Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What we’re up against

Take a look at this op-ed from today’s Livingston Daily (out of Livingston, MI), entitled: “Harry Potter can make kids suicidal.” This is the kind of thing Harry Potter fans are up against. It’s the kind of thing book fans are up against, come to that. Visions of Fahrenheit 451 are dancing before my eyes here, folks.

The author starts off with this gem: “Why are Americans duped into reading and admiring Harry Potter books?” First of all, I don’t think one can be duped into admiring anything. One either does or doesn’t, based on one’s own rubric of art. Second, how are we being duped into reading the Harry Potter books? Really, I want to know.

“By reading these Harry Potter books, your children could be opening themselves up to a spirit realm in which they can become depressed and suicidal.” I would tend to agree with one of the commenters, who goes out on a limb “to wager that the bible causes many more suicides than Harry Potter does.” And I think there are plenty of other, more immediate influences than either. How about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, even? :) In any case, I know it’s an opinion piece, but can the author point to any scrap of evidence for such a baldly invective accusation? I doubt it. Rather, it’s a completely unsubstantiated claim aimed purely at alarming and manipulating overprotective parents.

Oh, but it gets worse: “[your child could] become entrenched with it to the point of demonic possession, and then, through hatred or revenge, could cast a spell or curse on a school teacher, classmate, boss, neighbor or you as a mom or dad. As a result of the curse, you could become seriously ill to the point of death.” So, now your child’s going to become depressed enough to kill you (magically, of course) — all because of reading the Harry Potter books. *rolls eyes*

Perhaps I should just dismiss such ravings out of hand; perhaps I shouldn’t even dignifiy them with attention in my blog. But I’m afraid that dismissal could be construed as tacit agreement. Not by you or me, but by others of John Carr’s mindset, or those who are undecided and easily manipulated. “You see?” they may say. “No objections! This John Carr fellow must have an impregnable argument.” *rolls eyes again*

That’s the road that leads to book burning.


  1. So, reading Harry Potter leads to Demonic posession and killing your parents? Not having read the series (because now I'm afraid), am I to assume that the kids at Hogwarts are a secret society of Satan worshipers who chant Slayer lyrics?

    Get a grip, mr. Carr! I don't see kids who read books and enjoy the plot lines and relate to the coming of age stories of the characters as a threat to society. I would worry more about the kids who spend countless hours playing Grand Theft Auto and even more countless hours unsupervised on the Internet.

    Jason, thank you for the post. I'm sending this to every teacher I know in the Chicago area. It will make for a nice discussion.

    And you, Mr. Carr, are a dope.

  2. Hey PJ, thanks for the reply. And thanks for the comparison to Grand Theft Auto (and the Internet). That puts things into a perspective, doesn’t it? There’s a reason you never hear about Harry Potter in the aftermath of shootings and suicides (e.g., Virginia Tech or Littleton). But you very often do hear about violent video games, easy access to guns, and so forth. And anyway, given how easy it is to pick up a rifle at a sporting goods store these days, I think I’d rather take my chances with a disgruntled citizen trying to curse me. At least then I get a saving throw. ;)

  3. You know the "love" i have for people who spout this kind of nonsense. The latest here in Chicago is "My kid has to read 'The chocolate War' and that will damage his self esteem for life". Puhleeeze!!!!!

    Why do people blame books and music instead of bad parenting? And why do we listen to them?

    I'm moving to Amsterdam :)

  4. I’m moving to Amsterdam :)

    Where instead of burning books, you can smoke them, right? ;)

  5. I know how you feel, Cat Bastet, hahae. Although I really feel more sad than angry. If this guy really believes what he’s saying, then he’s certainly too gullible to be giving advice to anybody else. I’m not impugning the Bible or its adherents, but taking anything written 2,000 or more years ago literally is quite a problematic position, I think.

    The Bible may condemn witchcraft (then again, is a book about witchcraft the same thing as witchcraft?), but have a look at Leviticus 20:13, where the holy book says that “if a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”

    And the Bible is full of such moral contradictions. There’s Christian tolerance for you. :/

  6. Mr. Carr needs to read Why Harry Potter Ain't the Devil by Methodist Minister and professional storyteller Bil Lepp. (Yes, that is the correct spelling of his name. :)

  7. Thanks so much for that link, Cat Bastet! It’s an excellent summary of the issues involved. I especially liked Mr. Lepp’s point that “if that is a problem then I guess imagination is a sin.” Well said!

    One bit raises the specter of another problem:

    It seems to me that there was a time in this country when reasonable, rational people, adults included, could tell the difference between fiction and non-fiction.

    This is part of the dilemma: many Christians have difficulty with this very distinction. In fact — and I honestly don’t mean to bait the Christians out there, but this is a fair question, isn’t it? — on what basis can one say the Bible itself is a work of non-fiction and not fiction? Seriously.

  8. ...on what basis can one say the Bible itself is a work of non-fiction and not fiction? Seriously.

    This issue boils down to two views: either the Bible is literature (written by mortal men) or it's the inerrant word of God to be taken literally. Christians who believe the latter are the ones who think magic is real and Harry Potter is the devil.

    I'm glad Bil Lepp's essay speaks for the rest of us!

  9. Yes, you’re right, Cat, but I would also say that there’s a sensible middle ground also, whose proponents argue that the Bible does contain divine truth issued originally from a holy source — however, subsequently reflected (imperfectly) through the necessarily fallible lens of the mortal, human mind, and therefore not to be taken absolutely literally.

    For the record, I myself am more in the Bible-as-literature camp, and I make no differentiation between it and Hesiod’s Theogony or the Old Norse Poetic Edda, for example.


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