Sunday, July 22, 2007

The "Why" of Harry Potter

People who aren't parents are quick to dismiss the Harry Potter series as fluff. They think of it as juvenile fiction whose sole purpose is to entertain. But let us look at this from the perspective of literature. Great art, whether written, painted or performed, is a reflection of the era in which and FOR which it was created. Shakespeare had some horrible puns designed for the groundlings to giggle at. In a similar fashion, seemingly innocuous rhymes such as "Ring Around the Rosy" and "Mary, Mary Quite Contrary" were veiled commentary on the news items of the day. "Mary" was Mary Queen of Scots, later beheaded as an usurper. "Ring Around the Rosy" was a song based on the symptoms of the plague. Even other nations had their versions of childhood literature that was designed as morality plays or commentary. "Sur Le Pont D'Avignon (On The Bridge at Avignon) made reference to "on y danse" or everyone dances, never mentioning that they "danced" because that was the location where public executions were carried out. Even Grimm's Fairy Tales, a childhood classic in its original unDisneyfied form, was a very serious look at expected behavior and the very serious consequences for those who fail. Read the originals sometime for a better feel of how serious life was during those dark days. In Victorian England, Dickens showed the cruel division of classes and the depth of poverty. America's Mark Twain, showed Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer as the relatively new "classless" Americans who could attain greatness regardless of their backgrounds. So now we come to the present. Look carefully at the world around us. Although bad things have happened to children throughout history, no generation has been made more aware of the dangers of drugs, pedophiles, poverty, homelessness and war. A host of fates are often seen as inevitable. So when you are confronted, as these children are, with a world that appears consummately evil, isn't it nice to think that an average decent kid can turn the tide? We have Lord Voldemort, absolutely Evil. And we have Harry, not a genius, but instead a consequential hero who does what he has to simply because it is the right thing to do. This is totally a concept of western thought. And although Rowling is British, Harry in his demeanor and his tone is just as "American" in his attitude as Tom Sawyer. In a world filled with danger and menace, I find it a very hopeful thing that so many children seek out a hero who does the right thing, simply because it IS the right thing to do. So please, when you hear children, or college kids, or even adults like myself discussing Harry Potter and his world, don't be so quick to dismiss us. We are indulging in fantasies and as with all literature, Potter's world has some lessons to teach us. I hope we are learning.
I'mWithFred - Contribute Now


Law and Order Teacher said...

As a teacher I admire the tenacity of kids as the read the Potter series. A girl on my high school soccer team read the whole book in one night! I don't think that's a bad thing. Read on as far as I'm concern.

Ellen K said...

I read it in two. It's a good read. Don't get me wrong, this isn't Moby Dick. It's fantasy. But as I stated, the underlying theme is one of a culture searching for its Everyman. The hero who is not a hero, but who succeeds anyway. I don't know whether that is wishful thinking or determined positivism.