June 30, 1997. That’s the date when the first book in the Harry Potter series was released. Fifteen years ago. Since then, there have been six more books, eight movies, scads of memorabilia, and a theme park. All of this coming from the mind of a women who began the book while living on social assistance. The latter of which should be the most important aspect of this, and as a political aside, if it wasn’t for social programs like welfare, someone like J. K. Rowling would never have written those seven books which captured the imaginations of a generation of children (and some adults, too).
But this isn’t about a political rant. It has more to do with staying power.
During that year when the first Harry Potter book hit shelves, Star Trek The Next Generation had just finished celebrating its tenth year since it launched. Captain Picard, Riker, Worf, Crusher (both Beverly and Wesley), Troi, Data, Geordi, and even the Enterprise herself are so ingrained into our minds. It helped create the feeling for Terak Nor (Deep Space Nine) and that Intrepid Class Starship lost in the Delta Quadrant. It’s been over two decades now since TNG premiered and people still talk about all of Star Trek with great memories. That’s some staying power.
I believe it’s obvious that Harry Potter will have the same kind of staying power, considering that the book series and subsequent movies tugged at the heart strings of children. As we grow older, we often find that the things we remember from our youth that were pleasing stay with us. Harry Potter will have that affect.
So it’s not hard to imagine that in another ten or twenty years, Harry Potter will still make waves and still be talked about. You never know, maybe in another thirty years there might even be the talk about relaunching the movies for a new generation of movie goers (whether we actually go sit in a cinema or watch the movies at home is another matter entirely).
Harry Potter has joined an elite class of literary and big screen giants. Joining the likes of J.R.R. Tolien’s Lord of the Rings, Lucas’ Star Wars, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s Alice in Wonderland, and A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. There’s other major works of fiction that Harry Potter can be compared with, but I chose those because they all are works of fantasy (or science) fiction, readily capture the imagination, can be enjoyed by young and old alike, and are all grand, sweeping epics.
I do recall at one time, hearing those say that Harry Potter wouldn’t last. It was a flash in the pan, and we’d all forget about it in a couple of years. I may even contributed that (1997 is a long time ago, and I was 27 at the time, so I can’t exactly recall). But here we are, fifteen years later. I think that Harry Potter has passed the test of time.
Before I begin, let me first state that this photo originally was found at this flickr page. It’s meant to be artistic and symbolize something as it states in the description.
The photographer made the comment that it was the second roll of film, and it took forever to get the right photo and was pleased with the result. It also had this comment in italics.
I’ll open this book and blow the dust from these pages of desire and lust. I’ll search for a spell perfect for you… ‘Cause I need to get you enchanted with me too
It was art, so my opening preamble about this image really has nothing to do with what the artist was attempting to convey. I just know what my reaction upon seeing it was.
What I saw, before reading anything else or exploring the photographer’s flickr stream, was that I saw a burning book. And then came my abject horror. Anybody who knows me should also know I hate book burning with a passion. It’s not so much the act of getting rid of something unwanted, I get that. We have recycle programs for unwanted newspapers and even books. Often times there are too many books to be sold. Not everyone will buy a book, and therefore, the unwanted books have to go somewhere. Sometimes a library, sometimes a school, but often times they are recycled, or destroyed because there just isn’t any need for them.
Those are different than the more thought of uses for burning a book. Which is to destroy it for the sake of erasing the text printed on the pages. It’s a barbaric form of censorship. Censorship is something else I have a major problem with, because it’s such a fine line to walk. That’s something I’ll get into at another time. Book burning, however, is very much a violent way of showing disapproval of the printed word. We’ve seen it over the course of history, the most recent and famous of which has been in Nazi Germany, when books by Jewish authors, scholars and philosophers were destroyed in very public means. We’ve seen several more different scenarios as of late, shocking, but not the whole sale destruction as what took place during and before the Second World War.
One of those has been groups, mostly in the States and mostly by right wing fundamentalist Christian groups, that have burned books from the Harry Potter series. Really? Honestly? A children’s book? I can see, in their defense, why they would have come up with this notion. The book is about witches and wizards at a school, set somewhere in England. As it states in the Bible, witchcraft is a devilish thing. But what got me is that the book was accused of teach children witchcraft. So, I say again: really? If you believe that it’s not for your child, then don’t let your child read it. Oh, and if you have no children, then don’t get into the discussion. Parents need to read books with their child. Parenting isn’t something where you plop the child in front of the television and just hope for the best while feeding them, clothing them and sending them to school. I’ve known a good number of parents that have read the entire Harry Potter series with their children and made it a very wonderful experience.
I know the comparison with Twilight and Harry Potter is out there, really, I do. And I even know that there have been those who burned copies of Twilight in response to the burning of Harry Potter books. My disgust envelopes those people as well. Saying that burning a book is reprehensible, especially a book from a series you might like, then turning around and burning another book is hypocritical. It’s also not helping.
