ENG 102, Professor Michael Benton
The Power of Love, Choice, and Courage: A Good Reason to Read the Harry Potter Stories
It began with the sound of a twinkle and a pop as each street light went out with a flick of Albus Dumbledore’s silver cigarette lighter in the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Our imaginations were ignited and my daughter and I were forever hooked on the Harry Potter stories. A well told story, either read in a book or viewed in the cinema can have an impact on a person that stays with them for their entire life. My daughter began her road to reading with the Harry Potter series. She found the movies and books engaging because she could relate to the characters and their struggles. To my great dismay, I had learned that the Christian community was pushing for a ban of all Harry Potter movies and books. I am not a fan of blanket censorship, so I decided to read the books myself. The story revolves around Harry Potter and his two friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. His friends stick with him through everything, and even though their friendship has its ups and downs they support and love Harry through it all. It is his bond and loyalty with them that gives Harry the courage to face the evil with in and the villain who is Voldemort. As the stories evolved I realized that there were three recurring themes. Surprisingly, magic isn’t the one that stood out the most instead it was the powers of love, choice and courage.
An article in the New York Times titled, “Harry Potter Tops List of Banned Books” states that the Harry Potter series was one of the most challenged books of 2000 (Maughan, 2001). The stories put witchcraft in a positive light and that seems to be the main objection for most of the Christian community. "It contains some powerful and valuable lessons about love and courage and the ultimate victory of good over evil," said Paul Hetrick, spokesman for Focus on the Family, a national Christian group based in Colorado Springs. "However, the positive messages are packaged in a medium -- witchcraft -- that is directly denounced in scripture" (Kurtz, November 6, 1999). Many Christians take the Bible literally. It is not only a guide for their spiritual life but a reference for how they should live. The Harry Potter series is a fiction, and is considered fantasy. I believe in a person’s right to religion just as I believe in the freedom to choose what we want to read. The Bible is clear about free will so that we might choose whom we want to worship and I believe banning something is taking away the right to choose. I don’t think a child should be forced to read the Harry Potter books, nor do I think it is right to ban the book from our libraries and schools. There is a concern that the books will encourage children to delve into satanic practices. Lord Voldemort is a kind of devil who practices the dark arts, but he is not put in a positive light. I think children would want to be the opposite of anything this villain represents. Voldemort is defeated in the end because he underestimates the power of love and that is a reason to read the books, not ban them.
As the Harry Potter story unfolds it reveals that love is the one thing that completely eludes Voldemort. It was Lily Potter’s love for her son that protected Harry from Voldemort’s killing curse, and it was Snape’s love for Lily that made Voldemort vulnerable to his enemies. No one truly understood Dumbledore’s complete and unwavering trust in Snape. As the spy for both Dumbledore and Voldemort, one had to wonder what Snape’s true motives were. He again and again protects Harry, but why? Love can be a strong motivator, and even though Snape’s affections were not returned he clearly loved Harry’s mother, Lily. Love is not just a feeling, it’s a choice we make and then choose to act on. The complexity of Snape’s character is a perfect example of that choice. Snape’s love goes through an evolution. It starts off as one who selfishly wants Lily all to himself. After reporting to Voldemort about the prophecy of the child, Snape then seeks Dumbledore’s help to save Lily. Dumbledore asks Snape why they didn’t spare the mother in exchange for the son but Snape assures him he tried that already. He has no concern for Lily’s husband and child. Dumbledore’s response to this is disgust; he knows Snape is only concerned with getting what he wants. He is changed once he commits to being the double agent and begins the battle against Voldemort. [As a double agent, his whole life is an act of love and self-sacrifice.] Snape’s love for Lily leads him to make choices that protect Harry and gradually become his redemption. In the end we see him as more of a hero than a villain (Deavel: 58-61).
Those who believe that we reap what we sow would say that Voldemort got what he deserved: death. Not just a death of his physical life but of his afterlife as well. At King’s Cross, in a scene from the Deathly Hallows, there is a tiny, pathetic creature whimpering under the bench. Harry makes an inquiry of the creature and Dumbledore says that it is beyond help. In a margin of a copy of Psychology: Briefer Course, William James, an American psychologist and philosopher wrote this, “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny” (Walls: 252). Basically, we are the sum of our choices. If our choices become the essence of who we are, then Voldemort didn’t just do evil, he also became evil. His terrible and sad fate was the one he chose. Like Voldemort, Harry also has a sad and unloving childhood and is faced with making choices caused by events out of his control. It is Harry’s choices that make him good despite the things that happen to him.
