Another Perspective

Child-on-Child Crime

The greatest Harry Potter mystery of all is why moral gatekeepers don't see what Rowling is up to.

By 10.13.05

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Half-Blood Prince), the sixth and latest book of the Potter series, finally gets going when Harry's fellow student at Hogwarts School of Magic and Wizardry (Hogwarts), Draco Malfoy, immobilizes Harry with the Petrificus curse and then stomps his face, bloodying and breaking his nose (pp. 153-54). Harry lies there paralyzed by the curse, with his own blood dripping into his mouth and his long-held hatred for Draco peaking.

But Harry gets his revenge in spades soon enough when he cuts Draco up so badly with his new Sectasempra curse that Draco is left "shaking uncontrollably in a pool of his own blood" (p. 522). Harry regrets the excessive power of the curse, but the bloody score is more than evened. And Harry's thirst for revenge against his child peers has been a major theme of the series from that moment early in the first book when Harry arrives at Flourish and Blotts, the magic book store, and dives into a book of curses to find one with which to avenge himself on his bullying cousin Dudley Dursely (Sorcerer's Stone, p. 80).

J. K. Rowling's attitude towards this theme of child-on-child revenge is illuminated by a 1999 interview. She said that Harry "wants to get back at Dudley...and we the readers want him to get back at Dudley. And in the long term, trust me, he will" ("Talking with J. K. Rowling," BookLinks, July 1999, emphasis added). Thus, Rowling shamelessly admits that she nurtures in her heroes and child readers a desire for revenge and then fulfills it.

Rowling's dubious bargain to fulfill her readers' desires for revenge also explains why in each of the last two previous Potter books, Harry and his friends illegally used their magic to knock out and temporarily disfigure Draco and his buddies Crabbe and Goyle on the London-bound Hogwarts Express (Goblet of Fire, pp 729-30; Order of the Phoenix, pp. 764 ff). One of the great mysteries of Pottermania is the malfeasance of critics who have failed to report the incongruity of a children's author repeatedly setting the "good" kids to inflicting physical violence on the school bullies with no consequences for the heroes' violations of school rules, the magical world's laws, and the traditional conventions for violence in children's books. After all, the studies on the real student shooters who have savaged American schools show that their main motivation has been revenge against bullies. So that's just what Rowling has her heroes do to start their summer vacations -- take revenge against bullies for their threats and plots.

But isn't bloody vengeance a common theme in fairy tales? Just so, but real fairy tales are always set in the never-never land of the long ago and far away. Indeed, Bruno Bettelheim (The Uses of Enchantment) thought such stories salutary for children, but he seriously warned against the harmful effects on children of realistic stories of revenge. And Rowling's tales seamlessly blend fantasy magic with realistic child characters and school situations that closely resemble those of contemporary student life. Therefore, Bettelheim's warnings against realistic stories of revenge for children apply to Rowling's volatile mixture of fantasy and reality.

Certainly, Harry has just cause for killing the Dark Lord Voldemort, his parents' murderer. But Harry and his friends do not have a similarly weighty justification for taking revenge against their peers and others. Despite Christianity Today's ill-considered baptism of the series as a "Book of Virtues," Rowling's cultivation of a desire for revenge rather than for justice in her child heroes and readers is enough in itself to render her series both morally objectionable and potentially dangerous.

But vindictiveness is far from Harry's only character defect; he is, to put it bluntly, a liar. As previously, in the latest book he tells so many lies that if he were Pinocchio, his nose would be longer than his Firebolt broomstick (Half-Blood Prince, e.g., pp. 231, 241, 286, 293, 318, 321, 357, 489, 524, 527, 547, 572). And Rowling dutifully labels most of his lies so that even her youngest readers can't miss it that their hero is a habitual liar. Thus, Hogwarts resembles nothing so much as the Clinton White House. Truth telling is simply not a virtue to be expected of the hero. Instead of a "Book of Virtues," then, the Potter books are a veritable Manual of Prevarication.

Rowling's disregard for the virtues of obedience, truth telling, and self-restraint cultivated in traditional children's literature show that she consciously rejects its moral framework. One of the reasons for this is her stated belief that children are naturally good. As one gripped by this dream of the Enlightenment who, nevertheless, is shrewd enough to observe that schoolboys often lie, cheat, fight, and break the rules, she apparently believes that these things are not real evils. Real evil is murder, especially when based on discrimination by ancestry, and misuse of authority, especially authority over the naturally good children. And the moral instruction children most need is just to see real evil, as exemplified by Voldemort.

Thus, J. K. Rowling is a clever Pelagian who has created a fantasy world that runs according to the Neopagan continuum of immanent power for good or evil popularized in Star Wars. But how did Rowling fool the panoply of non-Pelagian moral gatekeepers who have hailed her works? This is yet another Harry Potter mystery, but Harry's military virtues of bravery, boldness, and loyalty to his friends have certainly helped blind conservative religionists to his vices. (Some claim to have discovered a mystical Christian symbolism in the books, a symbolism unapparent to those children lacking a Ph.D in classics.)

Traditional children's literature sought to moderate the natural, evil tendencies of children to disobedience, lying, and revenge. Unfortunately, Rowling fails to recognize the evil inherent in our race and effectively does the opposite. Because stories are the most powerful means of teaching morality known, parents should be aware of the vicious examples that Rowling's heroes set for their children before they countenance these books.

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