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Why Is Harry Potter Banned? – Op-Ed Piece
Banned Books Week is at its end, and what better way to end the week than asking the question many of you probably have. Why isn’t Banned Books Week a month? I mean, poetry gets a month, and banned books get a week. That is silly. I want a whole month of books that are…. Oh…. Right. The other question you may be asking; “Why Is Harry Potter Banned?” The boy wizard defeating evil is the book of our times, whether you want it to be or not. The book’s popularity is so impactful that many are trying to go to the School of Hogwarts. Yeah, more people are excited to go to a castle and pretend to be a wizard/witch than they are to see their own family.
Harry Potter is a popular culture phenomenon, like that of The Simpsons and their town Springfield or Spongebob and his pineapple under the sea. Try as you might, you can’t really avoid the boy who Voldemort couldn’t kill.
What is so strange about the book is that it is banned so much by so many. Now books being banned is not that uncommon. In fact, the Christians, who are suspected as being the ones who wish for the Hogwarts book to be banned, are readers of a book even more controversial, quite possibly the most controversial book of all time; The Bible. Christians can’t pretend as if their book doesn’t come without any problems when they throw shade at Harry. What does it mean for us as a society when the most popular series is also the most banned? (That is a question for another day)
Many books that are hailed as classics were and are still banned. Mark Twain’s book Huckleberry, which is still beloved by many, is one of the most controversial books of all time for the characters' frequent use of the n-word. Twain claims he used it to capture the heart of the people in the story, which is not that uncommon in stories, and he even went as far as to say that he had different dialects for the various people. Adults agree that Huckleberry Finn is a book that uses hateful words and inappropriate language to convey a good message that can help many people. But you try telling that to a room of teenagers when they hear Huck Finn call someone the n-word. All the teenagers laugh and miss the very message that Twain was trying to say.
Banned Books Week does pose the question; should an author try to be banned? Doesn’t it help the author if they are banned by creating publicity around the book? What if all the authors out there decided to only write books that were banned? What would happen then?
As much as we all don’t mind when a book is banned, we also don’t want that to be the criteria for writers either. We hope that many of them are not lured into creating situations of inappropriate behavior and mean characters to prove a point. Sure, when a great writer like Twain does it, then the strange technique works, but when an amateur does it, then that person may end up glorifying the wrong parts, notably the parts that are the very reason the book is banned, to begin with.
That gets us back to Harry Potter. Why is it banned? I think I have a few reasons.
It’s popular. – Harry Potter is the most popular book of the 21 century creating the most recognizable character of that time and being the most popular series as well. It redefined the YA genre and is still felt by the many YA fantasy books we see trying to be bestsellers. Many YA authors use the story of a young child hero with a few friends trying to save the day, similar to how Harry, Ron, and Hermione did so. Literature has gotten to the point where you can tell that writers are trying to write the “next Harry Potter” by putting fantasy elements in a young adult setting where the kids defeat evil. Unfortunately, for those YA writers, I don’t think they realize that Harry Potter is a once and a lifetime book. There won’t be another one.
When something becomes extremely successful on the levels that the Harry Potter franchise achieved, it is only natural for that art to create some sort of controversy, justified or not. The news will cover it, probably presenting their biased take as the truth. Your feeds on your social media pages will be filled with it so much that you can’t help but click on the link one time, just to see what it is about. Bloggers like me will write about the controversy, trying to appear trendy and knowledgeable on the current topic. Why does it all happen? Because the book (or any art, it doesn’t have to be a book) sold more copies than anyone imagined. Some of this reaction is envy by contemporaries, in that the people not involved with the successful project are mad that the art is that good, and they aren’t getting anything from it, so they find something wrong about it. Some of the bans could be that some people who don’t agree with the art are vocal about their opinion. They really don’t like what the book says or represents, and they want to let people know about it. Regardless of whether the book is controversial because of envious peers out for revenge or upset parents trying to protect their kids, eventually someone, somewhere, will not like it. That is just the way it is. Think of it like owning a restaurant; if you get enough customers, you will find a few who walk away from the place dissatisfied, and there is nothing you can do about it.
