Turns out, according to a new book by a speechwriter during the Bush administration, there was talk of honoring [J.K. Rowling] with the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom a few years ago but the idea was a non-starter in the White House. The former administration had decision-makers who spoke up to “actually object to giving the author J.K. Rowling a presidential medal because the Harry Potter books encouraged witchcraft,” writes Matthew Latimer, author of “Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor.”

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I wonder how long it’s going to take the Obamas to scrape the stupid off the walls.

Comments

  1. #1 Jared
    September 30, 2009

    Q: “I wonder how long it’s going to take the Obamas to scrape the stupid off the walls.”
    A: “Obama wouldn’t have enough time if he had 4 terms…”

  2. #2 José
    September 30, 2009

    What bothers me most is that there are so many legitimate reasons to hate Harry Potter.

  3. #3 travc
    October 1, 2009

    While giving the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rowling (or a lot of the people who did get it) might not make a lot of sense, this is… well, insane is a good word.

    BTW: The themes in the Harry Potter series are almost worthy of some such reward IMO. I for one am very happy that there is finally something to compete with the troglodyte world views of Tolkien and Lewis (hell, throw George Lucas into the trog list too).

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    October 1, 2009

    It is also the first widely read and very popular series of this type with a definitively gay main character, right?

  5. #5 SQB
    October 1, 2009

    “If seven maids with seven mops
    Swept it for half a year.
    Do you suppose,” the Walrus said,
    “That they could get it clear?”
    “I doubt it,” said the Carpenter,
    And shed a bitter tear.

  6. #6 SQB
    October 1, 2009

    It is also the first widely read and very popular series of this type with a definitively gay main character, right?

    Well, if you choose to ignore Peregrin “Pippin” Took and Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck, sure.

  7. #7 IanW
    October 1, 2009

    “Well, if you choose to ignore Peregrin “Pippin” Took and Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck, sure.”

    And if the Balrog wasn’t flaming gay I don’t know who is….

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    October 1, 2009

    I was under the impression that the Hobbits were totally anti-gay. It’s pretty clearly indicated in the books.

  9. #9 ebohlman
    October 1, 2009

    I have to assume that the real concern was that giving a medal to Rowling would cause a lot of big fundie donors to get stingy with their checkbooks.

  10. #10 Doyle
    October 1, 2009

    I tend to agree with José (#2) on this one. While the Bush reasons for denying Rowling the award are ridiculous, I find it hard to be upset over the fact that Harry Potter has not been given yet more undeserved praise. Granted, Rowling probably deserves the award at least as much as some others who have received it, but that only illustrates how meaningless the award really is. It seems to me that something called the “U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom” should be given to those who have, you know, actually advanced the cause of freedom or something. Instead, it just seems to go to anyone popular and successful in their field that the POTUS happens to like. Isn’t writing a best-selling series and becoming a millionaire kind of its own reward? Why should that entail a medal? The books themselves tend to be praised way too highly. For example, Greg claims that it is “the first widely read and very popular series of this type with a definitively gay main character.” That depends very much on what one means by “widely read” and “very popular.” The lesbian wizard in the Thieves World anthology (back in the early 80′s) springs to mind, as do the multiple gay protagonists in the Heralds of Valdemar books (late 80′s). Neither of those series were a pop culture phenomenon, of course, but they were pretty popular among adolescent fantasy geeks (hence my familiarity with them). If you limit the field only to fantasy series that were popular with general readers as well, then you are really talking about only a handful of books (I cannot think of many other than Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings). Also, how “openly gay” is a character if you cannot determine his sexuality until the end of the series? As for the argument about whether the Hobbits were gay or anti-gay, how on Earth could you tell? Sexuality of any kind is so far under the radar in Tolkien’s works that most of his characters seem more asexual than anything else (there was some incestuous lust, and an implied attempted rape, in the Silmarillion, but that is true Tolkien geek territory).

  11. #11 Stephanie Z
    October 1, 2009

    Doyle, is there a better way to promote freedom among children than to instill a love of reading?

