The JC vs. The HP; Or, "Are you a Good Witch, or a Bad Witch?"
1. J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series tops the American Library Association’s long list of “most banned” books of the last decade. The reasons reported to the Association for the challenges against the tales of Mr. Potter are as follows: “anti-family, occult/Satanism, religious viewpoint, and violence.”
2. Other books on the list include: J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye; Toni Morrison’s Beloved; John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men; Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird; Joseph Heller’s Catch 22; Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. Oh. And on the same list from the prior decade…this guy:
3. I can’t find The Grapes of Wrath on this list. It’s gotta be on here, though. Holy hell, I just found The Things They Carried. Are you serious? What schmuck wanted to ban that book? Let me at ‘im.
4. Dan Brown’s books all begin with four or five ominous “facts.” Like: “The Catholic Church is kind of evil.” Then he goes on to pinpoint all the lies we’ve ever been told about everything from Yahweh to Santa Claus, but by the end of the book every good character is doing exactly what Jesus would have done. And every time he writes the sentence “Langdon looked incredulous,” an angel gets its wings. Bad job Dan Brown; keep up the good Work, Jesus.
5. Is it irony if someone burns a copy of Fahrenheit 451?
6. The Nazis, on May 10, 1933, organized a massive book burning amongst university students, whereby “unGerman” works met their demise in a lake of fire, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels stated “The era of extreme Jewish intellectualism is now at an end,” and where I’d love to go back in time and serve Hebrew National hot dogs laced with cyanide-mustard. Indy knows what I’m talking about:
7. I haven’t finished reading the Harry Potter series. I already know certain spoilers, but not all of them. Need to finish Half-Blood Prince and then Deathly Hallows. I boycotted the books when they were first popular. Not because I thought they were poisoning the young minds of America with sorcery and magic; but because I was A) assuming the books had little-to-no literary merit and B) jealous like any writer that I wasn’t a published bestseller yet, because any jerk can come up with a fancy wizard school and some magic tricks.
Then I started reading them.
Like Dan Brown—who I hate to admit is a page-turner—Rowling creates elegant scenes in a strange, but strangely familiar world. It’s every kid’s crazy fantasy mixed with pop culture, magical lore, and childhood’s very real, day-to-day blend of excitement, embarrassment, anger, confusion, hope, and tedium.
As formulaic as the first few plots might be, as friendly as Rowling can get with her adverbs, it’s impossible to not care about Harry and his friends and see what comes next.
Then something happens…I’d argue it builds up slowly and then explodes at the end of Goblet of Fire. The story, already with a cast of—yes, archetype—awesome characters in an awesome setting, gets really damn good. And The Order of the Phoenix just knocked me on my ass. I don’t know everything about good storytelling, that’s for damn sure; but I know this: anyone claiming this series is “anti-family” is no more than an illiterate fool.
8. I am a confirmed Catholic. Meaning I’m about 80% agnostic and 20% guilt-ridden. Also, I love Jesus, I dig the prophets, I try my best to follow at least seven of the Ten Commandments, and I enjoy long walks on the beach. The Bible is a great resource for stories, spirituality, moral lessons, and, I believe, like all spiritual texts (The Torah, The Koran, The Tao Te Ching, the teachings of Buddha, insert any spiritual book you want here) is rooted in something, if not in good, at least in something universal: a constant search for understanding. The Bible, like any ancient document, has been translated beyond measure, misinterpreted, overanalyzed, and inspires a good bit of confusion, worry, fear, and plain old fashioned insanity, especially at the later bits when clearly, somebody was smoking something. Taking each passage of any spiritual text literally produces strange and humorously dangerous results not accounting for technology, time, geography, the theory of relativity, Murphy’s law, or mob mentality. Seriously, we must ponder whether God would want us burned, or stoned, or otherwise maimed if we were somehow lost back in time, pulled out our iPhones or iPads with instant-gratification GPS and listened to that lady with an English accent to find our way home: “In…fifty…yards…turn right…at the throng of angry peasants…which thinks your holding a Malevolent Backlit Demon Stick.”
9. Burning a Koran to make a point is not a good idea. Is it a good idea to keep Playboy out of Pre-School? Yes. Is it a good idea to keep Twilight from young girls? Maybe. Is it a good idea to keep Harry Potter from impressionable young white males who wear glasses? Of course not.
10. And I started rambling: “The thing is, Harry’s doing good things, good spells. He’s fighting evil. It’s clear that Voldemort and Satan would get along and have a ‘dark magic night’ every Tuesday at Malfoy’s. And it’s clear that Harry, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, these are all good people using their powers for the betterment of us all, and that they would go to Heaven after dying, and chill and share stories with Peter, Paul, the J.C. and both Marys.”
