Every year, somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I have one celebratory drink, the kind generally accompanied by scads of crushed ice, a miniature umbrella, and a La-Z-boy. I figure its pretty much the only time I can indulge since my husband is usually on vacation also, and can take over as the kids chauffeur for an hour or two.
Planning my annual strawberry daiquiri got me to thinking about the whole Harry Potter controversy, which isnt as strange as it sounds.
Youre talking to someone who can find a connection between Elmo and Emerson, given half a chance. I didnt take Manufacturing Metaphors Where None Exist in graduate school for nothing.
Anyway, Ive noticed some diehard members of the Puritanical Party strongly believe that little Harry, and all his associates, are demonic spawns of Satan, destined to lead children to pursue careers in: A) witchcraft B) occultism or C) floristry. Opponents are fully convinced that any youngster who peruses the pages of J.K. Rowlings best-selling series will immediately wish to turn his parents into toads and ship them off to a rattlesnake farm. But hey, a lot of kids whove never read a book in their lives already want to do that, so what else is new?
However, if we plan to ban H.P. from our bookshelves, weve got some major housecleaning to do, because partial measures would be incredibly hypocritical, wouldnt they? Rowling is just one more in a long line of prolific authors following a tradition of storytelling which quite often includes elements of fantasy, mystery and escapism, especially in childrens literature.
We will have to rethink almost all of what we allow our young people to read if we use some sort of preset barometer established by a narrow-minded minoritys concept of what constitutes wicked indoctrination vs. innocuous imagination.
For example, under such scrutiny, just a few of the possible rejects might include all mythology, fables and epics. The Odyssey is full of pagan worship, adultery, one-eyed cannibals, spell-casting seductresses, animal sacrifices, and a quivering feathered butt that sprang to the nipple of his breast as the barb stuck in the liver.
Well also have to nix Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet, a play taught to high school freshmen, with its inclusion of rampant sex, fighting, drinking, partying, drug overdosing, teen suicide, and lots of yelling What ho!
And although some fairytales are well, pretty Grimm, Ill admit, what with witches incarcerating long-haired chicks in towers and fattening up kids for supper, are we really prepared to discard some of the most cherished writings of our culture?
I still have a set of The Junior Classics, bought for me by my grandmother, one volume at a time from the A&P every Saturday morning.
The pages are so worn and fragile now, from age and use, Im almost afraid to open them. But I am reasonably certain that reading these wonderful works did me far more good than harm, perhaps even enhancing powers of creativity and discernment, because among all the odd twists and turns, I also learned, as do readers of A Potter's Tale, about courage and perseverance and love.
I think we foolishly underestimate the native intelligence of most children when we assume they will automatically mirror, or copy, all behaviors or attitudes they observe, especially negative ones. Some may make poor choices, but the majority of young people will lean toward whats right, especially if their parents set a decent example. Just knowing about the less-desirable aspects of life does not guarantee ones adoption of them; in fact, on the contrary, it probably leads to a wholesale rejection of aberrant or strange practices. By the same token, its also shamefully ignorant to presuppose the average child cant, or wont, be able to separate fantasy from reality.
And, in my opinion, on a planet pretty much gone mad some days, maybe a little dose of pretend isnt such a bad idea.
Dr. William Allan Nelson, former president of Smith College, once said, The world of children is a world of imagination. It is good that they should roam it as widely and as late as possible, since what we call the real world will seize them all too soon. There are theorists who are troubled... and fear the effect of fairytales upon their characters. They make a stupid confusion between fiction and falsehood.
Im fairly confident that one drink a year wont ruin my character, and neither will one little boy playing Quidditch.
(Mindy Jeffers is a local free-lance writer.)
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