Yes, I admit it. I had pre-judged something, based on hearsay and fragments of information – specifically, the unsuitability of Harry Potter on children.
As a bit of contextual reference, I was not raised in a religious family but Christ found me as a young adult (21). And over the past seventeen years, I have been growing in my faith and understanding. Of course, just less than 10 years ago, I became a father – and I am still struggling with how to raise my children in a Godly way, without having those experiences myself. I was also an only child, so I struggle with the whole sibling conflict thing – but that is another story.
Not that many years ago, when the Harry Potter series was reaching fervor, I had conjectured and decided that it would never be suitable for my kids to be exposed to that. As I write the words, I know how boneheaded they must appear – and I agree. Most pre-judging and assuming, when looked at in hindsight, is boneheaded.
In this case, I could easily find Biblical teachings to back up my prejudice.
Deuteronomy 18:10 — There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer,
Except for one thing – the Harry Potter books don’t teach or encourage witchcraft – they simply tell the story of an boy in a magical world.
What prompted the change? My son and my mom
Last Fall, my oldest son turned 9 and entered third-grade. While he is an above average reader within school, he had not expressed any real interest in really reading until my mother came over with the first few Harry Potter novels – two copies per edition. My mom comes over every weekend to play with her three grandkids, usually taking them one-on-one to parks, swimming, tennis, etc. And she was hoping to read with Joshua in parallel, where they could do some together and then read separately during the week – catching up each weekend.
It was then that all of the memories of her reading on her own and alongside me came flooding back. It was her example that made me such an avid reader during my formative years, and likely was a key to whatever successes that I had later – having become a fairly fast and somewhat diverse reader. And then I remembered all of the Greek Mythology that filled my early teen years, and some of the practical benefits it yielded later (such as when my high school class had to read some, I had read those and others, and was well over-equipped). I actually took a Greek Mythology class as a literature elective to balance my Computer Science / Engineering major in school. I also recalled all of King Arthur’s stories, filled with the wonderment of Merlin’s magic, as well as the battles and quests that really did give me an appreciation of knighthood and the ideals of a forgotten, if not partially fictional, time. I was also raised to appreciate movies, with classics like the Wizard of Oz coming to mind.
So, if my mom wanted to encourage my kids reading and help awaken their imaginations in new ways, how could I say no? Very easily, actually – but it wasn’t ‘no’, as much as ‘not yet’.
Direct Experience over Hearsay
Partially because I know that as a father, I am directly and uniquely responsible for every aspect of my children’s upbringing – and partially because I am kid at heart, I wanted to read it first.
When my kids became interested in Pokémon, my wife and I bought GameBoy’s too – to play with our kids, to understand what they were being exposed to, as well as having another common point to talk about (and help them through). As they started branching out in other interests, Anita and I have continued to precede and co-participate in those activities too – whether it be screening a movie that we’ve already seen through the new eyes of ‘parental viewing’ instead of just re-watching for our own enjoyment, or playing every kids video game for an hour or two before our kids can try it – returning perhaps half of them due to content or other unsuitability (thank goodness for GameStop’s return policy and Blockbuster rentals).
The first time I picked up the first Harry Potter novel, I didn’t put it down until I was halfway finished. Another evening and I was finished – and enthralled – and it was approved as ‘suitable’. Joshua consumed it in spurts over several weeks (mostly because the first ¼ is somewhat dry – presumably to create contrast between the dull existence before young Harry learns that he is a wizard and the miraculous world he enters from them on). So, I was glad that my mom and I read with him to keep him going. After a while though, he started carrying it in his backpack to school. His teacher allows students who finish their assignments to climb up into a loft/hang-out area and read – so he was! And he continued to read.
While he was finishing the first book, I bought the blu-ray DVD series of movies. We often use ‘big movies’ as rewards, such as letting my oldest boy watch one installment of Star Wars after each six-weeks honor-roll. For those, he and I had big-kid night and everyone else, including mom, had to clear out of the house. To celebrate finishing the Harry Potter book, my mom, my son and I sat down on a Saturday afternoon with some Chinese food delivery and watched the first movie. It was awesome to see the faces and hear the voices that we had read about. And the following day, Joshua and I began the second book. By then, my mom had read the entire series, so she now goes back to re-read before each celebratory movie day.
Yes, we are progressing across the entire series – back to back. I try to stay slightly ahead of my son and his reading – so that when he finishes the book, we watch the movie – just the three of us. And then we begin the next book. Joshua is currently in his fourth book – all 743 pages of it. And when we are on long car rides, waiting in restaurants, wherever – it is all he carries with him. His Gameboy and DS mostly gather dust. And it turns out both his teacher, as well as his pastor at church, are both Harry Potter fans – enabling to have some great conversations and feel connected in new ways with other adult influences in his life.
I have received some contrary, but well-intentioned counsel from folks around their concerns of introducing my children to ‘witchcraft’. Certainly, in this day, there are many influences that parents need to keep their kids from – and that includes providing clarity between fictional topics like magic, and the power of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives and the eternal salvation of our souls. But I know that my son understands that difference, which we talked about a few times, particularly during his first HP novel.
Being confident in my son’s understanding of Jesus, and proactively reading what he reads and participating in what he is interested in – I am truly enjoying this part of his growth. He is becoming a voracious reader. No one can deny the influence that ancient mythology has had on the literary world, nor the more recent Arthurian lore, or even movies such as the Wizard of Oz – or Star Wars. I have heard that the J.K.Rowlings’ series on Harry Potter has been more influential in motivating young readers than any other series in the last 50 years. And for those of us who didn’t have to wait in between each book, the effect is even more magnified.
So, yes, I used to be prejudiced – assuming and deciding without knowing, based on misplaced intent without information. Of course, when I was a teenager, I was an atheist, having assumed and decided without understanding God’s will for my life and His love for me. And there have been other times, such as when Novell NetWare owned the server world, and I scoffed at Microsoft’s puny little toy called ‘Windows’ – and we know how that turned out.
My lesson learned
Perhaps one definition of ‘maturity’ is embracing that we don’t know what we don’t know – being content in the lack of knowledge, being open to the experiences that will change that and allowing hindsight to affect our foresight for the next unknown.
There will always be folks, some well-intentioned and others perhaps with a slanted agenda, that will continue to preach to those that are less informed and willing will listen, with guidance that sounds authentic perhaps even Biblical, but is laced in preconceptions and misinformation. And fruit of a poisoned tree causes others, good intentioned as myself and my counselors, to make uninformed decisions and perhaps even proliferate the prejudice.
In my parental journey so far, I have learned that Pokémon may have started as ‘Pocket Monsters’ but they are not evil. They are creative and have stimulated a mutual activity enjoyed across my whole family – not only through the electronic games, but also the TV series that my family watches together, some of the stuffed animals that my kids sleep with, and the books that include ‘starting readers’ for my first-grader, as well as older books. And Harry Potter is just another boy, who happens to have some amazing adventures not unlike young Arthur under Merlin’s tutelage or Dorothy with her red-shiny shoes while she is away from Kansas – with some insightful life lessons woven within some wonderful storytelling. And as Dorothy wakes from her dream that was laced with small fragments of reality but elaborated with brilliant story, so too does my son leave the world of Hogwarts and witchcraft – firm in an understanding of what is real, what is truly supernatural and what is simply fiction.
As I continue to seek what my Godly Father wants me to become as a father to my own children, I look forward to the next adventures that my children and I will share together, including likely the breaking down of other preconceptions – and some really great stories.
Thanks for reading