Then I said: “But it doesn’t matter to fundamentalist, literalist interpreters of the Old Testament what Harry and the Hogwarts Crew use magic for; they could use their wands to shoot Judeo-Christian family values into people and it wouldn’t matter, because the wands, the magic, the ‘witchcraft’ by itself is, to the literalist, an actual evil. It’s like the Steelers versus the Cowboys to someone who despises football; they’re not going to care when I tell them that the Steelers are good and wholesome, protective, and dare I say it holy, while the Cowboys are evil, commercial, not-to-be-named-or-trusted, and care more about hiring good cheer girls than good head coaches. To that football-hater, it’s football that’s evil.”
Then I came up with other examples: “The Wizard of Oz, where the witches have labels, like ‘Good,’ and, ‘Wicked.’ Unfortunately, to your black-and-white by-the-book Bible reader, both characters are vile sorceresses who deserve nothing but a slow and painful death, even though one tried to set a little girl and a dog on fire and the other just smiled good-naturedly and traveled by luminous bubble.”
And: “Star Wars: oh yes, my fellow former-Lucas-lovers, Exodus 22:18 applies to us as well: ‘Thou shalt not suffer a Jedi to live!’ For the last two decades, it’s been eminently clear to kids and adults alike that the guys with green and blue light sabers are good, and the guys with the red ones…are bad. But not even a Biblical name such as Luke can save a Jedi from eternal damnation; the Force, I’m sad to say, is clearly witchcraft of the highest order boiled in a madman’s mind and mixed with cruel philosophy and ancient, strange, and supremely evil Taoism.”
And “I wonder if all the Harry Potter haters in, I don’t know, let’s pick a state, how m whenever I see this little green guy:about Mississippi, ever watched a little movie called The Sound of Music. Are there witches and wizards in The Sound of Music? No. There are Nazis, though. And they’re all impossible assholes. But anyone familiar with that 1965 Oscar winner for Best Picture might also recognize the same lovely Julie Andrews in what I used to think was a wholesome movie about family, childhood, and kites:
“If Mary Poppins isn’t considered a hell-spawn wench by witchcraft censors, I can’t tell why not. She has manipulative powers like the strongest of Jedi; she—like a Siren—can lure people to sleep (and potentially death) with her soft singing voice; flies with her nose upturned, as if going for a stroll; uses ancient dark secrets to speak to animals; can move and organize inanimate objects with a snap of her finger; possesses the power to teleport, transport, and transform herself and those around her into cartoon form. She even uses dangerous, scandalous, obviously-evil words with too many syllables.”
Then I rambled that “there’s actually a shitstorm of what any (non-Lucas) alien race might interpret as honest-to-God witchcraft—or metaphysical tomfoolery, at least—smack dab in the Good Book’s juiciest bits: Jesus cures the blind, makes loaves and fishes apparate from nowhere, mind-melds with water till it transforms to wine, heals the leprous, brings a few people back from the dead, including himself! And he washes feet, too. Still don’t think there’s some non-Muggle action in the Bible? Check out Exodus where Moses spreads seas, man!”
Then I calmed down. And said an apologetic prayer: sorry Jesus and Moses, I got out of hand there. And I thought to myself. Wait a minute. What on Earth am I doing? I’m defending the good witches. Really? That’s what I’m doing? I feel a need to defend good witches and wizards? And then I remembered something.
Witches don’t exist, you idiot.
11. I do not believe in ghosts. Fairies. Witches. Angels. Leprechauns. Vampires. Werewolves. Ring Wraiths. Jedi. Dark Lords. Wiccan girls with powers. It’s all bullshit to me. Fun bullshit, yes. But still bullshit. I believe in the ability of chemistry, physics, and quantum mechanics to fuck with our minds in the future, but I do not think that gives us any superpowers. This fairly resolute sense of mine—which seems relatively uncommon—only solidifies my notion that Harry Potter, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland…none of these should be challenged, burnt, or banned, because in reality, they’re all hogwash anyway! They might be good stories with good life lessons, but the stuff that happens in those stories is the stuff of dreams and fantasy. So it’s hard not to get angry when I look at a list of “Challenged” books in 2010, a year in which, when I was a kid, I imagined there might be flying cars already.
12. It all comes back to three things: A) What would Jesus do? B) The Founding Fathers, in their bravery and brilliant vagueness, kicked royal ass, and C) Nazis are the real enemy here, not Harry freakin’ Potter. The people who fight so hard to keep supposed “witchcraft” from their kids—all of them good Americans, I’m sure—need to read some history: Who burned books? That’s right: The Nazis. And who dabbled in the occult? That’s right: The Nazis. I’m not calling you book-banners secretly occult-loving Nazis.
I’m just stating a few facts. Too many, in fact. Forgive me.
13. But I brought up aliens, earlier, and I have to continue: What if aliens come down tomorrow? And they have ray-guns…but the ray-guns shoot joy and happiness and Godly thoughts? What if they zapped poverty, nixed hunger, dissolved suffering? What if they slaughtered boredom and apathy? What if they inspired nothing but pure spiritual goodness? Would the ray-guns be seen as witchcraft contraband? Would the aliens be seen as sorcerers and dark wizards? They’d be holding sticks that shoot beams of light at people; that’s evil, right?