Harry Potter is back on his broom, reviving the controversy over whether his fantasy book series inspires children to explore witchcraft and to disobey their parents.
Scholastic released the sixth book in the series, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” just last month. If its predecessors are any gauge, it’s sure to produce book challenges by concerned parents around the state and the country.
With 10 unique challenges from 2000 to 2005, the Harry Potter books are the most frequently challenged in Missouri schools. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and its first four sequels, all written by J.K. Rowling, were most often challenged on the grounds that they promote witchcraft. Some parents also complained that the books encourage disobedience.
Not once in Missouri has Harry Potter been removed from library shelves. In the Worth County R-III school district, however, teachers have been prohibited from using the books in classrooms since a parent filed a challenge.
The complaint that teaching from Potter books amounts to teaching witchcraft fits a national trend among some Christian denominations. Many concerned parents turn to the Internet to learn more about the alleged connection between Harry Potter and sorcery. Indeed, Web-based advocacy helps parents learn more about other challenges and about Harry Potter from a religious perspective. Other Christian groups, however, embrace the Harry Potter tales’ lessons about friendship, loyalty and courage.
The Harry Potter books tell the story of an orphaned boy who learns on his 11th birthday that he is a wizard. Harry leaves his wicked relatives to study magic at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Each book chronicles a year of Harry’s life at Hogwarts. He faces villains, meets friends, becomes a star athlete and even manages to find love, as only an awkward teenager can.
Many adults refuse to jump on the Potter bandwagon. Book challenges around the state reflect their sentiment.
One elementary school parent in the Liberty school district objected in 2001 to all parts of the books “that glorify kids going to powers of wizards, good witches, etc. This is a religion recognized by the world. You’re not allowed to uphold a religion in our classroom.”
In the Humansville school district, a parent challenged “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” not only for content dealing with sorcery and magic, but also on moral grounds. The parent cited passages in which Harry is goaded into disobeying a teacher; in which his friend, Hermoine, gains acceptance by lying to a teacher; and in which a boy who tries to stop Harry and others from breaking a rule is called an idiot and is paralyzed by a spell.
“The book repeatedly portrays parents and teachers as the enemy,” the challenger wrote.
John Watkins, a self-employed home-remodeler in Texas City, Texas, runs the Web site www.exposingsatanism.org in his spare time. It’s one of many sites that link the Harry Potter craze to real-life witchcraft, paganism and Satan.
“Harry Potter promotes witchcraft, period,” Watkins said.
Watkins called his Web site nondenominational and said it receives 750,000 to 1 million hits a month. It also includes information on role-playing games, holidays and the New World Order.
Before the release of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the series already had sold an estimated 250 million copies worldwide. It is translated in more than 50 languages.
According to the Scholastic Web site, the Harry Potter series had sold more than 80 million copies in the United States alone even before the latest book, and nearly 11 million of those were released July 16. Each title has appeared on the New York Times best-seller list.
Many parents praise the series for turning children on to reading in an age dominated by television and video games. Watkins, however, worries about the books’ popularity.
“Witchcraft is witchcraft, whether fantasy, fiction or reality,” Watkins said. “There’s no separation in my mind.”
Watkins hasn’t read a Harry Potter book but said he has looked at excerpts.
“I won’t waste my time or money,” Watkins said, adding there are parts of the books posted on his Web site.
Watkins is unsure whether the Internet is an effective means of sharing his message. Responses to his site run about 50-50 between supporters and detractors. He said children who are into witchcraft are the most vocal.
“I don’t want to censor Harry Potter, but I don’t want it taught in school,” Watkins said. “You can’t bring a Bible into school and teach from it; Harry Potter is the same thing. Witchcraft is a religion and shouldn’t be taught in schools.
“If students want to read it in the school library, that’s fine.”
Watkins’ Web site is one of many that document the links between Harry Potter and witchcraft. A Google search for “Harry Potter” and “Satanism” yielded almost 23,000 hits.
Alan Yusko investigates what he sees as satanic imagery in Harry Potter illustrations at www.informedchristians.com. Another Christian site, www.cuttingedge.org, provides reviews for the Potter books and information on how to order a four-hour video explaining the dangers of the series. Some of the sites, such as Watkins’, are nondenominational; others, such as www.cuttingedge.org, come from the Baptist denomination.
In addition to Harry Potter, some of the Web sites make reference to the new world order, to weather warfare and even an alleged connection between President Bush and Satan.
Dawn Powell challenged the Harry Potter books in Camdenton. She first became aware of the books by looking at Web sites.
“My main objection was that they were reading it aloud in the classroom,” Powell said, arguing that the practice indicates the teacher gives the books special importance.
“There are some pretty graphic witchcraft sites,” Powell said. “You can get into some disturbing stuff pretty innocently.”
Powell eventually pulled her child out of the Camdenton school to teach him at home. She said that decision had nothing to do with her complaint about the book. “The school treated the complaint fairly,” she said.
In this instance, the Camdenton Upper Elementary Committee decided to retain the Harry Potter books without restrictions. It ruled, among other reasons, that the books encourage creativity and reading for pleasure. The committee surmised that the Potter books would not encourage students to get involved in witchcraft as a religion and that denying the books would infringe on some students’ rights.