by Martha Hanna
As fans lined up in bookstores on July 16, 2005, they were unmindful of the developing circumstances surrounding the London bombing which had occurred just a week earlier. They were oblivious to the suicide attack in Iraq, the worst the war had seen, as they cursed an evil professor under their breath. Just a few days later, they were completely unaware of the nomination of the current Chief Justice John Roberts; numbingly mourning the death of the world’s greatest wizard.
The only thing on these readers’ minds was J.K. Rowling’s next great adventure: Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince. Would Harry and Cho finally tie the knot? Was the Wizard Community wholly convinced of Lord Voldemort’s resurrection? Prominently, who would the much-hypothesized victim of this long-awaited novel be?
Harry Potter is an obsession, mania and fascination. And trust me; I am in no way criticizing. Having read the third book 42 times, attended seven midnight premieres, finished each novel within 12 hours of its release, and sobbed like a baby when Dumbledore died, how could I?
The Harry Potter series has many valid themes, encouraging both reform and reflection in readers. These include Harry’s comprehensive acceptance of “Mudbloods” (half wizards), despite prejudice from many others; the deep, unconditional love shown to Harry by his parents, friends, and mentors; and the success Harry achieves despite atrocious conditions. Through common acceptance of these subjects, J.K. Rowling has spanned age, country, and status gaps. Each novel is released with two cover designs, one for youth and one for adults and more than 300 million books have sold worldwide.
Amazingly, 51% of young people began reading for fun because of Harry Potter, and 65% of students say they do better in school since reading the series. (Source: Scholastic Inc., the publishers of the Harry Potter series.) Clearly, Harry Potter has revitalized our anticipation for reading.
On the other hand, critics claim that Harry Potter is overly childish and encourages ignorance in youth. Are we so obsessed with a world of fighting Death Eaters, playing Quidditch, and memorizing spells that we ignore the real problems of society? It’s essential that children get experience not only from fantasy, but also in real world events. While Harry Potter endings are often comforting and fluffy, the problems we encounter often don’t have such cheerful finales.
With both its denigrations and praises in mind, I like to consider Harry Potter a test of integrity. As Dumbledore once said, “Now is the time that we must choose between what is right, and what is easy.” While the opportunity to lose ourselves in its fantasy world is tempting, it is essential to be proactive in seeking truth and expanding our minds.
However, the future of our generation appears rather grim. Upon asking 50 college students if they knew the name of the Secretary of Defense and of Harry Potter’s best friends, while 45 knew the former, only 14 could conjure up Donald Rumsfeld’s name. Surveying her boyfriend, my roommate snickered, “Haha, you’re probably the only person in the world who knows the Secretary of Defense quicker than Harry Potter’s best friends.” Jeez, what a loser.
(Harry Potter book poster courtesy of Scholastic, Inc., the publishers of the series.)
(To see the trailer for the last Harry Potter film and to hear Dumbledore's words of wisdom, check out the video below, courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures.)
by Martha Hanna