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Top 100 ALA Banned Books: Harry Potter | The Back Cover on Astini News

 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone THE HARRY POTTER SERIES

Written by J. K. Rowling

Reviewed by blog reader Ginny M. Overstreet

*Thank you Ginny for submitting this review.
**All views and opinions mentioned in this review are those of the reviewer and not necessarily those of The Back Cover.

Wizards, Magic, Spells, Potions…. these are typically the first words that come to mind when one thinks of the popular phenomenon that is the Harry Potter series of books.  As both the objective reviewer, and the overly-excited fanatic, I can say without a single shred of doubt that those words barely even scratch the surface of the true content of this literary collection. 

For those of you who have not read any of the books, let me just give a short background of the story. 

The Harry Potter story is a series of seven books all written by J.K. Rowling.  The first book was published in 1997 by Bloomsbury in London, and then in 1998 by Scholastic Corporation here in the US.  Originally titled "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone", it was later changed to "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" when it was released in the US, however the first title is still used in the UK to this day. The full collection of titles includes:
Book 2: "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets"
Book 3: "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"
Book 4: "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"
Book 5: "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"
Book 6: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
Book 7: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"

As the story begins, we meet Harry Potter, a small unremarkable boy of almost 11 years, who has been raised in Surrey, England, by his aunt and uncle who – we learn very early on – don't like Harry at all. 

The details eventually come out to explain that Harry came to live with his aunt and uncle after his parents died, not in a car crash as Harry was told his entire life, but by the most evil dark wizard of the current century.  His aunt and uncle hid this fact from him his whole life because they despised magic and anyone and anything in any way connected to it.  Yes, Harry is the child of a witch and wizard.  Harry learns the synopsized version of his past in only a few hours' time on his 11th birthday and learns that he is on the enrollment list for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – the oldest and best magical school in all of England. 

And thus, Harry's world turns upside down as he proceeds to learn all about his true heritage and place in life. Of course we go on to learn the true reasons behind the death of Harry's parents, however it takes the full course of all seven books for it to completely unfold.

Rowling writes in such a way that readers identify with Harry and thus are able to experience his story in a much more fulfilling way. We feel what Harry feels and realize why he makes the decisions he makes, which is what causes the story to play out the way it does.

As I've stated – there are a full 7 books in this series, so naturally there are seven separate story lines within the main story. Explaining them all in detail would not only take up thousands of pages, but would also defeat the purpose of you reading them yourselves.

At the risk of being repetitive, I'll say as a blanket synopsis that Harry Potter is about the struggle between "good" and "evil".  On a deeper level, Harry Potter is a boy who is trying to live through the normal pangs of adolescence while learning all about the "ins and outs" of the magical world, and trying to prepare to defeat the most evil dark wizard of the last century. Harry learns about his parents' days at Hogwarts, which gives him an even better insight into who he truly is.  Harry makes friends and enemies, changes lives (Deathly Hallows), saves lives (Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, Deathly Hallows) changes history (Prisoner of Azkaban), encounters magical beings not usually seen (Goblet of Fire), and thwarts death not once, but five times. In the end it is his intelligence, magical ability, selflessness, honesty, pure goodness and the ability to love that wins out over evil. 

With all this talk about "good vs. evil", one might think by reading this that Harry Potter is a perfect person.  That isn't the case at all.  Harry is human and as such has many flaws. We see him battle anger, jealousy, resentment and even a touch of greed.  What we learn from this is that the measure of a person is not found in what feelings they experience, but in how they deal with those feelings and impulses. I believe Professor Albus Dumbledore sums it up best: "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." (Chamber of Secrets)

There are many underlying messages that endure throughout the course of the books, and one of the most important ones is the power of friendship.  Harry has many friends and acquaintances, however none so loyal, pure and steadfast as his two very best friends: Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. They each meet Harry under different circumstances, and although each one does know who he is and his life story, neither treats him different as a result.  Each takes him as he is – quiet and humble – and treats him just like a normal person, for which Harry is very grateful.  This fact, along with very compatible personalities, is the foundation upon which their strong friendships are built. As with friendships in real life, Harry, Ron and Hermione's friendships are tested many times along the way.  There are fights and silent treatments, stress and resentment, but true friends always do seem to find their ways back to each other.  Okay, so it isn't always as simple as the trio just finding their way back together, but for the purposes of this narrative, we'll leave it at that.  These three friends face adversity that can only exist in J.K. Rowling's brilliant imagination, and yet in the end are even closer, stronger friends than when they first meet.

