First 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.