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    October 1, 2009

    Doyle: Widely read means I read it and know a zillion other people read it. So the Thieves World thing doesn’t count because I never heard of it.

    I’m not sure what I think about who should get the medal. That is not what this post was about: It was about the crazy right wing fundy fear of withcraft. I sat next to a 30 year old man with his two young teanager “friends” listening them lecture them on how Christion Correct narnia was as opposed to Harry Potter (at a screening of the first Narnia film). This story reminded me of that, and all the hoopla about witches and so on.

    I do tend to agree with Stephanie in that Harry Potter actually made an impact on how many kids read and how much they read.

    The Hobbits were anti gay, man. Have you not read the books? Every few minutes they were throwing a faggot on the fire.

  13. #13 José
    October 1, 2009

    Not that anyone cares, but my biggest objection to Harry Potter is that Rowling constantly mistakes cheating, bad sportsmanship, and stupidity for cleverness.

    And if there’s anyone who never mad it to the last Narnia book, I highly recommend it just for the sheer whatthefuckidness of it all. I’ll be happy to spoil it for you though.

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    October 1, 2009

    Rowling constantly mistakes cheating, bad sportsmanship, and stupidity for cleverness.

    PROVIDE LINKS AND CITATIONS!!!!!

    … or just an example or two would be OK.

  15. #15 DuWayne
    October 1, 2009

    Doyle -

    Thieves World and the Valdemar novels are genre specific and I would argue the Valdemar series’ not even that popular in the fantasy world. I mean I’ve read them, but would tend to argue that there are a whole host of fantasy novels that far surpass them in popularity. I tend to think that novels that aren’t right on the tip of every fantasy geeks tongues, just don’t qualify. (I would also note that I cannot for the life of me remember the lesbian wizard)

    The thing to keep in mind about the sexuality coming in at the end, is that the Harry Potter series starts out as a relatively young children’s series and it isn’t until the end that sexual themes really develop at all. Which makes sense, as they are, by the end, young adult books.

    I am neither here nor there about Rowling getting a medal of freedom for writing the series – it is the stupidity of the reasoning that matters. Though I would argue that turning millions and millions of young people onto a series they want to start when they are young and keep reading as they get older, is a hell of a great achievement and this series does exactly that. I know several young people who would likely not have gotten into reading, were it not for Harry Potter. As Stephanie mentioned, turning kids onto the world of books is certainly endowing them with a very special sort of freedom…

  16. #16 Stephanie Z
    October 1, 2009

    DuWayne, the Valdemar books are huge. They’ve sold well enough to let Lackey “get away with” a bunch of unusual stuff, like insisting her husband illustrate the later books and having ballooning page counts. As for the lesbian wizard in Thieves World, it was a male character later revealed to be hiding her gender. Marion Zimmer Bradley did a stand-alone novel featuring the character, if that helps.

  17. #17 Enoch
    October 1, 2009

    Today, it is Harry Potter. Tomorrow, it will be The Little Red Book!

  18. #18 DuWayne
    October 1, 2009

    Hmmm… I tend to go by what is prevalent in the library and used books stores and the Valdemar books didn’t seem that big in either. Come to think, it has probably been four or five years since I set foot in a new bookstore (I don’t think Powell’s counts, as they are primarily used books). They just don’t smell quite right – and the books are all – new…Just doesn’t seem right

    As for Thieves World – it has been a long while and still doesn’t come to mind. But then I was never that big on them and I can’t remember exactly how, but Bradley really pissed me off, so I probably completely missed that one. I have never been a very big fan of the short stories, so overall Thieves World was kind of a non-starter for me. I just hate getting to know a character, liking them and having to leave them so quickly…

  19. #19 José
    October 1, 2009

    OK, it’s been a while, so I might get some details wrong.

    Harry Potter is entered in some contest with some unspecified challenges and knows he is in way over his head. Harry uses his magic invisibility cloak to sneak in and find out what the challenges are (he cheats). Now that he know what the test is, he realizes how screwed he really is. If only he was allowed to bring his magic wand into the competition he would be OK, but that’s not allowed. So after the competition begins, he has a friend in the stands throw him his wand, he kicks ass, and everyone goes “Bravo, clever Harry”.

