, but has come to mean the suppression of ideas in our present day society (West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, 1998). No one considers himself or herself as censoring. People do not say “I am censoring” and this word is never used in the first person. Throughout this paper we will use the term challenge to refer to suppression of books, as it is a less threatening term.

Some parents removed their kids from the schools where Harry Potter books are available. In Moorpark, California, the Schmidt family removed their son from his elementary school because the Harry Potter books were being read in class. In Mount Vernon, Washington, several parents removed their children from classes. While some parents remove their children from schools allowing Harry Potter books, others see the solution to be to create a Harry Potter-free school. These parents challenge school boards, principals and educators to remove these books; they believe to be hazardous to their son or daughter.

Some schools have bowed down to the pressure from administrators in the school system. The media center at the Holy Family Catholic Private School in Illinois removed Potter books, because the principal feels they present “witchcraft and astrology in a positive light” (Goldberg, 2000). Private schools can make these sorts of unilateral decisions to remove books, but some public schools are following suit. Parents in Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Washington, and Georgia complained about the Potter series. “The most highly publicized protest against the Potter books came from South Carolina, where a group of parents, on October 11, persuaded the South Carolina Board of Education to review whether the books should be allowed in schools” (“Censoring Best Sellers: Harry Potter Under Fire”, 2000). Feeling pressure from parents, school boards and principals are self-censoring their schools. “Teachers at two Douglas County, Colorado, elementary schools were told not to read the popular books” (“Censoring Best Sellers: Harry Potter Under Fire”, 2000). As parents become more and more active in challenging books, some schools steer away from trouble by setting up safety guards to protect the school. Schools may shy away from allowing the books to be read out loud or require permission slips to check out the Potter books.

Strong opposition to Harry Potter has helped the Potter books top the top ten most challenged books list in the past two years. “According to the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom, Harry Potter first entered the list in 1999, rising to the top after only three months. The number of challenges to Harry Potter reported in 2000 was triple that of 1999” (Krug, 2001). While violence, sexual content, racism, and offensive language cause most of the top ten censored books to appear on the list, Harry Potter is banned for different reasons. Promotion of occult/Satanism and anti-family themes puts the Potter books at the top of the list (Krug, 2001).

When we simply look at the challenges to the seemingly loveable Potter books, with no background as to why they happened, they seem irrational and unfounded. Closer examination of the local battles gives us insight about what exactly is enraging the parents. Karen Jo Gounaud of Family Friendly Libraries says, “Books that may lead children into what we often consider to be an unhealthy interest in the occult are often considered ‘door-opener,’ (Gish, 2000). Some parents may agree with this concept and see Harry Potter as an automatically opening magic door that sucks their child into a world of wizardry and witchcraft. Much of the Christian opposition stems from the parables from the Bible that conflict with the witchcraft in the Potter books. In many cases, a family’s religious belief will structure their lives.

The Wiccan religion is sometimes associated with witchcraft. The U.S. Army allows Wiccan rituals on its bases and appointed military chaplains to military bases. In addition the U.S. granted the Wiccan church religious tax-exempt status (Gounaud, 1999). Some Christians feel threatened by the growing publicity and familiarity with the Wiccan religion that they see as directly against scripture and their religious values. Wiccans are atheists and revere nature rather than God. They use natural remedies and do not believe in Biblical scripture, whatsoever.

These Christians see Harry Potter as hinting at or hitting on occult or satanic themes such as wizardry or witchcraft (Gish, 2000). Some Christians believe “the overall framework [in the Potter books] suggests that the study of witchcraft/wizardry is something special and desirable”. (Gish, 2000). However, Christians perceive this behavior as morally wrong. Deuteronomy and many other books of the Bible forbid any dabbling in witchcraft. “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee” (Deuteronomy 18:9-12*noted by Gish, 2000).

One problem in book three of the series is the main characters’ promotion of Egyptian wizardry. Hermione, the class genius in the Potter stories, thinks the Egyptian wizards are “fascinating.” However, this contradicts Exodus 7:8-13, which tells children that the Egyptian magicians were the individuals who tried to prove their powers superior to God. Some people even believe that Harry, Hermione, and Ron are students of the “educational heirs to the Egyptian magicians” (Gish, 2000). They oppose the fact that the power in the Potter books lies in the hands of those who control the magic. Instead, they would like power to be represented through Christian values such as “self-sacrifice for such issues as faith, family and freedom” (Gounaud, 1999).

The censorship of Harry Potter is not a phenomenon that only affects distant places. We have opposition right here in the city of Champaign by ministers preaching against Harry Potter. I spoke with a librarian at the Champaign Public Library about the popularity and challenges to the Harry Potter series. She says that in addition to the ever-circulating Harry Potter books, witch kits, books about spells and witchcraft have become popular since the Potter series came out. Last year the Champaign Summer Reading Program held a Harry Potter party. Due to the outcry of some of the local ministers against the Potter stories, many parents are checking out the Harry Potter books to decide for themselves whether they should allow their children access to Harry Potter.

I spent a Saturday afternoon at the local Market Place Mall to interview teens about the censorship of Harry Potter. Two thirteen-year-old girls dressed identical with navy shirts, white visors and large hoop earrings said that they realize that Harry Potter books are “untrue silly fiction fantasy” and they didn’t understand why some adults would take the book to heart. Two fourteen-year-old boys said that they hadn’t read the Potter books, but they wanted to be able to read, “Whatever they wanted.” One pointed out that there is much worse corrupting material on television or in movies. I questioned a fifteen-year-old boy, a sixteen-year-old boy, and four seventeen-year-old boys about what they thought of the banning of Harry Potter. They agreed they could see that Huck Finn may be offensive to African Americans, but they couldn’t understand what spirits or supernatural parts of Harry Potter would keep them out of the school library. All of them said that they didn’t see any need for Harry Potter to be banned.

