Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | November 20, 2002

Harry Potter’s lesson: Our choices define us

Like millions of other Americans, those members of our family whose ages are in double digits took in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” during its debut last weekend.

Andrew, 11, has read the first four books chronicling Harry’s adventures and is waiting impatiently for author J.K. Rowling to finish the story of the boy wizard’s fifth year at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. He wanted to see the film – the second movie in the series – on its opening day, Friday. However, Dad, also a Harry Potter fan, was in Germany on business, so we waited for his return Sunday afternoon.

Katie, 7, spent Sunday evening with Grandma while the rest of us went to Gilroy’s Platinum Theatres (note to Morgan Hill’s cinemas: return the Coke products, and this family will return to you), ignored the crying toddler seated directly behind us (note to parents: this movie has some gruesome monsters and will bore young children when it’s not terrifying them – find a sitter), noshed on our pricey popcorn, candy and drinks and anticipated the show.

We were rewarded with spectacular special effects, a surprising amount of humor, the occasional gasp-inducing fright and several rather disgusting spells. I’m happy to report that the movie passed my acid test: I wasn’t tempted to look at my watch even once during the film.

After spending two hours and 41 minutes under the movie’s spell, it’s easy to see why it grossed more than $87 million in its first few days.

What’s not so clear is why so many people object to J.K. Rowling’s stories of the orphaned boy wizard. According to the American Library Association, the Harry Potter books are among the most-challenged books of recent years.

Some people of the fundamentalist Christian persuasion object to the books’ setting in a witchcraft and wizardry school. On the eve of the U.S. release of “Chamber of Secrets,” a preacher in Lewiston, Maine resorted to shredding Harry Potter books when he couldn’t obtain a permit to burn them.

But Pastor Jack Brock in New Mexico did make a bonfire of J.K. Rowling’s tales. According to the British Broadcasting Corp., Brock said, “Harry Potter is the devil” and followed an anti-Potter sermon with the book burning. Not surprisingly, BBC also reports that Brock admits that he hasn’t read any of the Potter books.

I often wonder if those who object to Harry Potter have read the books. If they had, they’d know these wizards celebrate Christmas.

More importantly, they’d know the stories tell of the triumph of good versus evil, the victory of tolerance over bigotry, that hard work will beat hard luck, and the incalculable value of loyalty and friendship.

To paraphrase what Professor Dumbledore tells Harry at the end of the movie, “It’s not our gifts that define us … it’s our choices.”

During the course of the book and movie, Harry and his pals (not to mention his legion of fans) learn that the accidents of one’s birth – wealth or poverty, fame or obscurity, beauty or blight, genius or challenged intellect, brute strength or physical limitations – aren’t our most important traits.

We cannot control where on the spectrum of various gifts and privileges we will be placed upon our conception. We don’t pick our parents, income tax bracket, nationality, race, height, body type or facial features. We do choose how we will use those traits during our lives. It’s what we choose to do with our assets and liabilities that determine the kind of people we become.

What parent wouldn’t want their child to learn that lesson?

As we left the theater Sunday night, I asked Andrew what the moral of the story was. He immediately mentioned Dumbledore’s words to Harry. And I beamed.

Fundamentalists can worry about wizardry and miss the joys of Harry Potter; that’s certainly their choice.

But I welcome Harry and Hermione, Ron and Hagrid, Dumbledore and Hedwig, flying Fords and Quidditch into our lives. I value the life lessons they deliver, wrapped in wonderful packages of well-written, exciting and enchanting novels.

As soon as J.K. Rowling finishes the long-delayed and much-anticipated fifth book in the series, and director Chris Columbus and crew wrap the third movie, we’ll be in line for both. Farewell until then, Harry Potter.

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Responses

  1. You might be interested in the book that I’ve written called “The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter” which is available at http://stores.alibris.com/SilverUnicornBooks and at http://www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows. In this book I have made a lot of comparisons between the fiction of both Lewis and Tolkien and that of J. K. Rowling. I have given several lectures on this topic at various conventions, which you can read about on my blog at http://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com.


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