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Lucy Perkins

The Devil Made Me Read Harry Potter

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There are some movies that appeal just to kids and not to parents (like Thomas the Always Smiling Yet Incredibly Boring Steam Engine) largely because they're mind-bogglingly slow and elementary. Or like Pokemon, they're just so fast-paced that parents not raised on a steady diet of MTV can't keep up. In contrast, you have movies like Toy Story and its brother Monsters, Inc. that parents don't mind being dragged to because there are plenty of sneaky, hidden jokes that appeal to adults even while the kids are guffawing.

Then, you have Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. This is the kind of movie parents drag their kids to see. Even though the Harry Potter books have been phenomenal sellers and appeal to the kid market, Harry has accrued a solid group of adult readers as well.

I have to admit that the weekend before Thanksgiving, when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone hit theaters, I was there, amid all of Harry's fans, aged approximately 3 to 60 to judge by my audience-mates. In fact, I was there despite my skepticism when I first began to hear the rumblings about the movie over the summer. After all, for those of you who haven't read the books, they are wonderful. J.K. Rowling brings Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to life in the books, and I was a little worried that Hollywood wouldn't be able to do justice to the characters and settings that already existed in my imagination.

Of course, once the previews were released, the fervor began to catch on. I also heard that Rowling was very careful about choosing a director who would remain faithful to the books, which was heartening. So, ultimately, there I sat on the Saturday after the show opened, flanked by a prepubescent boy and his mom on one hand and two middle-aged ladies with no children in evidence on the other.

I had just seen Monsters, Inc. the week before, so frankly I was prepared to put up with another horrible audience during my viewing of the Harry Potter movie. Though I have low tolerance for poorly behaved adults at movies, when I attend children's features, I am somewhat more lenient. I mean, sitting still for 90 minutes is a big task for a little kid. And I expected even more trouble than usual in regards to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone because I had heard that the running time was over two hours.

Yet I'll have you know that the audience with which I viewed Harry Potter was extremely well-behaved. A crying baby marred a few moments of the movie, but overall the audience, which did consist primarily of children, was wonderful. I even heard the boy seated next to me ask the people in front of us to be quiet at one point toward the beginning of the movie. Believe me, that was a new one!

So wouldn't you know that somebody out there in the world would have a problem with these quiet, well-behaved, intelligent, literate children who were so ecstatic about seeing a fantasy from books enacted before them. Those somebodys are, of course, the religious nuts among us.

For once, I'm really not talking about the majority of religious people in this country. Just this one time, the majority of religious people seem to be taking an intelligent, thought-out stance on a current social issue. But there is a fringe element of religious nuts who hate Harry Potter, and they see this new movie as another opportunity to go on and on about how dreadful Harry Potter is for children.

I had heard about these anti-Harry Potter folks a few years ago when the books first became big in the United States. Since Harry Potter is again in the news, these same naysayers apparently opted for another stab at making their point. In an attempt to figure out this elusive "point," I did a little Internet research and read up on the positions held by anti-Harry Potter people (Harry Potter non-enthusiasts?). My favorite article turned out to be one titled "Twelve reasons not to see Harry Potter movies," although a close second was "Harry Potter and Dungeons & Dragons -- Like Peas in a Pod?"

Now I've played a little D&D in my time, so the juxtaposition of Harry Potter and D&D in this article immediately reminded me of youthful traumas, such as being accused of Satan worship simply because I knew what a beholder was and how to correctly calculate the hit point damage caused by a +2 broadsword. Playing D&D makes one a nerd and most of the time a social outcast, but not a Satan worshipper. I think you have to listen to Metallica to qualify for that.

So anyway, as I read further, I realized that I had met with these arguments before. The same religious nuts who once denigrated me for my nerdy, mathematically inclined, but still generally wholesome, creativity are now after a new generation of intelligent, well-mannered kids, many of whom have probably never even heard an entire Marilyn Manson song. The main argument purported by these zealots has to do with a Bible verse in Deuteronomy that says something to the effect of "don't hang out with witches."

This whole huge theological debate actually results from the inability to discern between fiction and reality. The religious zealots who don't think kids should read about a young wizard and his magical exploits have somehow missed the crucial issue at the heart of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series: It's not real life. They have managed to misconstrue "suffer not a witch among you" into meaning "suffer not a person who reads about witches among you."

The article that I so enjoyed perusing offered the additional observation that, due to the Harry Potter books, many more children are actually becoming witches and wizards. In support of this claim, they quote figures from the Pagan Federation in Britain. Many things bother me about this type of "support," including the difficulty inherent in tracking the interest of children in paganism. But mainly, these arguments and silly logic problems try to deflect attention from a simple truth about children.

Children are attracted to Harry Potter, not because they want to be wizards, but because they want to be whisked away from reality. Just as Harry Potter at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a maltreated, misunderstood misfit who thinks no one cares about him, most kids feel scared, alone and misunderstood in our crazy modern world of divorce, bullies and (now) terrorism. Naturally, kids want to believe that something better exists in the world, just as Hogwarts existed for Harry. The interest children have in Harry Potter is not indicative of the downward trend of morality but of their ever-present hope of something better around the corner.

With any luck at all, it will be the young Harry Potter readers who claim the future for us instead of the close-minded fanatics who constantly seek to limit our perspectives and maintain the status quo.

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