Who would not want to escape into a book filled with magic, drama, dangerous quests, and teen rebellion? Having a little bit of everything from disobedient teen wizardry to teen love, the Harry Potter series written by J.K Rowling has been challenged for many reasons in America since the publication of the first book in 1997. Challenged mainly by American schools and public libraries the series has been the top contender on the American Library Association’s Top 100 Most Challenged Books for the last decade (Top 100 Banned). Looking into what censorship is and how it is connected to the Harry Potter books, three main objections to the series became apparent. First, many pro-censorship fanatics argue that the American Education System is founded on the separation of church and state and that these books teach a form of occult religion. However, in reality, the wizardry in the series expands a child’s creative and imaginative abilities. Second, the series is seen as being too dark for children, dealing a lot with death, hate, and evil. However, it is true that these books do discuss heavy material, they can be used as a gateway to talk about topics that many parents are too afraid to talk to their children about. Thirdly, the Harry Potter series have to do a great deal with the idea of going against the grain, breaking rules, and being rebellious which many see as setting a bad example for children who read them. Yet this disobedience can be seen as teaching kids how to stand up for what they believe in and follow their own morally right paths. Taking a look into a specific case of challenging the series, Dakota Count versus Cedarville School District provides a real-life example of why censoring the collection is irrelevant. Therefore, censoring the Harry Potter series is more dangerous to children than them reading the magic-filled series themselves.
What is censorship? According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the definition of censor means to look over something and delete anything found offensive (Definition of CENSOR). Censorship is a difficult topic to talk about because everyone has different viewpoints on what is considered objectionable, especially when it comes to what children should be exposed to. According to author Lorretta Caravette in her article “Censorship: An Unnecessary Evil”, “censorship seems to be an adult user answer to the growing problem of how to care and watch over our children” (n.p.). Relating censorship more towards children Caravette provides a definition of censorship that can be used to explain why some try to censor the Harry Potter series. The problem with this is that censoring information that is meant to be looked at as a whole is as Allyson Casares puts it in her article, “The Effect of Book Banning on Child Culture: A Close Look at the Harry Potter Series”, is that it is essentially “robbing children of stimulating lessons of life” (n.p.). The robbing of experiences and knowledge from children by censoring can make them small-minded and dull. Although censoring of the books is the main concern of this paper, censorship is prevalent within the series itself. For example in the book Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, written by J.K Rowling in 1999, the adult characters try to censor the information of Black’s escape from Azkaban from Harry Potter. Harry finds out anyways and is not afraid like the adults would have predicted; instead “the thing that bothered Harry most was the fact that his chances of visiting Hogsmeade now looked like zero” (Rowling 68). This shows that even though adults who wish to censor information from children normally have the best intentions at heart, they often have no clue how a child will react. Now that we have established what censorship is let us look more into the reasoning behind why people have tried to censor the Harry Potter series from children.
Censoring the Harry Potter series on the basis of it teaching or promoting witchcraft to children is truly just limiting a child’s imagination. The problem with censoring Harry Potter for children on the basis of it teaching them occult religion is that no one is able to tell what a child will get out of the books except the child. It is up to a child to decipher reality from fantasy, censor supporters are concerned that children who read the books will start to believe in a fantasy world of witchcraft and wizardry. However, this concern is put to rest by Casares’s article because “there has been no evidence that suggests that reading of the Harry Potter series will affect a child’s ability to distinguish fantasy from reality” (n.p.). Rowling herself includes her disbelief in magic by using Professor Snape and his beliefs on science over magic; “There will be no foolish wand-waving or silly incantations… I don’t expect many of you to appreciate the subtle science and exact art that is potion-making” (Rowling Sorcerer’s #). Therefore the series as a whole is more about improving a child’s ability to critical think than teaching them the ways of witchcraft. Casares’s article reinforces that the main goal of a fantasy book is to “[allow] students to think beyond the constraints of their culture and to think more abstractly and theoretically” (n.p.). Thinking more abstractly while reading expands the imagination of children who have read the books. In addition to expanding their imagination, the series also according to Caravette’s article “[brings] kids, especially boys, back to books” (n.p.). These books help stir up reading in a society taken over by video games and movies. Therefore the series as a whole is more about improving the creativity and imagination in children rather than teaching them the ways of witchcraft.
