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Thursday, November 30, 2006


We’re a few years behind the curve, but my children and I have gotten hooked by the Harry Potter series. We read a bit every night before bed, an exercise that I believe is good for family togetherness as well as vocabularies, though as we move through the series, I’m beginning to wonder how much violence and “snogging” (as Ginny calls kissing in book six) is appropriate for a seven- and nine-year-old. Compared to much of what’s in our culture, it’s pretty tame. Still, it raises the continual questions about how to draw our family’s boundaries. My children have already heard from friends that Sirius gets killed in book five and Dumbledore in book six. Is there any reason not to let them enjoy good writing when they already know what happens?

I’ve started reading ahead, partly to preview the material, but mostly because I’m enjoying the stories so much myself. I’m now in the middle of book six (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), while the children are still on book five. Maybe I’m just looking for redeeming messages, but I’m heartened to find that this novel focuses on Harry and Dumbledore trying to understand their nemesis, Voldemort—also known as “The Dark Lord” or “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.” They are learning about the family dysfunction that made Voldemort turn out so badly, information that Dumbledore says will help Harry to survive. As J.K. Rowling is finishing the last manuscript in the series, I am imagining my own ending to this epic struggle of good vs. evil. I remember that in the third Star Wars movie (which people under thirty call the sixth Star Wars film) Darth Vader is brought back to his own goodness by Luke, rather than killed by him (though he does still get killed). After so many galactic battles, I was heartened that goodness won the day, rather than firepower. Is such an ending possible for Voldemort?

This line of thought was partly prompted by my brother-in-law, whom we visited in Wisconsin over Thanksgiving. He said one of his five big questions about life is “Can good conquer evil?” I suppose my answer is that it can, but it doesn’t always, which leads to a whole set of other questions about what conditions help goodness to flourish. My mind wanders through Iraq, to the Palestinian and Israeli ex-combatants I wrote about not long ago, to the South African Truth and Reconciliation process, and eventually back to my own children. What will help good flourish in them: being protected from stories where violence is used to fight evil, or lying in bed together, talking about those stories?


Blogger juliloquy said...

It's always interesting to me where people draw the line of appropriateness for their kids. A colleague won't read "Holes" with her kids (just a bit older than yours), yet they're big Harry Potter fans. I love both of the above and am looking forward to sharing them and many others with our guy.

3:08 PM  
Blogger Michelle O'Neil said... hte last line of this piece. I vote for the family read sessions.

One of the Sunday school teachers at our church was using Harry Potter as part of the cirriculum last year. Another teacher quit over it, deeming it inappropriate, but the kids were never more engaged.

7:47 AM  

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