After a close study of Christian parents’ opinions towards Harry Potter, I realize that this is not a case of a group of censoring lunatics half way across the country. These parents, some of them being our neighbors, are genuinely interested in protecting their children’s welfare. These concerned parents see the Potter books as challenging the Christian belief structure.

Direct dialogue between parents and their children about Harry Potter may be a helpful way to diffuse the situation. If children tell their parents how they interpret the themes in Harry Potter, the parents may find that the books do not adversely affect their children. Parents could explain what they see as a problem with the books, and how the books affect a child’s view of reality. Children need to communicate about their perception of the differences between fantasy and reality. The parent may continue to insist that their child be wary of the Potter books, but at least the child would understand their parents’ fears.

This research has shortened the distance between Harry Potter challengers’ and myself. As I unravel the reasons for the parents concerns, I begin to understand their fears, and it is no longer possible to laugh at their anxiety. As a future school media specialist I plan on continuing to listen to parents’ concerns and book challenges with an understanding of their point of view, even when my initial impression of a book does not lead me to question it.

Not everyone sees they anti-Christian themes in Harry Potter. Professor Jack Zipes, author of Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children’s Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter, sees Harry and his friends as like-minded “gentle Christian souls.”

“And unlike most children entering puberty, they have pure souls; in fact, they do not drink, smoke, or take drugs. They do not curse or fail to show their elders respect. They study hard and attend all classes. They rarely break the rules of Hogwarts, and when they do, they have a good reason or guilty consciences. They do not talk about sex…(Zipes, 182, 2001)”
The Christian parents challenging the Potter books read the same book, but have a very different take on the book.
Despite other media, such as television and movies that may seem more pressing, these parents has taken time and effort to challenge the Potter series as s/he feels that these are directly affecting their child.

A Potter fan may ask the Potter challengers what is distinct in the J.K. Rowling series from other high fantasy novels. While some Christians want to ban Harry Potter, they are promoting C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles on their reading lists.

The Family Friendly library organization does not think it fair that educators are able to celebrate the witchcraft in Harry’s books, when they leave out the Christian elements from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles (Gounaud, 1999). Some of the problem may be if the Potter books are read outloud, one parent. Quote feels that the teacher is condoning the behavior. It is true that books transform into a different story when read outloud and this is a legitamate concern that I would only be able to evaluate by reading the book outloud myself. (story teller who? Aronson).

Explain what censorship means and where the word comes from?

Quote from Aronson that not used in first person…

What are the parents trying to protect their children from in the books?

What specific aspects are they uncomfortable with?
What do they see as distincet in the Potter series from other fantacy books.

Does Harry Potter fit in the fantasy category? What makes Harry Potter more objectionable than other fantasy books?
Closer examination of diff fantasy books

Compare Lion Witch and Wardrobe to Harry Potter-explain what differences in elements and popularity created more animosity towards the Potter series.

Show that Lion is on recommended lists from people who oppose Potter books
Don’t think that this type of distaste for the books is far from you, it is right around the corner…..

Pull up paragraph about Champaign Library.

Wizardry rather than sex or violence
Who are the key players? Kids themselves—note quotes and interviews at Market Place Mall,

parents (individuals who like Potter Series—Muggles for Harry Potter, but I will focus on those who oppose)

There fear is real as our society is jazzed up about Harry Potter books—witches are real the Wicca religion is a real thing…

School boards or cases?

Concentrate on case below of taking Potter out of school?

This couldn’t have happened in such a way if it hadn’t been for the popularity of the books and the extent that kids were taken with the books. Or if the books had witches, witchcraft, and wizardry are words on the tips of tongues these days. The trigger of this is Harry Potter. Harry Potter is not just a series of books, Harry is an icon, a stuffed action figure, a household name. Many children dressed up as Harry or Hermione for Halloween the past two years. Everywhere you turn you’ll hear about the Potter phenomena and parts of our society are reacting distinctly towards the series. Some conservative Christians are violently opposed to the Harry Potter books for the harmful messages they perceive as being sent to children.

If the Harry Potter series were not such a craze, it may not be so harshly opposed. However these books are definitely not hiding. Walk into any bookstore and you will find a Harry Potter Section with books about Quidditch, key chains, notebooks, Mattel dolls, games, electric spin-offs. You may have heard that there is a Harry Potter Movie coming out in 2001. Warner Bros will be spending $45 million on special effects alone (Rees, 2000). So Harry Potter is jumping out at us in bookstores, the movie theatre, online…
Some conservatives Christians see witches as a real evil force and want to protect their children from harm.
It is not just the concerned parents who worry about witchcraft—girl got suspended from her school for casting a spell on her teacher.
We library and information students need to commend parents for caring enough to be concerned about reading material for there children.
The first step in communication is seeing if the parent has read Harry Potter and to understand to what specific topic he or she objects to and why.
Object to:

Witch craft and wizardry

Disrespect for authority
We may need to give our children some due credit and listen to how they feel about Harry Potter. I have only seen positive feedback, not negative from children and teens

On the Harry Potter chat room and the unofficial Harry Potter Fan Club

We are going to
However the children’s
Parents’ concerns are valid and they should be able to talk over with their children what they don’t like about Harry Potter.

Censorship prompted a web site to be set up for defending the Harry Potter series: www.mugglesforharrypotter.com. “This is sponsored by organizations such as the National Council for the American center, the Children’s Book Council and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. (Rees, 2000)”

School Superintendent of Zeeland, MI
For imposing a ban on classroom readings of the Harry Potter books in Zeeland classrooms as of November 22, 1999, and creating a rule requiring fifth-through-eighth graders to get parental permission slips before checking the books out of school libraries.
Below: good site about case


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