    If a fan thinks that’s too far off from what’s in the book, let me know and I’ll do some research and find some better examples. I know there are plenty. As I said, it’s been a while.

  20. #20 Greg Laden
    October 1, 2009

    That’s not cheating for wizards.

  21. #21 DuWayne
    October 1, 2009

    Actually Jose, he is told by a teacher to be somewhere at a specific time, where he will learn the nature of the challenge. He then tells another student, who he happens to know is the only contestant who is unaware of what the challenge is. He uses a spell call his broomstick to him, no one tosses him anything.

  22. #22 Doyle
    October 1, 2009

    Kudos to Stephanie for her familiarity with my “literary” references. (Always good to know there are other geeks out there) And I agree that getting children to read is something Rowling deserves credit for (it is why I am willing to forgive some of the faults in the Harry Potter series). However, I once again find myself in agreement with Jose. Although I don’t have the books in front of me (and don’t really feel like reading them again), I do seem to recall a general motif being that since Harry was the all-important Good Guy, it was OK for him (or his friends) to occasionally lie, or otherwise deceive people, break the rules, etc. as long as he did not get caught. Sort of the Gryffindor version of American exceptionalism.

  23. #23 Bruce Johnson
    October 1, 2009

    It is amazing how much play this claim is getting, spread by a whole crowd of purported journalists (and anti-Bush sorts) who simply repeat any silly claim that fits their own biases without checking the available facts.

    On the credibility of the author, Matt Latimer, who appears to have been a very small player whom very few in the White House even knew, there are many questions concerning his credibility and supposed “insider” knowledge.

    The clearest case may be his claim that Bush didn’t even know who Palin was when McCain chose her as his running mate. Few who repeated it in print seem to ask many questions about it; few seem to have bothered to do a quick Lexis-Nexus search to see if it the claim accorded with readily available records. The claim is preposterous on its surface. But if one is in doubt, a mere two minute web-search would uncover, for instance, the LA Times posting of Aug 28, 2008 (immediately after the choice was announced) which ran a quick check and found 4 specific occasions on which Bush & Palin had met, including one earlier that month!

    As for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a half hour of research of the basis and history of the reward, and esp. of the bare handful of authors & folk in related fields to whom Bush awarded this distinction, should have debunked this nonsense. Anyone who has read the citations, which lay out the basis for their receiving the award, could recognize how Rowling’s work, as popular and influential as it may be, does not match the criteria that led to the honoring of a Harper Lee or David McCullough.

  24. #24 Stephanie Z
    October 1, 2009

    Way to pick your authors. Rowling’s easily the equal of Louis L’Amour, who also won the medal.

  25. #25 Greg Laden
    October 1, 2009

    Louis L’Amour won the medal? Don’t tell me… from Reagan, right?

    I read one Louis L’Amour book. I was in the jungle, it was the only book not eaten by the termites. We ended up using it for rolling paper.

  26. #26 Stephanie Z
    October 1, 2009

    Reagan, of course. It made a bit of a stir at the time, but there are plenty of other popular, non-highbrow entertainers who’ve received the medal as well. A decent number of children’s entertainers, I was happy to see.

  27. #27 Greg Laden
    October 1, 2009

    Well, like I said, I only read one of his books. I think it is great that non-highbrows get the award, but that is not how I’d describe him (based on that one book)

  28. #28 Stephanie Z
    October 1, 2009

    Given how you used the book, I suspect your description would be rather amusing. I’ve never read any of his stuff.

  29. #29 Greg Laden
    October 1, 2009

    Oh, those rolling papers were entirely for tobacco. There are no cigarettes in the jungle (no stores, not even SA’s). The pot they Efe smoke is done in a ritual manner for religious purposes only and is done only with a pipe. Just in case you were wondering.

