Monday, July 11, 2005

The Genius of Harry Potter

Columnist Joel Stein thinks Harry Potter is ONLY for the younger set. He readily admits “reading is hard. I try to avoid it whenever possible.”

And he calls us, Hogwarts fans everywhere, “stupid, stupid, stupid”.

He just doesn’t get it. Well, no wonder. He says he read the first 50 pages of the first book, and he thought it was juvenile. 50 pages?? And suddenly he’s an expert?

For an intelligent analysis of the Harry Potter Phenomenon, see “True Sorcery”. Author Joel Garreau sees Harry as this generation's Dylan. Now that’s genius. He wrote:

“But now it has occurred to me that the prophet of our children's era -- the One who would speak of new realities that elders fail to grasp and offer a moral code in the face of lightning change -- is here already, in tens of millions of books translated into more than 60 languages and carefully tucked away in bedrooms all over the globe: It's Harry Potter, modern Magus, harbinger of today's cultural revolution.”

Moreover, Garreau, in his weekend opinion piece in the Washington Post, sees relevant themes that Joel Klein can’t even fathom:
“Our children have used magic wands all their lives, raising and lowering the volume on the story boxes that they watch, controlling the narratives. It's uncanny, the way they can intuit what technology wants.”

And what lesson could be more important for the youth of today and the adults that guide and love them? Garreau points out the power of the Sorting Hat:

" 'It only put me in Gryffindor,' said Harry in a defeated voice, 'because I asked not to go in Slytherin.' 'Exactly,' said Dumbledore, beaming once more. 'Which makes you very different'" from the supremely evil wizard Voldemort who threatens all of civilization. " 'It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.'

Finally, Garreau writes:
Each day, our children wake up in a world that will have changed by sundown. They take incomprehensible change for granted and have absorbed the wisdom of the author Arthur C. Clarke: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." And Harry Potter addresses the outstanding question that we and our children encounter as we face such unprecedented change. It is the problem of the moral use of our powers. As Bateson says: "Who teaches what's right is an issue in politics, it's an issue in religion, it's an issue in business."

Joel Klein, the “moral use of our powers” is obviously an issue for all of us, no matter our age. Grownups who appreciate Harry and his adventures understand this, and relish the chance to explore these themes, with our kids or without!


Clarence said...

This is a fabulous post! I love the debate, the two sides you've managed to bring together in this single piece. I have to admit that I am an avowed Potter fan waiting for my new book to arrive that has been on pre-order for several months already.

Literature is powerful. Connecting kids with powerful books can only make sparks fly.

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Mamacita said...

Absolutely and positively and magically correct you are!

I taught middle school language arts for 26 years, and the Harry Potter books have done more to make our kids (esp those hard-to-reach boys)WANT to read than any official state-mandated program ever has come close to. Boys who wouldn't (or couldn't) read the back of a cereal box are working harder than they've ever worked in their lives so they'll be able to read what all the other kids are reading: Harry Potter and the Positive Turnaround of American Literacy.

People who put down these books just do not understand. They are Muggles in the worst possible sense. Those who pick up these books, and encourage others to do so, have mastered a kind of magic that only other real readers can understand. The real kind. Readers know magic. Readers ARE magic.

I thank you for your post.

NYC Educator said...

Joel Klein? Isn't he the Chancellor of NYC schools?

I love Harry Potter books. It's remarkable how they've turned so many kids into readers. I usually buy the new books for my nephew, but surreptitiously read them first.

Mrs. Ris said...

I wonder if it was a slip of the Freudian are right, the columnist is STEIN!! Not KLEIN. I fixed it.....

Dana Huff said...

Ooooh, I love you Mrs. Ris. I get so tired of reading Potter criticism from people who don't read Potter. Harold Bloom said the book was full of cliches and that he marked an envelope full counting how many times Rowling said "stretched his legs" for walking in Book 1. I re-read Book 1 to see if he was right. The phrase was used once.

Headmistress, zookeeper said...

Great response to an ill-informed article. We are also HP fans, of course.=)
I sympathized to some degree with his complaint that a lot of grown ups don't want to be grown-ups, but he all wrong about what it means to be a grown up. He revealed his confusion when he talked about what he thought was the only reason to go to Disney for a honeymoon. His idea of grown up behavior is the fantasy material of a 13 year old boy. And that's his objection to Potter, really, it's not smutty enough for him.
He doesn't really know what being a grown up is all about.

Anonymous said...

Stein writes: "But you had your C.S. Lewis and E.B. White and J.R.R. Tolkien. Isn't it a clue that you should be ashamed of reading these books past puberty when the adults who write them are hiding their first names?"

That really says it all . . .
And such an emphasis on shaming and boundries and restrictions!

(Yes, many adults enjoy Harry Potter mostly for the same reason that many adults can draw at roughly the same level as a mediocre elementary-schooler - they never really developed their lit. appreciation abilities beyond a certain point - but that's not the only reason, and anyway, that applies equally to most pop novels.

-Dan S.