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Harry Potter

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Great and terrible
Books
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On our shelf:
As performed by
Tim the Enchanter

 Magic 
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By the powers of woo
Harry's world says that drinking dead animal blood gives power, a satanic human sacrifice and Harry's powerful blood brings new life, demon possession is not spiritually dangerous, and that passing through fire, contacting the dead, and conversing with ghosts, others in the spirit world, and more, is normal and acceptable.
Harry Potter: Witchcraft Repackaged, a DVD incapable of making a distinction between fantasy novels and the occult or even getting what is in said novels right.

Harry Potter, a series of seven (or so) fantasy novels by British author J.K. Rowling, relates the adventures of a teenage boy and of his two best friends who attend a school of "witchcraft and wizardry", learning a whole range of magical skills and fighting Dark Magic and evil, and how Alan Rickman got snubbed of another Oscar.[1]

The series portrays good triumphing over evil and became a literary and critical success. Nevertheless, fundamentalist religious groups condemn it as a harmful work which will seduce children into the occult and witchcraft. In the United States (the so-called "great land of liberty") the books have become the most challenged of the 21st century.[2] Fortunately for Harry Potter fans, magic and witchcraft are only a concern if you're living in the 17th century or living in Africa or Indonesia or Papua New Guinea in the present century.

The response to the books represents an excellent example of modern-day fundamentalism and would-be authoritarianism, with numerous attempts to ban the books.

Fundamentalist response[edit]

Oh noes!

There have been dozens of legal cases concerning copyright infringement, libel and breach of contract, and droves of religious leaders (plus Jack Chick) speaking out against the series.

It is worth noting that many moderate and some evangelical Christians have spoken out in favour of the books. While the Catholic Church has no official position, and many Cardinals are against the books, Cardinal George Pell has described the book as "deeply compatible with Christianity" and says it contains a "good dose of moral truth." It seems that once people make the distinction between fiction and real belief in magic, they can see past their objections to demons and witchcraft to see what the book is actually about.

Islamic fundamentalists have also denounced the series. The Islamic preacher Sheik Feiz Muhammad regarded the books and films as "Satanic" and claimed they were introducing young children to Pagan rituals such as the drinking of goat's blood, which are forbidden in Islam. He also criticized Muslim parents who allow their children to watch the films or read the books, claiming they were being irresponsible.[3]

Furthermore, the drinking of dead animal blood, Satanic human sacrifice, demonic possession etc. described in the quote at the top of the page, are actions practiced by the book's Wilhelm-screaming[4] antagonist, Lord Voldemort, the murderer of Harry's parents who is not exactly presented by the books as a morally praiseworthy figure.

As to the claims that the books promote witchcraft by teaching impressionable children to cast spells, well… we hate to break it to you, but the spells described in the books don't work in real life.

Satirical news source The Onion, in its inimitable style, once ran a spoof of the fundamentalists' claims, saying that children really were converting to Satanism because of the books.[5] As if to prove their own idiocy to anyone yet unconvinced, the fundies took the article as proof that they were right.[6]

And pull out your irony meters wands[edit]

Rowling is a Christian herself—the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, contains an epigraph from the Gospels (Matthew 6:21), his parents' gravestones display another Bible quote (1 Corinthians 15:26) and also has a scene where Harry sacrifices his own life and is resurrected and then proceeds to save everybody.[7] Oops, spoiler....

Themes[edit]

The Harry Potter novels have also been subject to serious social scrutiny, with studies of the series' political intricacies performed by columnists, professors and doctoral students alike. As of 2007, the catalog of the Library of Congress has recorded 21 volumes of criticism and interpretation, and at least seven master’s dissertations and 17 doctoral theses have been devoted to the Harry Potter books. Seriously.[8]

From the concepts of hierarchy and purity found in the relations between pure-blooded and muggle-born wizards to the struggle for House Elf freedom, equality is a central theme of the books. It portrays dishonest and incompetent government and media and paints war as a great evil in which innocent people die. The school which Harry attends, Hogwarts, is multicultural, multiracial and (seemingly) secular. Some critics have, however, called the books patronising and conservative,[9] or alternatively sexist and neoconservative[10] (which is odd since 1. Rowling herself is a staunch Labour supporter; and 2. Hermione).

Rowling also outed Dumbledore, one of the stories' most important characters, saying "I like to think of him as gay," not in the text of the books but during a PR event after the release of the final novel.[11] This must rank as one of the greatest achievements in having one's cake and eating it, since Rowling gets credit for standing up for LGBT recognition, without damaging her book sales or outraging her readership, in a world where gay central characters are still a rarity in mainstream literature and taboo in children's fiction.

Unrelated controversies include comparisons to some older book series such as the Howl's Moving Castle and Wizard's Hall (The Worst Witch is the most commented-on), which have resulted in accusations of plagiarism, or (far worse) being derivative. The works feature frumpy and disaster-prone protagonists, a couple of loyal best friends (one book-smart and rational, one street-smart and slightly problematic), a blond and rich but cowardly and rather inefficient rival, a scary and seemingly unfair potions teacher with hidden depths, a childish headmaster with a penchant for candy and a big bad guy who desires the destruction of the protagonist after their fateful first encounter. Whether this is more than just a re-hashing of tropes is a matter of debate.[12]

External links[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Spoilers!
  2. Harry Potter tops list of most challenged books of 21st century, American Library Association
  3. Harry Potter — Sheik Feiz Muhammad https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JHc6m3Y2ss
  4. Though, technically, the scream isn't actually the Wilhelm.
  5. Avada Kedavra, bitches!
  6. Harry Potter and Satanism, Snopes
  7. We're kind of over-exaggerating a bit, because it's implied in the final epilogue that he lived a fairly normal life after that.
  8. Pottering Around, Inside Higher Ed
  9. "Why Harry Potter doesn't cast a spell over me", The Guardian
  10. "Hogwarts is a winner because boys will be sexist neocon boys", The Sunday Times
  11. J.K. Rowling at Carnegie Hall Reveals Dumbledore is Gay, The Leaky Cauldron
  12. See the Wikipedia article on Harry Potter influences and analogues.