    Anyway, it was an OK story. about a guy travelling from town to town across the Central Asian steps, running away from a bad guy, running after something, and having a run-in with a different girl every chapter. Each chapter ended with a review of all the previous girls, and the whole plot, actually. It was like a book for people with short memories.

    Hmmm… I’m seeing the connection now…

  30. #30 Stephanie Z
    October 1, 2009

    Actually, I just meant that you found it that disposable.

  31. #31 Greg Laden
    October 1, 2009

    Oh. Once again, I’ve said too much…

  32. #32 Stephanie Z
    October 1, 2009

    Nah, it was already in the Great White Missionary story.

  33. #33 Joshua Zelinsky
    October 1, 2009

    Greg, Harry Potter is about as troglodytic (is that a word?) as Tolkien. You have a universe where morality is almost completed inherited. Last name Malfoy? Must be bad. Last name Potter? Must be good. The only exception to this is the Black family and even then it is only a partial exception.

    The general moral system is also completely nonsensical. As Doyle pointed out, bad behavior is ok from Harry and his friends while near identical behavior by the bad guys is eeevil.

    If you want to read well-done good urban fantasy read Diane Duane’s Young Wizard series. It isn’t as popular as HP but it isn’t completely unheard of. It has a much better magic system, a much more coherent moral system, much better plot and character development, an actual overarching mythos, and a nice environmental message.

    I also agree with Bruce that Latimer is not at this point the most credible of sources. If Latimer’s claim can be confirmed by someone else then I’d be more willing to believe it. But by itself it isn’t worth much. There was so much wrong with the Bush administration (thinking that the current wars were that of Gog and Magog for starters) that we don’t need to make up issues.

  34. #34 muhahaha
    October 1, 2009

    ….

    ….GO TWILIGHT!

  35. #35 José
    October 1, 2009

    He uses a spell call his broomstick to him, no one tosses him anything.

    Ah well. I said it’s been a while. It’s still the same level of cheating.

    Another example of poor sportsmanship is the way Dumbledore switched the winning house from Slytherin to Gryffindor at the end of the first book.

  36. #36 Greg Laden
    October 1, 2009

    No, no, no. This is over the top post hoc revisionist history you are feeding us!!! The score was changed because the kids did stuff!!

    Besides, Gryfendorf HAD to win!!!

  37. #37 Joshua Zelinsky
    October 1, 2009

    Also, if having gay couples is what matters, Duane’s series has a gay couple that shows up in the very first book which was published in 1982. So she seems to be beating Rowling on a lot of different fronts.

  38. #38 muhahaha
    October 1, 2009

    wait so who besides dumbledore is gay here?

    *coughs* pr.flitwick *coughs*

  39. #39 Irene
    October 1, 2009

    Millicent Bagnold never seems to have had a boyfriend or even a date.

  40. #40 José
    October 1, 2009

    It’s the way Dumbledore did it that was poor sportsmanship. The hall was already decorated in Slytherin colors and their kids were ready to celebrate. Then at the last second Dumbledore says “Hey fuckwad Slytherin kids, you thought you were the winners? Well I didn’t tell you I was secretly withholding the last few Gryfie points in order to better crush your dreams. So suck my Gryfendorf shlong”. Then he waved his hands and all the decorations changed to Gryfendorf.

    That quote might be a little off. Like I said it’s been a while.

  41. #41 Cuthbert
    October 1, 2009

    # 33: I don’t agree that there is a strict and simplistic boundary between Slytherin and Gryffindor (to name a few) one evil one good. For one thing the whole snake thing transcends this difference. For another thing, the Black situation which you dismiss, is not a small part, but rather, a very large part. And for another thing, what is wrong with having good guys and gad guys in a book for kids?

  42. #42 Elaine
    October 1, 2009

    Well, who DID get the metal that year? It seems that would matter.

  43. #43 Jules
    October 1, 2009

    Could someone please define “troglodyte world view” for me? Thanks.

