Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Defense, Cont.

All right. Hopefully I've convinced any doubters about the lack of inherent evil in Harry Potter. There are "bad guys" in Harry Potter, for sure, and there are parts where evil is portrayed as very real. Because of that, it may not be suitable for your youngest readers. The later books deal with teen romance, with (hilarious!) guy-girl misunderstandings and interactions.  VERY helpful and insightful for your older child,  but probably not suitable for your preteens, or not without parental guidance and input. Because of this (and just general good writing) these are great read-aloud books, giving you a chance to guide thinking and discussion of the book, and allowing the entire family to enjoy the same story.  Always, JK Rowling's bad guys are clearly bad, and bad actions are clearly bad actions. Don't get me wrong; the characters are complex, realistically so. Even the "good guys" do bad things, and there are many characters whose goodness or badness is questioned for a time-- but the good comes out in the end and is lauded as good. There is very little moral confusion within the stories.  Rowling herself has said that each book has one or more particular "moral lessons" in it, and they are woven throughout the series. More on this later.

But why would I care enough about these books to defend them? Well, you can go read my big passionate reasons in the previous post... but just because something isn't all bad doesn't mean I want to spend my time defending it. I defend these books in particular because they have so much to offer our children, and all who read them. These books are well-written. They get children in the habit of reading for understanding. Children who wanted hints as to what happened next have been known to re-read the entire book, searching for clues and making predictions. That's critical thinking for you! Mrs. Rowling is without a doubt an amazing story-spinner, and her work shows layer upon layer of thought, planning, meaning, and false leads. Once you've read all 7 and go back to read the first, you'll be amazed at how many "seeds" are there which completely pass undetected. But beyond that. I mean, Dune is a lot like that, but I wouldn't care to spend time defending it and encouraging its reading, especially by children(that's just me personally-- nothing against a book in both my dad & husband's top 10).

What has Harry Potter got, then?  Let's start with the moral lessons:
The true nature and power of love; Harry's mother died to save him, and he must be willing to himself die for his friends to save them.  Lord  Voldemort (the ultimate villain)'s undoing is due to his lack of ability to love.  The preciousness and sanctity of human life, no matter the person's family or background.  The wrongness of racism.  Dedication to truth.  A need to be discerning of what hears or reads in the media or popular culture.  The lack of fear in death for the righteous.  Loyalty to friends.  The need to stand up for what's right, no matter the cost.  Courage-- even to stand up to your friends and tell them what they do NOT want to hear.  The value of family.  Respect for parents and adults (though Harry & his friends do disobey or mouth off at various points (again, realistic) they are expected to take their punishments, and they do.  The family dynamics within the Weasley family are hilarious, and wholesome.  The children are expected to obey their parents, and even the oldest boys quail under their mother's wrath or instantly obey their father's quiet command.)
  I could go on, but it'd be a pretty exhaustive list.  One quote that has gotten me through hard times: "It does not do to dwell on dreams, Harry, and forget to live."  Good ol' Dumbledore.

One of my favorite parts of the story is its portrayal of politics and how they usually work (or don't).  Kids reading this book come away with a healthy doubt of politicians, the dangers of the press, the need for freedom of the press, and a reality-check on bureaucracy.  When Lord Voldemort returns, the government's response is to refuse to admit it because of the effect on public morale and their own popularity.  Denial becomes the official policy, and any who doubt are punished and/or taken for fools.  One particularly nasty faction is portrayed --chillingly Pharisaical-- obsessed with "obeying the rules," making more rules, promoting racism and elitism, and glad to inflict severe punishments mercilessly on rule-breakers.  Harry and his friends are taken aback, because these are supposedly the "good guys," on their side against Voldemort.  Harry goes to his godfather for guidance, and I thought Sirius' answer was right on: "Harry, the world's not divided into good people and Death Eaters (Lord Voldemort's followers)."  He goes on to explain how many are just as wicked and wrong, just masquarading behind a facade of "righteousness."  True rightness is seen in justice tempered with mercy, in willingness to forgive and befriend, and ultimately, to die to defend.  

THAT's the kind of stuff I want my children reading, thinking, and talking about.

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