The other book which has seen it’s share of threats to help stoke the flames is not a fictional book, persay. It, like the Holy Bible, is a book which millions and millions of people follow faithfully. It’s called the Qu’ran. In this case, however, the burning of this book isn’t about reading to children. It’s all about religious intolerance. I will admit, religion is the motivator in the burning of Harry Potter books, but burning the Qu’ran is fueled with such a venomous hatred. The complete intolerance to a religion that those who accuse it of being the heart of terrorism are only acting on their own fears and misguided understanding. They say it’s an evil book, yet don’t even take the time to open it and read what it has to say. They’ll burn it without hesitation, unless so shamed by the rest of the world. What exactly would burning the Qu’ran do, except fuel the hatred and intolerance, and ignorance of a religion. Instead of learning what they can of the religion, most who suffer from the seemingly incurable disease of Islamophobia, will react with knee jerk assumptions and “popular opinion” of the time. These people don’t even try to take the opportunity to understand the religion, nor do they take the time to decipher between what is part of the religion and what is part of the culture from where the religion is practiced.
Book burning is a very vile form of censorship, that speaks to people that it’s okay to belittle ideas. It says “your work is reprehensible, therefore it must be destroyed”. Which can only develop a cycle that another group might find a work reprehensible. After all, what if a group so publicly stated they were going to burn a Bible. Think of the reaction there would be to that. There might even be those that would demand a call to arms and be willing to go to war.
Now, sit back and think for just a moment. Harry Potter fans may not band together in the face of such an insult, but do you not think for a minute that the reaction to the burning of the Bible would not be the very same reaction to the burning of the Qu’ran?
“And yet, on the other hand, unless wariness be used, as good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye.”
Words. They are an incredibly powerful thing, more powerful than any stockpile of nuclear weapons throughout the world. They can teach, they can be used to debate, they can entertain, and they can let the imagination run wild. It is any wonder that books are so very important in our society, these bound volumes which contain thousands of words.
Authors, true authors who craft and create so magnificent a world, write for joy, for sheer thrill of exploration, and some aspect of self fulfilment. For a time, we had lost that, as we became sucked into the world of the idiot box. Taking nothing away from television, but books can do something that even the most experienced special effects crew cannot. An individual’s imagination through words can produce so much more than any of the major motion pictures could even create.
Books have been sacred for many, and rightly so. They contain information, adventure, they provoke thought and they state facts. A book can be autobiographical or it can be philosophical or pure fiction. But we treasure these things like nothing else. As we move into the 21st Century, the paper bound novels have changed. They have become a digital format that users can download and print off or read from their e-readers.
So what does any of that have to do with John Milton’s quote from his speech?
We are witnessing history as it repeats itself time and time again. The most recent cases of this repetition comes in the form of two separate books. One is a book series geared toward children, the other is a holy text held in high regard by the second largest religion in the world. I’m talking about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and the Muslim book of Islam called the Qur’an. Two separate books, or in the case of Harry Potter, a series of books, that at first glance have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Thanks to one act, however, they have a lot in common.
In the 1940′s, while war raged in Europe, Adolph Hitler deemed certain books as poisonous, particularly those written by Jews. He ordered them destroyed. The world looked on in horror, and vowed that such an act was beyond contempt. To destroy the works of an author was a reprehensible act. Since that time, images of members of the Nazi Party burning books has been equated with pure evil.
But some people weren’t paying attention.
When J. K. Rowling created her series, it was a simple idea that wove into a complex story. And it was loved by children everywhere. Fundamentally, that series did something important; it got children to read books again. Coupled with the movies, the Harry Potter series became an extremely popular series. However, there were those in the extreme that dissected the series and ignored it for what it was. They sited Biblical scripture about wizards and sorcery, ignoring the fact that children realized this was a work of fantasy. Of fiction. But those in the extreme took the most extreme thing they could do, and gathered Harry Potter books to be burned. They demanded the series be banned from schools and libraries. In some cases they succeeded. But that didn’t stop those who wanted to read the story.
Now, we are witnessing another such event, but this time with the holy book of Islam. An organization in Florida has stated it will hold a Qur’an burning on September 11th. They state it is in support of those who wish to block the building of the Ground Zero Mosque, and hope to send a message to Al-Qaeda. Completely forgetting that the building they are protesting is neither a mosque, nor is it at Ground Zero, where the World Trade Centre in New York was destroyed years ago.
In both cases, the extreme felt it was a wake up call, and the only way to show it was by showing defiance against it. So they did the one thing that history has done time and time again. They burned books. Just like the Nazis did.
I look upon these two particular acts with the same regret and contempt that those who grew up during the Second World War may have felt when books were burned in Nazi Germany. What was done with the Harry Potter books and what is happening with the Qur’an is no different. And we should look upon it no differently than what happened during the Second World War.
I would hope that there are those who remember this, and never let it happen again.