  44. #44 DuWayne
    October 1, 2009

    Actually Jose, there was no rule against using magic to bring his broom to him. I hate being an asshole about it, but you are – it seems to me, criticizing an aspect of the book that is not terribly deserving of criticism – whilst ignoring things that can reasonably be criticized. Not a single character in the books is perfect – that is rather the point. Nor, with the exception of Voldamort, are any of the characters entirely bad, which is again, rather the point. And in some places, the rules are unjust and broken for justice to happen – sometimes they seem to be and breaking them is wrong. And sometimes the rules are entirely reasonable and still get broken – even by the “good” guys…

    There are problems – don’t get me wrong, but you are barking up the wrong tree.

  45. #45 Harry
    October 1, 2009

    DuWayne is correct about the broom.

  46. #46 DuWayne
    October 1, 2009

    Joshua –

    The point is that the moral system, as it were, is not neat and easy. It isn’t cut and dry, but requires thinking. The entire point, is that not even the very “goodest” of the “good” guys is not only fallible, but as we discover is ultimately deeply flawed.

    Kind of like, wazzit?, reality.

  47. #47 Alice
    October 1, 2009

    The switcheroo at the end of book/movie one was totally appropriate because Slytherin had cheated all along.

  48. #48 js
    October 1, 2009

    I have read Diane Duane’s books and they are quite good.

  49. #49 JohnnieCanuck
    October 1, 2009

    Jules, a troglodyte is a cave dweller, possibly someone who lives underground. Not sure after that what he had in mind. Lots of story action takes place in the bowels of the earth in those books, including underground dwellers.

  50. #50 Joshua Zelinsky
    October 1, 2009

    DuWayne, the problem is that wasn’t the impression I got from a lot of it. It was much more of the form “if you are a good guy you can break the rules.” Even when she tried to make a non-Dark wizard who was vaguely bad (Umbridge) she then had to have Umbridge degenerate into being absolutely insane (the entire quill episode was just the start). With the possible exceptions of Snape and Sirius there really is no one who is even minimally complicated. Even James who is shown to be a bit of jerk is excused as being young, never mind that he’s older than Harry is for almost the entire series.

    And if you then read interviews with JKR she makes the good characters’ few bad actions even more ok. It is almost like the midrashim who feel a need to add all sorts of non-textual material to make Jacob look not like a conniving guy in the Bible while making Esau look a lot worse than he is portrayed in the direct text. Ok, maybe not such a great analogy, but the idea should be clear.

  51. #51 José
    October 1, 2009

    I hate being an asshole about it, but you are – it seems to me, criticizing an aspect of the book that is not terribly deserving of criticism.

    I still totally disagree. Imagine I challenge someone to a fist fight. When the fight starts, I then pull out a syringe full of morphine, stick my opponent with it, and proceed to beat the crap out of the groggy bastard with my fists. Is that cheating? I would say so, even though the tactic wasn’t explicitly outlawed. If there’s a rule that says you can’t bring a broomstick into a competition, I think there’s a reasonable expectation your’re not going to just grab one once things are underway.

    whilst ignoring things that can reasonably be criticized.

    There probably are better examples. Like I said, my recollection of the books aren’t the best, but I do remember being annoyed by such things throughout.

  52. #52 José
    October 1, 2009

    The switcheroo at the end of book/movie one was totally appropriate because Slytherin had cheated all along.

    What about all the people on Slytherin who didn’t cheat? Did they deserve that kind of treatment? They’re kids. Sure Gryffindor may have deserved to win. But Dumbledore should have been up front about that. Not doing so was poor sportsmanship. The good guys should win with dignity, not shove their opponents face in it.

  53. #53 Alice
    October 1, 2009

    They all cheated! That’s why they are in Slytherin! The sorting hat knew they were going to cheat. You seem to be ignorant of the power of the sorting hat.

  54. #54 toto
    October 2, 2009

    The sorting hat.

    One of the most sinister devices in the history of children’s fiction.

  55. #55 José
    October 2, 2009

    No. It means they’re ambitious, cunning, and achievement-oriented, among other things. It doesn’t mean they’re all cheaters. Even if they were all cheaters, it’s still poor sportsmanship. And the evilness of the self fulfilling prophecy hat is another reason to dislike Harry Potter.

