Potter Hysteria

Skeptics CircleFirst it was the religious busy-bodies wringing their hands and crying that the Harry Potter books were devil worship and must be banned. Now even a few psychologists are finding fault, suggesting that the Harry Potter story has become too dark, too violent, too scary for children. The final group of naysayers are those who just poo-poo the books as bad literature and over-hyped rubbish.

On the other side of the argument, other psychologists are saying the books are a good tool to teach children about death and about some of the bad things that happen in the real world. Teachers and parents are just happy that something has made kids get back into reading. And of course the fans themselves will proclaim the genius of the novels at every opportunity.

Whichever camp you look at, the fans or the naysayers, they are both incredibly vocal. Do a search on Google News for articles about Harry Potter and you’ll find hundreds of them. I don’t remember seeing such prodigious output for one book or series of books (ok, The DaVinci Code came close).

Do the books hurt their readers or help them? Who cares? I’ve been reading fantasy literature since I was a kid. I read things at a very young age which had a lot more violence in than anything JK Rowling has written. I’ve read books that I’ve enjoyed more than Harry Potter, and I’ve read a lot of books that I enjoyed less.

No book has ever affected my real life behaviour (unless you count setting up a secret club after reading the Secret Seven series). No single book has shaped my religious, spiritual or moral beliefs. No book has made me commit a crime, or perform a ritual sacrifice, or sent me into therapy.

If adults are worried about the effect literature is having on children, they should stop concentrating on one specific book or series of books. Instead they should be concentrating on teaching children to understand and recognize the difference between reality and fantasy; between real life and fiction. They should be instilling critical thinking skills into children from the earliest possible age. The same goes for TV, movies and video games.

Encourage children to read. Encourage children to question and talk about what they read. If they get scared or upset, comfort them and remind them it’s just a story. If they ask difficult questions, answer them in a reasoned, logical and non-judgmental way.

4 thoughts on “Potter Hysteria”

  1. Very well said.
    Having never actually READ Harry Potter books, I can’t say anything about them per se, but, like you, I started reading books at a very early age and some of it was very scary stuff indeed.

    My Father has always told me that what he hates most about children’s litterature is the “Disneyfication” and cleaning up of classic tales. Take for example, the stories of the Brothers Grimm. I read them when I was very young. The originals. The ones with sex, death, cannibalism, and the likes. Yes, some of it was quite scary for a little kid, but I knew it was a story and only that.

    In this age of supposed enlightenment and great education, I find it very sad that some people can’t see a story for what it is, and not try to dissect it and find it’s hidden meanings. It’s as if parents don’t want their children to develop imaginations.

    Anyway, John’s gone and bought the whole series of Harry Potter books so I can’t wait to get in to them, just to see what on earth is so BAD about them. Or, for something good to read. Whichever.

  2. I think half of the people who think the Harry Potter series is a bad influence or satanic or whatever probably haven’t even read the books (like me, except for the first two). It’s really just an opportunity for them to exploit a hugely popular series in order to promote whatever uptight brigade of do-gooders they’re trying to fund.

    For those who think the books are too traumatic, I think JK Rowling said it best when she said she never knew of a child who was happier not having been scared a little bit in their youth.

  3. Judy Bloom would question her purpose in life if she heard you say that. Good. She should. “Are you there, God, it’s me Margaret” was gross. It’s better not to teach kids about their bodies. See how well it worked out in “Carrie”?

    OK. Here’s an idea…the kind of idea that keeps me from getting invited to respectable parties…we could send all the hysterical Jesus freaks and shrinks a picture of Tinky Winky touching himself while he reads a Harry Potter book with the other Teletubbies watching. Actually, I’ll bet you that more than one of them would make it his computer’s wallpaper. In fact, we could have a whole calendar made that was full of all the books and movies and shows that people thought were morally corrupt. If we sold more than 1000 of them I bet a church in Kansas would explode.

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