Harry Potter books are best thing to
happen for kids in years


"Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were
proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very
much. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved
in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't
hold with such nonsense." 


By JOHN MONK
Editorial Writer 

That's the beginning of the notorious Harry Potter books, which
S.C. parents called "evil" last week before the S.C. Board of
Education.

Wanting to see what the hullabaloo was about, I read the first
two Harry Potter books. They tell of a young boy and his friends
-- Hermione (the smartest girl in the class) and Ron (Harry's best
friend) --at an imaginary school for wizards somewhere in
England.

My conclusion: A+.

No wonder millions of children are reading these books by
author J.K. Rowling. No wonder bookshops such as Columbia's
Happy Bookseller are sold out and libraries have long waiting
lists.

They're great. They're wholesome. They're fun. 

The Potter books combine the detective work of the Hardy Boys
and Nancy Drew, the mirthful wordplay of Dr. Seuss and the
lampoon portraits of Charles Dickens. No author in the English
language has displayed a more frolicking imagination since
Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland.

Reviewers have aptly compared the Potter books to C.S. Lewis'
Chronicles of Narnia and J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. 

But the Potter books transcend fantasy. They reflect the same
wellsprings of human experience and imagination writers have
mined for centuries:

In Homer's Odyssey, clever Ulysses outsmarts the giant
Cyclops in a cave. In the Potter books, Harry finds himself in the
bowels of a castle, matching wits with monsters in mortal
combat. 

In King Arthur legends, as described by T.H. White in Sword in
the Stone, the heir to the throne is identified when he pulls a
sword from a rock. Harry, too, is an heir; one way he is known is
by pulling a sword from a hat in time of need.

In two of Dickens' best novels, David Copperfield and Oliver
Twist, a little boy is orphaned and mistreated by cruel adults.
Harry Potter, an orphan, lives with the insufferable Dursley
family, who keep him under the stairs.

Just as George Lucas' first Star Wars movie had the wise
warrior Obi-Wan, the Potter books feature the wise Albus
Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts school, who says, "It is
our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than
our abilities." 

Most wonderful about the Potter books is the way they connect
to the heart, especially young hearts.

Though set mostly in a wizard's world, the Potter books
promote-- through their characters -- friendship, love, bravery,
self-reliance, the importance of family and tolerance toward
those different from us. They depict the quest for knowledge,
wisdom and right action -- the universal journey every human
takes. The books condemn bullies, falsity, rudeness, greed and
Nazi-like tendencies to denigrate and hurt those who aren't like
us.

Rowling doesn't sugarcoat. Her characters can die or fall by the
wayside. They struggle within themselves. But no worthwhile
book, the Bible included, has only plastic people. Life is played
for keeps. Good books reflect that. 

The Potter books measure up to William Faulkner's standard.
He said writers should work with the "verities and truths of the
heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is
ephemeral and doomed -- love and honor and pity and pride
and compassion and sacrifice." 

Some claim the Potter books lure children into witchcraft. 

Poppycock. You might as well say Gone With The Wind
teaches young readers to be slave owners, or Treasure Island
entices children to be pirates, or Peter Pan urges children to run
away from home.

If we started to ban books dealing with the supernatural, we'd be
tossing out some pretty good stuff.

To begin with, we'd have to get rid of at least four works by
Shakespeare: Hamlet (ghost), Macbeth (witches), The
Tempest (a sprite) and A Midsummer Night's Dream (fairies).

We'd also have to trash A Christmas Carol by Dickens. Imagine
that: banning the most beloved of books because it has four
ghosts as main characters!

It's understandable why some are upset at Harry Potter books.
Many people just don't understand that writers use the
supernatural as a prop. That's different from luring kids to the
occult.

That said, however, we certainly should respect parents' rights
to choose what their own children read. We shouldn't force
children to read books they aren't ready for. 

But school officials, librarians and teachers must stand firm
against any attempt to ban Potter books from S.C. classrooms
or schools. This is a state where tens of thousands of children
read below grade level. And Potter books are turning kids on to
reading. 

If we ban these books, a dark force stands to be unleashed. It's
not the occult. It's ignorance.

The best approach is for parents to read the Potter books with
their children.

Betsy Hearne, in Choosing Books for Children, a
Commonsense Guide, writes, "It's a lot more effective to join in
reading what children are reading and to express reasoned
opinions of what they're reading than to hide or confiscate their
books.

"Partners can discuss books; dictators forbid them. Partnership
breeds respect; dictatorship breeds rebellion. An open-book
policy isn't just about theoretical rights of the child, it's what
works best." 

To read Harry Potter is to listen to a master storyteller.

If these books have magic in them, it's the magic of
Shakespeare and Dickens and Lewis Carroll and Dr. Seuss.

I've just scratched the surface of their amazing nature. Give them
a try. A new world awaits you.

And please, share these books with a child.

Contact Mr. Monk at (803) 771-8344. Write him at P.O. Box
1333, Columbia, S.C., 29202, or e-mail at
jmonk@thestate.com. 

back to my BANHarry Potter? website

Thursday, September 10, 2009