The second reason for Harry’s book being on the top of every most banned list is a little bit more complex, so I broke it down into three smaller reasons. It is about how the book was written, which I feel set it apart from other books of its kind.
How It Was Written
Harry Potter is a kid – There are many well-known wizards and witches in storytelling, from Merlin from Arthurian Legends and the witches in the Wizard of Oz, but most of them, before Harry Potter came onto the scene with the mark on his forehead, shared a common feature; they were adults. Wizards/witches were older people to whom the young reader couldn’t relate or even wanted to relate. The wizard/witch of the past wasn’t made to get empathy from the reader. I am talking about wizards and witches like Merlin or The Wicked Witch of The West. Both would apply for AARP if they were around today. Not Harry Potter, though. He is a young, naïve child when we first meet him. There is no other example of this in literature that has been as popular as Harry. This first part already makes Harry Potter different than his contemporary wizards. We see him grow up and age. People see themselves in Harry because he did something no other wizard ever did; he matured. Harry wasn’t wise or full of years of knowledge of the wizarding world. He was about as lost in it as we were, and this makes him very charming since we are on a journey of discovery with him.
Harry is the main focus of the story – Before Harry Potter changed the pop culture landscape, there weren’t many wizards or witches that focused on the actual wizard/witch story. We weren’t following them as much as the larger story around them. Merlin was in King Arthur’s story only advising Arthur. The Wicked Witch of The West was in Dorothy’s story, but only as her main villain, not as the main character we see the world through. Gandalf is in Frodo’s story, guiding him along the way, but it is not Gandalf who is trying to destroy the ring. Before Harry Potter, the wizard/witch was seen as a side character and never considered a lead role. For all the time we spent with the supernatural being, we never got too close to them since we eventually ended up going back to the main character, seeing the story from their perspective. Eventually, we go back to seeing how King Arthur handles his knights. We leave The Wicked Witch of the West and go back to following Dorothy on her way to Oz. We leave Gandalf and go back to walking with Frodo. If you combine this with the first point, you have a very different kind of wizard story. The kid wizard takes center stage. That is not a reliable formula for success in a story since it didn’t happen before Harry Potter.
The kids learn spells quite a lot. - If there is one area of concern that I agree with the Christian community about Harry Potter, the story has an unusual amount of spells involved. One could easily mistake the series as promoting them. The use of spell casting is so rampant in the story that when someone in our world stands waving a stick around, we think of Harry casting a spell. It’s become as iconic as a lightsaber duel. That kind of emphasis on spells is strange in wizards/witches’ stories. Sure we all know that Merlin knew some spells; after all, that is why King Arthur got his hammer. We know that the one scene from Macbeth with the witches, listing the items in the spell, but we never got a step-by-step basis on how to make one from so many enthusiastic characters. Macbeth had only a few witches. Harry Potter is giving us a whole school of kids. In the Harry Potter world, the act of crafting spells is not to be frowned upon but to create imagination and wonder in the hearts of the children, as if they are at the circus. For crying out loud, the kids go to class to learn a spell, like how most go to classes to learn grammar or math. The world of Harry Potter has an institutionalized school for wizards. They have teachers. They have dorms. They have separate houses. They have the kids get textbooks on spells. All of that is unheard of in an Arthurian story or any other wizard/witch story. Before Harry Potter let a hat sit on his head to assign him to a house, wizards/witches lived in a far-off part of the forest, away from society, not at a boarding school similar to the ones we have today. The Harry Potter book series has an obsession with showing the kids, who, by the way, were never even shown as wizards/witches before the story, learning the spells. I’d even go as far as to say that Hermione Granger was included as a main character at the beginning of the story to show off all the spells a wizard/witch must learn. Every time you meet her, she is learning another spell. Almost as if she is not there to advance the plot but to show Rowling’s interest in spells. You can’t say that Harry Potter downplays its magic world. Combine all three of these, and you have a very distinct and popular book ripe for people wishing to see it banned.