The Harry Potter series is also seen as being too dark for children, incorporating death, hate, and evil. Although it is true that these books do cover such heavy material it is often missed that it provides an outlet for parents to talk to their children about dark real-life issues. With each book in the series progressively getting more deep in context it is reasonable to say that each reader should be looked at individually to see if it is appropriate for them or not. No matter the age of the child, it is always important for parents to discuss the heavy topics covered in the books. As Caravette puts it “only in discussing and sharing comments and concerns is their growth and understanding” (n.p.). Caravette is making the point that the series should be read and discussed rather than censored and ignored. Many who try to censor the Harry Potter series on the basis of them being too dark are often parents trying to protect their children from the horrors of the world. According to Casares’s article “if parents try to “protect” their children, they might disturb their natural emotional development” therefore, censorship is more harmful for children then the books themselves (n.p.). Another thing people often miss while trying to sensor these books on being too dark are the messages behind the darkness. For example, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone written by J.K Rowling in 1997, most see the moment Harry looks into the Mirror of Erised and sees his dead parents as morbid forgetting that the mirror shows “the deepest, most desperate desire if our hearts” (Rowling 213). This crucial but often forgotten information about the mirror makes the moment portray the message that every child needs and wants their parents. Using dark topics as hidden messages and a means to break the ice between children and their parents, the Harry Potter series is much more than just a dark story that needs to be hidden from children.
Accused of misleading children the Harry Potter series is often seen as teaching children to be disobedient while missing the author’s point of teaching children to follow their own moral paths. The series as a whole teaches children that expressing their moral beliefs is ok to do. According to Drew Chappell’s article “Sneaking Out After Dark: Resistance, Agency, and the Postmodern Child in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter Series”, “the child characters must decide what “rightness” means to them and when and how to bend rules in order to pursue it” (285 ). What does that mean exactly? It means that children need to have the freedom to act upon their own moral codes. For example, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry and Hermione must choose whether or not to break the rules to save Black and Buckbeak. Harry and Hermione use their own moral codes and decide that saving two lives is worth breaking the rules. The series also teaches children that your actions come with consequences. For example, when Neville Longbottom let a list of the passwords to get into Gryffindor tower get into Black’s hands his privileges to go to Hogsmeade was taken away (Rowling Sorcerer’s #). As Chappel states “Dumbledore does nothing to stop the resistant behavior–in fact, he encourages and supports it” (286). Dumbledore does this for he knows that testing the limits is essential in a child’s development. Censoring the Harry Potter series because they teach kids to be disobedient is on a false basis for it truly teaches kids to stand up for what they believe in and do what is morally right to them.
Looking at why Arkansas’s Cedarville School District had put a restriction on the Harry Potter series they had missed the points behind the novel, as most challenges of the series do. According to Todd DeMitchell and John Carney’s article, “Harry Potter and the Public School Library”, some Cedarville school board members saw the series as a literal teaching of witchcraft, which violated separation of church and state, along with the stories promoting disobedience (163-164). These two arguments proved to be non-substantial as the parent of Dakota Count took the challenge to court on the basis of it violating their child’s first amendment (Demitchell 164). The school district may have lost from a legal standpoint but from an optimistic viewpoint, both sides can be seen as winners. Dakota Count and the rest of the students in the Cedarville School District now have the freedom to read books that will improve their creativity, critical thinking, and moral making judgment skills. By keeping the books permission free the school district itself has a way to provide heavy topic subjects to children without scaring them off. As Demitchell puts it at the end of his article the Harry Potter series is honestly just a nonreligious children’s story involving magic, moral adolescents, and a battle against good versus evil (165). Being one of many legal cases Dakota Count’s case adds an example to reasoning as to why censoring this series is irrelevant.
Rowling admits to “‘[having] a real issue with anyone trying to protect children from their own imaginations’” and so do I (Lattie). I strongly believe that the true danger to children comes from censoring the Harry Potter series not by reading them. When children read the books, they are exposed to new concepts that can help flourish their creative thinking. Therefore by taking them away, you could say that you are also taking a piece of the child’s imagination along with it. In addition, forbidding a child from reading the books is only making future conversations harder. Reading the novels children are brought to the realization that the world is not all gumdrops and lollipops. The books introduce real-life issues in a kid sensitive manner. Being able to experience dark issues through reading the books instead of personally experiencing them provides an easier way for parents and children to talk about such heavy topics. Forgoing, saying that the series teaches kids to be disobedient is like saying a speed limit sign is just a white sign painted with black numbers, you are missing the point. Rowling uses the series to teach kids to weigh options on a moral scale, that rule-breaking can be ok if it is morally justifiable. Therefore I think censoring does nothing but harm a child, but it is ultimately left up to you. Is censoring the Harry Potter series really protecting children?