Domestic Bliss Report

Motherhood is hard work. If we don't stick together, we'll all fall apart.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Mountains out of molehills

So I'm finally reading the Harry Potter books and I'm up to #5, Order of the Phoenix. I haven't seen any of the movies, which is par for the course. If I had a dime for each time I've said, "No, but I've read the book," our mortgage would be paid off.
Anyway. To all of those well-meaning, involved, caring parents who feared that the wizard boy from Privet Drive would lead their little dears into magic, spells, seances, the occult and Satan, I have one question.
Worry more about lead paint in your kids' toys. Or violence on television. Or the destruction of the rainforests. Or flouride in your water. Or mysterious government experiments in Area 51.

Seriously. If these are what it takes to turn children into devil worshippers, don't let them near Tolkien, Lewis, Greek mythology, Star Wars, or most fairy tales. They can't handle it.

Now, on to Wall*E. This part may contain spoilers, so...
We saw it and really enjoyed it. It's PIXAR so it's definitely pretty to look at. The story is environmental without "mental"--a good thing. There are plenty of reviews, analyzying the story's symbolism and references and meaning. I'll let you check those out on your own. I wondered how much of that the kids got, so I asked them.
"Madeleine, what's your favorite part of the movie?"
"Where he makes the thing that looks like EVE for her."
Okay, that's good. She likes the creative or gift idea.

"Rachel, what did you like about Wall*E?"
"Saying EVA!" Hmm. Maybe she'll turnout to be a Brando fan.You know, Stella! I don't think she got any of the subtle points of baptism, rebirth of hope, or consumerism, though.

"Dale, what was your favorite part of Wall*E?"
"When they're in the elevator, and the TV is saying about to kill them, and Eve shoots it and it blows up."
Well. Sometimes, it seems, an exploding TV is just that.

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At 8:24 PM, Blogger Melanie B said...


Just to play devil's advocate for a moment... I've not completely made up what I think about the Harry Potter books, but I do understand the concerns. Perhaps it's just that for seven years I lived in Salem, MA, which is Witch City, occult central, where yes we have a town witch, about half a dozen occult paraphenalia shops, and where when we held an All Saint's Day concert at our church a bunch of "wiccan" teens came and protested (complete with signs) and vandalized the church. And so maybe I'm more sensitive to such things. My concern with the HP books is not for my kids reading them or any kids of involved, caring parents. But rather the kids of parents who are not so concerned and involved. Their kids are already at risk and yes I think HP can make witchcraft and the occult more attractive. Witness the way the local shops have capitalized on the craze to sell "real" magic wands and "real" spell books etc. I taught confirmation prep classes to the high school kids--whose parents at least concerned enough to make sure their kids went to CCD-- who didn't know that dabbling in the occult was sinful, who played with ouija boards and went to fortune tellers and didn't know they were putting themselves in danger. I think the protesting Wiccan kids were actually friends of one of the boys in that confirmation class.

A lady at our church is a former practicing witch and can tell some stories that will raise your hair. So yeah maybe I'm a bit over-sensitive, but I do think that a book which makes being a wizard sound cool can be confusing to kids in a town where there are people who really do walk the streets in black capes even in the summertime and who carry broomsticks in their cars and call themselves witches.

One of the prominent groups of witches actually rented out the Knights of Columbus hall for a vampires ball, advertising real blood drinking. Only prevented because the head of a rival group emailed Dom to stir up trouble and he contacted the KCs.

I worry about my niece-- who has been raised Catholic but whose mother died when she was two and whose parents don't quite know what to do with her-- she's very into the goth scene and reads lots of fantasy books and I've read some of the fiction she writes and I worry that she might not really understand that there really are dark forces at work that one shouldn't tempt.

I know HP actually has some Christian themes but I think Rowling treads a more dangerous line than Lewis or Tolkien because her hero seems like a normal kid who also practices magic whereas Tolkien's magic is only done by magical beings and in Narnia the only time a protagonist does magic (when Lucy reads the spell book) it goes horribly wrong. In HP the magic doesn't have bad consequences, it's cool and glamorous. That does worry me a bit. I do enjoy the stories and I think much of the anti-HP rhetoric is way overdone, but I do have a few niggling doubts that perhaps Rowling could have hedged a bit more.

Sorry for going on so long, it's a topic I've been pondering for a while.

At 5:57 AM, Blogger Heather said...

Melanie, before I say any more, have you read the HP books, or are you just going with reviews and others' opinions? I don't recall whether you've mentioned them at your blog.

And--I understand your concern with your background in Salem. It would probably influence my thoughts as well, like if I lived in New Orleans.

At 8:56 PM, Blogger Melanie B said...

Yes, I've read the whole series now. I don't dislike the books and even enjoyed them as light reading. I want to be clear I don't have strong objections to the series, will probably let the girls read them when I think they are old enough. But I also wouldn't urge them to read them in the same way I would other books I've liked better. I'm too ambivalent about them just from a literary point of view.

And to be fair, I have seen people go off the deep end about Tolkien too. I once saw a set of Lord of the Rings tarot cards-- I imagine poor Professor Tolkien would be horrified that his books could ever lead to such nonsense.

I think most of the objections are very over-stated and so I hate to put myself into that camp. At the same time, I just think that Rowling's books are, well, ambiguous. Christians will be able to find Christian themes in them. And perhaps they will be inspirational to many kids. But I do think Rowling is perhaps playing with fire in that kids with no parental guidance and no moral foundations may very well be beguiled by them into dabbling in things they'd better off not playing with. While Rowling herself has a vaguely Christian ethos in a Cof E sort of way--it isn't clear from interviews what she thinks-- I don't think she feels a strong sense of responsibility toward her young readers, more of a caveat emptor sort of philosophy.

At 7:39 AM, Blogger Heather said...

I just wanted to be sure we were coming from the same place on this.

I think the vast majority of kids, even those without much guidance, will recognize these as complete works of fiction. Platform 9 3/4? Wands, incantations, Unplottable buildings? I don't think most are going to try that. It makes for a very convincing universe, but one that is so different from ours.

That being said, there are those peculiar kids who will try it. I heard of a tragedy where a kid had his friends bury him in sand because a Naruto character could do it.

I just feel the whole satanism/occult fears are completely overblown. In a weird way, those parents who won't let their kids read them are EXACTLY the type of attentive parents whose kids could probably handle it!

Anyway. The kids want to go for a walk now before it gets too smotheringly hot.


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