So why is Harry Potter banned? Because it does a lot of things that not many books ever do.
It reached a level of success rarely matched by even classics. It features a main character that is young for his age compared to other characters of that same type that came before him. It showcases the wizard/witch as the main part of the story, where wizards/witches were designated to being supporting characters to the main hero before that. It highlights the very act of casting spells more than any other wizard story before it.
Let’s talk about who wants it banned for a second. Who are they, and why are they interested in banning this book?
Christians, followers of Christ, want to see Harry Potter banned because of their view on wizardry. In their view, his good deeds don’t change his nature. To be a wizard is to be a monster or a creature. They don’t view him as some sort of savior figure but a disturbing young man, possibly even a demon. Christians ask where God is in the story, and when they see a story full of kid wizards casting spells without any regard for God or Jesus, they see the story as anti-religious. In the eyes of Christians, Harry Potter and his friends don’t need to be against Christianity, but they can represent things that go against the Christian beliefs, which Christians could see as enough of a reason to ban it. Witchcraft is bad. All witchcraft books should be banned. Harry Potter is a book that features witchcraft; therefore, you ban it.
As I said, the Christians have a point because never in the story of Harry Potter is wizardry viewed as skeptical or strange. In Harry Potter, witchcraft is not a special moment but life. Being that Christians think that their guy rose from the grave, it is easy to understand why they are upset that the most popular book of our time goes against their own leader and beliefs. You can’t really expect people who practice witchcraft to be impressed by the Resurrection and Jesus. I don’t know if you can like Jesus and like Harry Potter. Christians obviously see it as impossible.
On the other side are the people who say that it is just a book, only a story to be enjoyed and liked and that Christians should chill. That side does have a point also. No matter how big Harry Potter gets, it is only a story created by J.K. Rowling to entertain kids. No kids are reading Harry Potter and trying to become a sorcerer afterward. The trip to Hogwarts is no different than someone wanting to go to Six Flags or Disney World. It doesn’t mean that people want to become wizards and witches. Our society knows that it is all fake, so the act of banning it is hurting the child’s potential chance to experience a book that can help their imagination. Harry Potter, more than any other book for kids, helps children enjoy reading and triggers their creativity, and that is enough to deal with the strangeness the wizardry involved.
Personally, I get the Christian concern. We are living in a world where people are losing faith and hope in God every day. Being anti-God is now seen as being hip and with it, and I am sure that some Christians view Harry Potter as a part of this anti-God movement. But I think that one thing makes me be against the banning of Harry Potter; Harry himself. Harry is a good guy trying to help others and do his best to understand his place in the world. He is not evil or malevolent, or corrupt. He doesn’t want to use his spells to take over the world or hurt people. He is a genuinely good person, so saying the book should be banned is missing the point of the character of Harry Potter. If he was a bad guy, then I would understand banning the book, but because Harry is a good person, the lesson is not “look at this wizard world”; it’s “see how Potter saves the day” The ironic part in the banning is that I never thought Harry was the best with spells anyway. He is the hero for his heart and soul, not because of his mastery of the wizard lifestyle. In that regard, he is like Merlin because we don’t really love Harry for his knowledge of spells. We love him for the goodness he gives others around him, like how we like Merlin for always having King Arthur’s back. Harry Potter will always try to do the right thing, and that is very noble for a hero to do, wizard or not. He is a character that many people who read the story can trust will do the right thing, not because of his ability or hard work, but because of who he is; a selfless, caring hero, and that is a good lesson to teach kids.
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About The Blogger
Greg Luti is an editor and blogger on pensandwords.com. His favorite writers are Robert Frost and Charles Bukowski. He enjoys reading up on history, watching comedies, and playing video games, when he is not writing down a few notes for his next piece. He started this blog out of his love for literature and hopes that the reader shares that same passion.
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