Last week I wrote about how much the Harry Potter books meant to me as a young reader – and to some degree, still does – but this week I’d like to write about how this lovely part of my childhood was placed in jeopardy.
As is wont to happen, there are groups of society who easily condemn anything that is popular as evil. I attended a conservative primary school, which was very vocal about its ideas of right and wrong. They declared things to be “evil” with striking regularity.
Anyway, when I started reading Harry Potter, it was not at all well-known in South Africa yet (I’m not sayin’ I’m hipster, but…) – but as we all know, HP-fever would spread rapidly. The first movie came to South Africa late in November 2001, so by the beginning of the next year, you could say that Harry Potter fever had finally reached the kids at my school well and truly.
Obviously it wasn’t long before parents started complaining to the school. We didn’t even have a very up-to-date school library, so it didn’t carry the HP books, but parents still wrote ardent letters to teachers about the evil of Harry Potter, and they hoped that HP games/trading cards/etc would be banned.
Then, in Bible classes, teachers would talk about how Harry Potter represented the occult, and that we should not read the books. Some students brought magazines to class with pictures of pagan symbols and all sorts of things (why were they allowed to bring those, then? ACTUAL factual things?), pointing them out and declaring, “SEE! THAT’S in the books!” – even though I knew that most of them hadn’t even read the books, nor their parents. Most of them were probably just reacting to chain emails and rumours.
And me? I was just sitting there, thinking that these books had been the best books I had read in years, and now somebody was telling me that it was WRONG?
I was a good girl. I didn’t want to do “bad things”. I remembered how there had been scary bits in the books, and I wondered if that had been a sign of inherent evil. My teachers asked me if the HP books ever made mention of Christ, and I said no – but nor did they make mention of any other religion, or of any anti-religion! (Well. At least these teachers prepared me well for my future high-school debate career.)
My teachers said that the Bible was clear that witches and magic were bad. I was just twelve, and I wasn’t a theologian, but I had the feeling that the magic and witches of the Bible were very different from McGonagall and her sort. Furthermore, many other books and shows had magic, and they had no problem with those… what about Peter Pan and Tinkerbell? The Chronicles of Narnia? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? (The latter, my dad later told me, was also condemned as evil long before I was born.)
But there wasn’t much room for debating with the teachers who told me that my favourite books were bad. Back-chatting to your elders was BAD – and the last thing I ever wanted to be was bad. So I didn’t read Harry Potter again for almost a year, until my parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas (2002) and I said, “I would love… oh, never mind.” I wanted to say that I would love Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but then caught myself. But because my parents are awesome, they persisted, and I caved and told them how sad I was about the supposed “evilness” of Harry Potter.
And my wonderful parents, who have strong morals and are devout Christians, said the wisest thing I know.
“Evil is everywhere. If you go looking for it in a book, a movie or a game, you WILL find it.”
They didn’t think the boy wizard was evil at all! And I trusted my parents’ judgment far more than that of any teacher. So I got the book for Christmas and I loved it. I continued to feel that Harry Potter was a story of the triumph of good over evil, and that magic was just part of the setting.
Years later, when HP and the Deathly Hallows was published, many people changed their tune, because all of a sudden there were all these parallels to Biblical stories. Now, all of a sudden, Harry Potter was worthy. But those of us who had actually read the books, had known this all along.
It still bothers me, though. That I couldn’t just enjoy these books for the fantastical stories that they were. That I, as a little girl, had to defend my reading choices when really it was one of the cleanest books out there. And one of the best.
This is how censoring and the rubbish debates about “evil” in kids lit hurts reading. Luckily for me, I’m a die-hard bookworm. I wasn’t going to stop reading because somebody made me feel bad about it. I just wonder how many kids weren’t as lucky as me.