  56. #56 sailor1031
    October 2, 2009

    To Jose @ 13: I have long made it a point never to read anything by CS Lewis. I advise you to do the same before brain rot sets in and you find yourself unable to think anything that your best friends don’t.

  57. #57 Stephanie Z
    October 2, 2009

    Funny, sailor1031, I’ve reread the Narnia books several times and had multiple arguments with my friends over whether they’re Christian books. For the record, I say they’re not particularly, except for the last one. The rest are a mishmash of mythologies and folklores, and the fact that people see them as Christian says more about their background than about the books. But you would have to read them to know that.

  58. #58 Jason Thibeault
    October 2, 2009

    Sailor / Stephanie: C S Lewis was famously converted to Christianity by JRR Tolkien. They talked at length about how it would be possible to advance their ideals, the ideals of their religion as they saw them, without actually preaching scripture, and where Tolkien succeeded in my opinion, Lewis was largely hit or miss. Lewis drew on a lot of sources, yes, but if you’re going to be perfectly honest, Aslan is pretty much a ham-fisted ripoff of Jesus. The In fact, much of Narnia can be read as allegory for those Bible stories that apparently touched Lewis most deeply. That there are other myths interspersed honestly just feels like chaff thrown up to confuse the allegory-detectors.

    That’s not to say Lewis felt this way — he called the books definitively not allegory, said the more obvious Christian bits were “suppositional” instead. But for Tolkien’s works to be interpreted mostly as secular and Lewis’ mostly as allegory time and again, there’s gotta be something behind that fact. Even some evangelical Christians have complained that Aslan is a heretical depiction of Jesus and that the other myths serve as a “soft-sell of Paganism”, according to Wikipedia.

  59. #59 Stephanie Z
    October 2, 2009

    Yes, but, Jason, you come to the stories from a “one true mythology” background. If you don’t, the books read much differently. Aslan is of a piece with the rest of the mythos, because there are plenty of mythologies that deal with sacrifice. In fact, just post-WWII, sacrifice was a difficult theme to avoid in British literature. Lewis himself said he didn’t intend them as allegory, having written plenty of allegory, and even if he had, books transcend their authors.

  60. #60 José
    October 2, 2009

    @sailor
    I was raised in a Christian household, and the parallels between the Chronicles of Narnia and the Bible never even crossed my mind the first time I read them. The books certainly aren’t a subversive means of indoctrinating Christian teachings on the world. They’re about as Christian as Star Wars.

  61. #61 Ben Zvan
    October 2, 2009

    If there’s a rule that says you can’t bring a broomstick into a competition, I think there’s a reasonable expectation you’re not going to just grab one once things are underway.

    Dude. The rule was that he was explicitly allowed to bring only a wand. Therefore, he was explicitly allowed to do magic in the course of the challenge. Summoning the broom seemed like magic to me. I’d have let him summon a tie fighter.

  62. #62 Jason Thibeault
    October 2, 2009

    I never said Narnia was a subversive means of indoctrinating people into the Christian teachings — because if that was Lewis’ goal, it was a failure. He and Tolkien did want to advance their “ideals” (for instance that selfishness is bad, via Edmund), which ideals aren’t uniformly Christian by any stretch of the imagination. You have to admit, his faith would color what he wrote, and as a result, knowing that bias exists is going to give ME a bias toward seeing that color in what I read. I should try again at some point, make a concerted effort to put aside my preconceived notions. I have to admit the first time I read through the first two books I was rather young, didn’t know anything about Lewis’ faith, and still saw it as allegorical (probably didn’t know that word at the time either though!). I was bothered by that fact then, though I hadn’t decided I was an atheist (or what that meant) at that stage in my life.

    But back on topic.

    I agree with Ben. Being allowed to bring the wand with you just ensures you can do magic — it gives everyone the same starting equipment and levels the playing field. The TIE fighter would have been a hell of a better choice against a dragon than that broomstick. Unfortunately I’ve only seen the movies, haven’t read any Harry Potter at all, so I can’t speak to cheating as a theme. I did find the sorting hat to be a particularly distasteful device. Really felt like it was typecasting everyone as “good” or “evil”, no matter how often they tried to reinforce that Slytherin House wasn’t really evil per se.

