November 15, 2016
By Jacob Lattie and Steven Aceto
Censorship of the wizarding world…
Who: J.K. Rowling
What: The Harry Potter Series
Where: Schools and classrooms across the United States, England, and Other Countries
Why: For displaying acts of magic and wizardry
J.K. Rowling’s widely acclaimed book series Harry Potter attracted millions of young minds to explore the fictional world of Hogwarts’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In addition to its expected young adult audience, the novels drew in readers of all ages as the books gained global popularity. The first book, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, was published in 1997 and was an instant success. The series concluded in 2007 with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh installment. Over the course of ten years the series’ popularity and fan base grew immensely, and Rowling’s novels had readers standing in hour long lines to purchase the next and newest installment. Even today, the Harry Potter series continues to dominate pop culture as it has been adapted in to other media types. Before the final installment of the series was released, J.K. Rowling’s novels had already found their way into cinemas across the globe. Presently, the Harry Potter franchise continues with Rowling’s newest screenplay Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, as well as a theater performance based on the text.
Rowling’s seven books tell the story of Harry Potter, an orphan and remarkable young wizard, in a fantasy setting that alternates between wizarding (magical) and muggle (non-magical) worlds. Potter, the only human to survive the novel’s antagonist, Lord Voldemort’s, curse becomes the hero of the series as he develops his magical prowess. However, his transformation to hero has humble beginnings. Potter first recognizes his wizard powers around age of 11 and is accepted into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Here, Potter learns to overcome problems that many adolescents experience today, such as forming relationships, succeeding in school, dealing with stress, and facing his fears of bullies and the future. Through J.K. Rowling’s in depth character development and application of common adolescent teenage themes, she creates a story that attracts the young adult audiences. These familiar themes also manifest in the way the school operates as students at Hogwarts are sorted into four groups based on their morality and ambitions, and this classification results in split friendships and rivalries.
At Hogwarts, Potter befriends Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley, two characters that support Potter as he ages. In contrast, Draco Malfoy serves as Potter’s school enemy and portrays qualities of a typical bully by harassing Potter and his group of friends. However, all of the pupils of this fictitious realm share a common trait; their magical abilities. Along with facing the trials of growing up, Potter wields magic in many different ways. From casting spells as a joke to dueling with the most dangerous wizard in the world, Potter displays a multitude of supernatural abilities. For example, spells within the books range from innocently using magic to stack dinner tables high with junk food, to casting forbidden spells with the intent to kill others and live forever.Despite Hogwarts’s intention of teaching safe magic and strong values to its students, its supply of forbidden magical knowledge was used with malice by one previous student, Voldemort, or ” He Who Must Not Be Named” (38).
Voldemort utilizes dark magic and stores his soul into various objects around the world in order to live forever. He also uses the forbidden spell, Avada Kedavra, to kill Harry as a baby (12).Although, due to his parents’ sacrifice to protect him, Harry survives and becomes “The Boy Who Lived” (17). Due to his seemingly impossible survival, Harry gains popularity for outmaneuvering Voldemort’s forbidden spell. And so, Harry’s close ties to Voldemort demand his participation in overcoming the evil of the wizarding world.
Despite its widespread popularity, Harry Potter, according to the American Library Association, is now the most banned book in America. This censorship has been led by various groups who have voiced concerns about the novel’s contents, particularly its recurrent themes of death and frequent use of witchcraft and sorcery.
Some religious and conservative groups, for instance, criticized the novel’s’ support of conjuring, witchcraft, and magic (Zirkle 14). In 2000, Rowling’s work caught the attention of censors for its apparent use of magic to go against a holy text. Paul of Tarsus, a teacher of the gospel of Christ in the first century, confirms the blasphemous practice of sorcery in Galatians 5:20, saying “Idolatry, witchcraft… and such like: of which I tell you before… shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (King James Version). These resistant religious groups noted that the Bible gives direct warning to avoid the supernatural. Amanda Cockrell, an English teacher and director of the children’s literature program at Hollins University, attributes these responses to
the fear that fundamentalist Christians have of anything smacking of the occult. It doesn’t matter to them whether the author says it’s all fantasy… They think witchcraft is real, so it doesn’t matter to them whether the author does or not. Their take on it is that if you don’t believe in electricity you are still going to be in trouble if you stick your finger in a light socket.
While she acknowledges these qualms, she agrees with the overwhelmingly popular belief that the books are not to be considered harmful to its audiences, as the contents are merely enhanced with magical escapades rather than trying to indoctrinate its readers into practicing or believing in witchcraft and wizardry.
