Written for Acculturated
July 20th, 2017
I’m afraid I have some bad news. Some really terrible, horrible, no good, very bad news. It has been announced that two more Harry Potter books will be released later this year. The nightmare continues!
Let me explain why the Boy Who Lived has made me the Boy Who’s Livid. I actually rather liked the Harry Potter books as a child. I have fond memories of reading about the adventures of Harry, Hermione, and Ron with my father and siblings. I went to the midnight book release for the seventh book—despite the fact that I’d pre-ordered mine—and the midnight showings of the last two Potter movies. But, as I got older I became disenchanted with the series—because despite the fact that my taste in books matured, many of my fellow millennials appeared to have had their literary growth stunted in middle school. And they bring up Harry Potter. All. The. Time. They talk about what Hogwarts house celebrities would be sorted in to. About which politician reminds them of what Harry Potter character. About how the series can be read like religious texts. About Harry Potter and…Brexit somehow? Point being, lots of young adults like to view the world through the lens of a children’s book and as a result have a rather immature worldview.
I look back on most books I read during childhood with a sense of nostalgia. I remember Winnie-the-Pooh and Encyclopedia Brown and Percy Jackson warmly. The difference between other children’s books and the Harry Potter series is that nobody takes them seriously. They’re children’s books, meant to entertain kids who aren’t yet ready to tackle more challenging literature; and meant to be outgrown. Treating children’s books like serious literature is akin to saying the Fast and the Furious movies are cinematic masterpieces on the level of Citizen Kane.
My issue with Harry Potter has less to do with the content of the books—again, I was a fan growing up—and more with how obsessed with it my generation is and how frequently it pops up in political discourse. If I saw headlines like “Elizabeth Warren is totally Sally Kimbal!” or “Donald Trump is worse than a pack of Heffalumps!” I’d be just as annoyed. The Harry Potter books are good for what they are: a children’s series. They ought to be treated as such.
The bigger problem is that the Potter books have seen their stock rise at the expense of the great works of the past. This has proven detrimental to the critical thinking skills of young readers, who miss out on the wit and wisdom of the Western canon. Take, for example, the students at the University of Pennsylvania who removed a painting of Shakespeare from the English department. While they complained about Shakespeare being a white man, those who are familiar with his writings recognize the universality of his works, like Maya Angelou, who recalled how she thought Shakespeare must have been a black girl because of how identifiable she found his plays and sonnets. I would much rather engage in a political debate in which Shakespeare and Socrates are referenced more than a fictional wizard. Unfortunately, that is less likely to happen these days.
It doesn’t help that Potter author J.K. Rowling seems dedicated to ensuring she and her books remain at the center of any and all political conversations. She randomly gives political meaning to her books—like when she made Dumbledore gay—that probably hadn’t occurred to her when she was initially writing them; her Twitter feed is full of combative replies to people with whom she disagrees; and she tweets obsessively about Trump with the same fervor Trump devotes to tweeting about Morning Joe. Rowling even once said Trump was worse than Lord Voldemort, who, as you may be aware, is a mass murderer. The irony of Rowling’s Trump attacks is, of course, that she herself is a celebrity with no background in politics who is trying to position herself as some sort of political authority while utilizing impolite language and rhetoric.
So, when these new books on the Wizarding World are released, I beg of you: Do not purchase them. If you see a millennial reading them, smack the book out of their hands and tell them to read Fitzgerald or Austen or Waugh or any one of the many better authors out there. In a world full of books of actual substance, it’s a pity to waste time on diversions intended for the minds of children.