The Harry Potter stories reveal that both Harry and Voldemort had troubled and less than ideal childhoods, but they took very different paths. In a scene from The Order of the Phoenix, Sirius Black illustrates some of the wisdom imparted in the stories. Harry opens up to Sirius about his anger and his growing fears about this link he seems to have with Voldemort. Sirius goes on to reassure Harry with a few choice pearls to help him discern between good and evil. He goes on to say that Harry is a good person who has had bad things happen to him, something I think most of us can relate to. He also mentions that we all have both light and dark in us, but it is the sum of our choices that make us who we are. Sirius is understanding and compassionate towards Harry’s situation without crippling him with pity. In just one scene we gain two pearls of wisdom: one is that it is not what happens but how we deal with it that matters; and two we learn that although control is an illusion the power of choice is not and it may take a lot of courage but we can choose what is right over what is wrong.
In the first volume of the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the students are sorted into their houses and Harry joins the Gryffindor’s by choice. At first the sorting hat is going to put Harry with the Slytherins but it takes into consideration Harry’s choice. One defining feature of the students in Gryffindor house is courage. It takes a great deal of courage for Harry to be able to make the choices he has to make. He displays another kind of courage in a scene with Harry and Luna in the Order of Phoenix. Harry begins to cut himself off from his friends, feeling that he is alone in this fight with Voldemort, and although his friend Hermione reaches out, it is Luna’s words of wisdom that light the way. Luna and Harry meet at the beginning of the school year and learn they have something in common, they can both see the Thestrals. A Thestral can only be seen by people who have witnessed death. Harry seems more receptive to Luna’s friendship and states that she is among the few who understand. Luna says that it would be in Voldemort’s best interest if Harry felt alone and cut off from his friends because if it is just Harry then he wouldn’t be much of a threat to Voldemort. There is a courage and humility in being vulnerable. What Luna suggests it that there is strength in numbers, especially when surrounded by people who care about you.
Harry displays another type of courage when he questions the authority of Dolores Umbridge. She is clearly an elitist who thrives on power and the suffering of others. The Minister of Magic is so driven by fear he will do anything to refute the fact that Voldemort is back. He sends Umbridge, a sinister character, into the heart of Hogwarts to dethrone the Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. She also refuses to teach any defensive magic to the students, who feel that now more than ever is the time to know how to defend themselves. At this point Harry could not feel any more alone in his fight with Voldemort but what he learns is that it really isn’t just all about him and that he doesn’t stand alone. With the nudging and support of Hermione and Ron, he takes initiative and begins a class on defensive magic for anyone who is willing to learn. It is not only courage that is displayed, but hope. They chose not to feel defeated and give in. Hermione’s character doesn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on problems but rather solutions, and she brings important life skill principles to the stories. She doesn’t let Harry give up, she supports him with her solution-oriented mind and shows that with a little extra hard work, smarts and courage there isn’t any problem that can’t be attacked. There is little risk in following the crowd, it took a great deal of courage for Harry and his friends to stand up to the unjust rule of Professor Umbridge.
Speaking of unjust rules, it would be such a shame to ban these stories. They teach us that love can give us the courage to make the right choices. These stories show that friendship means you don’t have to go through life alone. I think everyone can agree that these principles are valuable lessons to learn. Even without the great underlying depth of integrity these stories are fun and imaginative, and thick with wonder that can ignite a young and old imagination. Again I’m reminded of the scene where Albus Dumbledore takes out his light deluminator and puts the light back in the street lamps. He shows that light can be given and taken away. Banning books, takes away the freedom to choose.
Deavel, Catherine Jack and David Paul Deavel. “Choosing Love: The Redemption of Severus Snape.” The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy Hogwarts for Muggles. ed. Gregory Bassham, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2010: 53-65.
Kurtz, Holly. “Harry Potter expelled from school.” Denver Rocky Mountain News (November 6, 1999)
Maughan, Shannon. “Harry Potter Tops List of Banned Books." The New York Times (February 8, 2001)
Walls, Jonathan L. and Jerry L. Walls. “Beyond Godric’s Hollow: Life after Death and the Search for meaning.” The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy Hogwarts for Muggles. ed. Gregory Bassham, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2010: 246-257.