The Harry Potter series is 1 on the list of most banned book(s) of the last decade.  After much internet research, reasons are repetitive and vague.  Popular words used are "occult", "satanic", "violent", "anti-family", and "anti-obedience".  However, those that issue these complaints very rarely back them up with anything more than simple rhetoric.  It has been my experience that people fear that which they do not understand.  Many people have been told their entire lives that witchcraft and sorcery is wrong and if you believe such things, you yourself are satanic and God will punish you.  This one thought alone is enough to scare many people so deeply that even seeing the title of the book will send them into an outrage.  They don't want to be in any way associated with the "evil" that is inside that book, because if they are, they feel that God will strike them down immediately. 

I want to be perfectly clear that the last thing I intend to do is to turn this into an attack on the Christian faith, nor do I mean to say that all Christians believe the attacks listed above. So I will simply address each of the vague complaints individually.

1: Occult:

This cannot be denied.  Harry Potter is a wizard.  His parents, teachers and friends were also of magical lifestyles.  However, let's not pretend that this is the first time that such scenarios have been found in literature.  Wizardry, witchcraft and magic have existed in folklore, myths and legends for thousands of years. The main issue behind protesting the occult is that a select few members of the Christian community seem to fear that this newest wave of fascination with magic will somehow derail two thousand plus years of faith and beliefs taught by the Church. If nothing else, this idea completely undermines the intelligence of the audience. A person is well capable of differentiating reality from fiction.  Likewise, a person who fully understands their religious faith can separate their feelings on said faith from a story read in a recreational book.  If you're still unsure, think about this: the Christian faith often disagrees with scientific findings.  However, all branches of science are still taught in schools with even more enthusiasm than ever before.

2: Satanic:

 This complaint more than any other is the one that very plainly tells me that this person has never read even one of the books.  I'll begin with the literal argument that NEVER in the course of 3407 pages is Satan ever mentioned even once.  NEVER is there reference to the worship of Satan, rituals pertaining to Satan, or a desire to be like Satan.  The only wicked and/or diabolical theme throughout the series is the main villain, Lord Voldemort and his followers. They do perform acts that can be deemed as "evil" – killing innocent people, etc. However, this theme must be established to in order to portray the main message which is: Good always conquers Evil – always! Without evil, good cannot exist.  Lord Voldemort (nee: Tom Riddle) had already begun his reign of terrorizing Great Britain, which one of his followers overheard a prophecy being made that there was to be a wizard born who would be the only person who could defeat him.  As any evil overlord would do, Voldemort set out to destroy that threat to his rule, which is the very evil act that, for many reasons, is what spurred Harry on to become the truly good entity against evil.  

3: Violence:

Honestly, if one truly wishes to use this as a reason to ban Harry Potter from libraries, then I sincerely hope these same people are campaigning to ban the news, sports and most, if not all, of prime-time television.  I do not condone violence.  However, it is an undeniable fact that violence is a part of our society.  Removing any and all violent notions from popular culture will not make it go away in real life. What would happen is people would become ignorant to it, so when actually confronted with it face-to-face, panic will ensue instead of a solution and/or neutralization of the violence.  It is an unfortunate part of our everyday lives. Questions that people inevitably ask themselves when confronted with violence in any form are: 1) what caused such violence? And 2) what ended it? The answers to these questions can cause a profound effect. If we as a society have learned anything from fairy tales, fiction, and even non-fiction history, it is that the end result, when good is confronted with evil, is that good always wins.

Any reader of these books – from the casual reader, to the skeptic, and of course the fanatic – is able to tell the difference between reality and fantasy.  Using vague complaints and fear tactics to keep people from reading them is simply insulting the intelligence of said reader. It is up to the reader to determine how he/she feels about the messages in the book.  It is up to the reader to determine what he/she is going to do with the story.  To most of us, a book is simply a tool for amusement and recreation, no different than television.  We are free to make our reading choices and free to defend those choices as we see fit. I suppose this is the main virtue of our First Amendment. As Americans, we have the freedoms of speech, press, religion, beliefs, etc. We may read, say and believe anything we want.  Just as we have the right to read and defend Harry Potter, so do the oppositionists have the right to protest it. And I in turn, have the right to argue their protests, and the circle continues.

You have the right to love, hate, support or protest a book or books all you want. I do request though, that before you make judgments and accusations against a book read the book. Know what it is that you are opposing.  Who knows?  What you originally thought was evil could very well turn out to be your new favorite book!

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