Because of these criticisms, the book continues to be scrutinized and censored. At St. Mary’s Island Church of England school in Chatham, Kent, for instance, school officials forbid young students to read Rowling’s novels; they especially fear how “[Harry Potter’s] magical powers go against the teachings of the bible” (desertnews). The school maintains that the ban of Harry Potter upholds their belief in the dangerous power of the supernatural. Furthermore, Carol Rockwood, a head teacher at the Church of England school, affirms similarly “that demons exist and are very real, powerful and dangerous, and God’s people are told to have nothing to do with them” (Ross). Church of England Christians, in particular, hold strong views against the occult and paranormal due to its ties to Satanism. Paul Hetrick of the American Advocacy group-Focus on the Family summarizes the delicacy of this series’ banning in Chatham by stating:
[Harry Potter] contains some powerful and valuable lessons about love and courage and the ultimate victory of good over evil. However, the positive messages are packing in a medium–witchcraft–that is directly denounced in Scripture (Green 222).
Despite J.K. Rowling’s acclaimed storytelling, Harry Potter’s reliance on sorcery could not be overlooked by concerned Christian groups. As a result, many Christian schools and parents found it critical that their children never experience the wizarding world of Harry Potter.
England was not the only country to raise concerns about the novel. In many states across the US, there have been undertakings to prevent the books from circulating among younger audiences. Because of Harry Potter’s use of the supernatural, particular groups have felt the series introduces dangerous thoughts to the malleable minds of its young audience. The most extreme opposition to the book took place in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Only four years after the first novel in the series, Christian groups took to burning the books as a way of exhibiting their views. Jonathan Green explains that this event was “the first [book burning]” and was “orchestrated by Jack Brock, pastor of the Christ Community Church” (Green 223). Book burning, as defined by Julian Petley, is “symbolic but highly potent expression of the desire to suppress ideas viewed as dissident” (Petley 20). Although Brock and his righteous actions were not conducted to oppose official policy, Brock and the Christ Community Church’s actions clearly exhibited their objections to what they perceived as Harry Potter’s threatening contents. More recently, in Gwinnett County, Georgia, a parent “challenged the Harry Potter books on the grounds that they promoted witchcraft” (ChildrensBooks). Despite these objects, the parent’s plea was countered by the school officials and the State Board of Education.
Challenges against Harry Potter have extended beyond objections to its use of wizardry. Others have claimed that the series supports bad behavior. Because the novels are set at a school for kids ages eleven to eighteen, many pranks and examples of delinquency appear in the text. Harry Potter is often forgiven without consequence, and parents question the influence of these circumstances on children’s decision making.
Further criticisms worry about the novel’s representation of death and dark themes.Numerous characters die throughout the novels, and Rowling does not employ euphemisms to hide the reality of her character’s fates. Because these “themes of death and resurrection abound in the stories,” some parents wish to hide such subjects from their children’s imagination (Olukotun). On this matter, however, J.K. Rowling contends that she
[has] a real issue with anyone trying to protect children from their own imaginations. If we cannot acknowledge that a lot of us have a bit of darkness within ourselves, some more than others perhaps, and bring it into the light and examine it and talk about this part of the human condition, then I think we will be living in quite a dangerous climate. I think that’s much more damaging for children (Rowling).
To help bolster her case, the vast majority of her fans support the saga’s fictitious plot. Although, concerned parties still provide their critical inputs despite Rowling’s interjections. Parents hold concerns for their children’s minds as strong as religious groups hold to their faith. Popularity alone was not enough to diminish the censors.
Regardless of the struggles since its creation, Harry Potter was not burned from history or ripped to shreds. Rather, “at least 450 million copies have been sold, so there is little danger that an eager reader will not be able to drudge up a copy” (Olukotun). At the same time, many parts of the world are becoming more lax about censorship. In fact, for Harry Potter in particular, the “total number of book challenges has dropped to its lowest level” (Weaver Dunne). Rowling’s work, instead, will remain a literary and pop culture phenomenon that will endure into the future.
Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling, Witchcraft, Sorcery, Magic, Book Banning, Book Burning, Religious, Satanism, Occult
Cockrell, Amanda. “An Interview With Amanda Cockrell” E-mail interview. 3 Nov. 2016.
Green, Jonathon. The Encyclopedia of Censorship. New York: Facts on File, 1990. Print.
“Harry Potter Books Are Banned from Church of England School.” DeseretNews.com. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
Olukotun, Deji. “The Banning of Harry Potter.” The Huffinfgton Post. 2016. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
Olukotun, Deji. “On J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series | PEN America.” Pen.org 2016. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
Petley, Julian. Censorship A Beginner’s Guide. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2009. Print.
Ross, Shmuel. “Harry Potter Banned?” Infoplease.com. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury Children’s, 1997.
“Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books Lists.” Banned & Challenged Books. American Library Association, 01 Nov. 2016. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.
Weaver Dunne, Diane. “Education World: Look Out Harry Potter! — Book Banning Heats Up.” Educationworld.com. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
Zirkle, Ashley. “Harry Potter and the American Response: Persecution and Popularity of the Boy Who Lived.” Scholarworks.gvsu.edu. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.