Though it seems hard to believe, the 21st century opened with a series of book burnings, with the most obvious target being the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowlings. The burnings began with Harry Potter and a raging fire, but moved into subtler forms in the shape of governmental dousing not just of the flames but the books — any books –that fuel individuality, that encourage opposing points of views, that question the authority and ‘the way things are.” To those not sleeping at the wheel of their rights, it’s scary out there. Intellectual caffeine required to stay alert to the threat.
“On Sunday evening, members of the Harvest Assembly of God Church in Penn Township sing songs as they burn books, videos and CDs that they have judged offensive to their God.”
—Butler Eagle, Pittsburg PA March 26, 2001
“Two groups of people argued over the definition of evil Thursday night in Kennedy Park. One group said it was embodied in the messages contained in the Harry Potter novels. The second group countered that evil lives in those who want to ban books and censor what men, women and children can read.”
— Jesus Party, Opposition Square Off over Potter Books, 11/16/01
I have to come up on the side of that second group, and move on to ask them what exactly they are afraid of? Are they so insecure in their beliefs and their reality that that they have to persecute — ideas? Imagination? Are “they” afraid that someone may have a better idea?
Harry Potter hatred is rooted in fear and ignorance, a preconceived idea that bears little reality to the honor and integrity of the Potter characters and the insights of their creator, J. K. Rowlings. Books are paper, ink and ideas. We have free will and the right to endorse the words on the page or not. For ourselves. No one has the right to make that choice for anyone else.
Harry Potter, with his lightning scar, horned rimmed glasses and unruly hair is in fact a noble character, a young man of integrity, strong values, and above all, love. He is the ultimate justice fighter, an ordinary child of extraordinary strength solidly based in the wellspring of the heart, in love. A young man willing to lay down his life to save others. Sound familiar?
Rev. George Bender of the Harvest Assembly of God in Pennsylvania’s Butler County obviously doesn’t think so, and offered this perspective on his proposed book burning back in 2001:
“It’s just something a little different. We’re not trying to create a riot or anything. Cleanse your house from ungodly items and idols. It’s time to deal with ungodly and demonic books, tapes, videos, statues and any other thing that gives demons the opportunity to traffic into your life.”
A Lewiston (ME) Christian group denied a permit to have a book-burning bonfire opted to cut up Potter books instead.
“But it won’t be the protest they wanted. Church leaders Doug and Sonia Taylor had hoped to hold a book burning in Kennedy Park Thursday evening. They say the popular fantasy tales encourage witchcraft, occult practices and even rebelliousness among children. However, the Fire Department said public book burning is a fire hazard, and denied the couple a permit. So instead, the Jesus Party will be holding a ‘book cutting.’”
— Lewiston Christian Group to Protest Potter, 10/5/01.
Harry Potter is a children’s book [series] that has found its way into the hearts and minds of readers of all ages, religions and cultures. It has fueled imaginations, fostered the craft of reading, inspired youngsters to write their own stories, and taught them lessons of honor and the art of choosing between and good and evil — of making “good choices.” Rowling chose to find something worthy in each of her imaginary children. Is that really so bad?
Harry Potter is the glaring example of censorship in the late 20th and early 21st century. It’s the top of a burn pile that includes books on gay-lesbian relationships (S.F. Book Slasher put on Probabtion 9/19/02) and religious based persecution (Jewish School Library Destroyed by Firebomb (3/5/04). It’s the top of a burnpile that has since descended into the Prison Chapel Project and the governmental interest in the books we read on planes, trains and buses.
The removal of books from library shelves, the monitoring of what we as Americans read (the books we borrow or travel with) are personal choices rooted in personal interests. Books fuel our curiosity; the censorship of books fuels anarchy.
“One of the marks of authoritarian regimes is their effort to stop the spread of knowledge and free speech. In May 1933, Nazi sympathizers in Berlin burned 20,000 “degenerate” books, many of them written by Jews and anti-fascists such as Albert Einstein, Bertolt Brecht and Franz Kafka. Here at home, slaveholders were so frightened by the power of the word that throughout the antebellum South legislatures made it a crime to teach slaves to read and write.
“Destroying books that disagree with one’s vision of history will never take us closer to truth and freedom.”
–Steven J. Ross, chairman of the history department, USC
Debating the merit of Harry Potter by fueling a bonfire with his stories garners great publicity, but diverts us from the real threat of those who wish to control us.
So please, read Harry Potter, and then move on to the lists of banned books and read as many of those as you can. Hopefully, as you browse the lists, you’ll find you already have.
This links takes you to the Top 10 Banned Books of the 1990s.