  63. #63 DuWayne
    October 2, 2009

    Thanks Ben, I was starting to feel that I had gotten way too much of my geek on in this discussion – yet that was bugging the shit out of me…

    Joshua -

    First, I honestly don’t care in the least what Rowling has to say about the books. I have never gone in for authors attitudes about their own work – if the work itself doesn’t say it to me, I don’t want to hear it. They have had their opportunity to say their piece, if it didn’t come through it must not have been important.

    Second, what I liked about the books, is the clear sense that doing bad doesn’t mean one can’t do good and that sometimes doing exceptional good can make up for even exceptional bad. I would note though, that part of my interest in that, is based in my eldest son’s neurological problems and the effect they have had on his behavior and education. When you have a child who truly wants to behave and tries very hard, yet has the impulse control of a shark in bloody water, reinforcing ideas like this becomes critically important. Stories with this sort of thinking have been very helpful in bringing him from hating school and believing he is a horrible student, to liking school sometimes, focusing on positive behaviors (which means he is making better decisions more often) and believing he is capable of being a great student – and working hard to become one. These kinds of stories also provide a frame of reference to have really good discussions.

    The other thing I appreciate about these books is, they make it clear that sometimes the rules are unjust, following the rules can create injustice and/or breaking rules is the only way to prevent an injustice.

    For me, the greatest value of these books (keeping in mind the eldest is only seven, so we have only gotten through the first two) is the conversations they foster. There are things we can concluded aren’t very nice (the switcheroo at the end of one was one that totally bugged eldest) – rather than disparaging the entire series because they are there, we discuss them and they too have helped my eldest with the development of his moral framework. I am all about any and every tool that comes our way now, that helps us have these conversations while he is growing and developing, with the goal being that we won’t have them after he has fucked up as royally as I have, as an adult.

  64. #64 DuWayne
    October 2, 2009

    Oi – @ Sailor -

    I am sorry that the rot obviously set in on you a long time ago – to the extent that you are apparently so strongly affected by what you read, that you can’t avoid untegrating it too strongly into your psyche.

    Personally, I think The Chronicles of Narnia are a marvelous introduction to high fantasy. Personally, they were the catalyst for my second wave (first was when I was two-three) love for reading, which began when I was six and discovered that books could create completely new and different worlds, rather than providing escape into different aspects of this one. This is not to say that I didn’t already love reading or that without them I wouldn’t have been a rather ardent reader. But I suspect that this is exactly why I literally spent more of my childhood with my face in a book, than out of them.

  65. #65 tonyc
    October 2, 2009

    My son & I enjoyed the HP books….

    My eldest was three when the first book was published (four when it became available in the states). The books were a great addition to our library for my son’s sixth birthday (thanks Uncle Scott!) after he was introduced to the series by the movie!

    It took us a few years to read the three books (as bedtime reading) – and my son got the habit of reading them again for himself prior to the latest movie release, or in preparation for the next in the series.

    We both found a lot to like, with a lot of great lessons – good & bad are relative; rules are not immutable; you need to take responsibility for your actions, and your inactions.

    He is still reading the books (now 14)

    Neither of us liked Narnia. My wife loved those stories as a kid. I never did. I tried again as an adult but the smell of christian allegory was too strong for me.

  66. #66 José
    October 2, 2009

    Dude. The rule was that he was explicitly allowed to bring only a wand. Therefore, he was explicitly allowed to do magic in the course of the challenge. Summoning the broom seemed like magic to me.

    No shit. And I already explained why I think that’s unfair and against the spirit of the competition. If one of the baddies had done it, it would have been portrayed as a one of the lowest dirty tricks imaginable.

    I’ll be happy if my sons read Harry Potter when they’re older, but it still bothers me that the entire series is tinged with unfairness in favor of the good guys that the author seems oblivious to. It’s like watching a sporting event where a home team gets all the calls to go their way. In the case of Harry Potter, I think some people don’t see it because they’re fans of the home team.

  67. #67 Ben Zvan
    October 2, 2009

    Wait…so he was allowed to do magic, he did magic, and that was somehow cheating? I guess I still don’t get your logic.

    If you challenge someone to a fist fight and are allowed to only bring your fists into the room, I don’t see how you’d be able to magically summon morphine. Are your fists magical?

  68. #68 DuWayne
    October 2, 2009

    Jose -

    The spirit of the competition is to make the kids think creatively. They were specifically allowed to make use of any spell they had learned – something that of course put Potter at a distinct disadvantage.

    As for that theme throughout the series, I see what you’re saying to a certain degree, though I don’t agree to the extent you seem to take it. However, I am glad you will allow/encourage your kids to read it. I hope that you will take the opportunity to read it again and discuss the things that bothered you about it with them. That, to me, is the greatest value of any books – the discussions they can foster.

  69. #69 José
    October 2, 2009

    The spirit of the competition is to make the kids think creatively.

    I don’t think that it was a very creative solution. It’s Rawling trying to write something creative and failing. Harry’s solution is the type of exploit that people wouldn’t have done before because people would have assumed it was illegal or known that is was not something the rules intended to allow. It’s not an inspired moment of genius. If no wizard ever thought of that before, they’re all morons. I’m not mad that he did it. I’m saying treat it for what it is. A not very clever exploitation of a loophole that went against the spirit of the competition that shouldn’t be celebrated. Either that, or write of a solution that actually is clever.

  70. #70 DuWayne
    October 2, 2009

    Jose –

    It’s not like they were doing a task that was done by wizards for centuries – the others just didn’t consider that approach. They were allowed to use any spell and that is the one he chose. Considering he had virtually no experience, compared to his fellow competitors, it wasn’t even unreasonable.

    And honestly, why would anyone else have considered his approach? He happens to be an exceptionally skilled flier – only one other competitor compares. I just don’t see the problem here – he banked on his skills, just like the others all banked on theirs. The point wasn’t to limit what they could use – it was to make them really think about what they could do to get the egg. What they did after they started, was up to them, as long as they stayed in bounds – no holds barred, as it were. Unless he had run away from the field to get his broom, or had a friend get it, it couldn’t be cheating. As it was, it was clever…

  71. #71 José
    October 3, 2009

    Well, we’ll just have to disagree then. I didn’t think it was clever. I thought it was a solution that most people dismiss because they would think it went against the intent of the rules, even if it wasn’t prohibited. I know what she was trying to do, and I think her solution missed the mark. If a Slytherin had done the same, it would have been portrayed as cheating. But because it was Harry, he’s a hero.

  72. #72 José
    October 3, 2009

    Hopefully this is my last comment on this-

    You don’t set up rules with the intent that people will find a way to get around them. You set them up to level the playing field. Here are three real examples of varying degrees of dirtiness to illustrate my point. Two involve baseball, so I hope you’re a little familiar with the game.

    1.The hidden ball trick in baseball. It’s sneaky, funny, and hard to pull off, but it doesn’t break the rules or violate the intent of the rules. It’s not cheating.

    2.In the 80′s, a journeyman minor league catcher peeled a potato so that it was roughly the shape of a baseball and hid it in his pocket. When the opponent had a reach third base, he pulled out the potato and threw it into left field like he had made an errant pick-off attempt. The runner, thinking the ball was now in the outfield, then trotted home where he was tagged out with the real ball. This is sneaky and hilarious, and it doesn’t really violate the rules or the intent of the rules. Still, I’d have to lean towards cheating on this one, although it’s borderline.

    3.The next one is from stock car racing. Here, the bodies of all the cars are identical so that no team can have an aerodynamic advantage over another team. However, a few teams discovered that their cars were actually more streamlined after the front (I think) fenders of their cars were knocked off, and they actually began rigging their fenders so they would fall off at the slightest nudge early in the race. Was it against the rules? No. Was it dirty yes. Did it violate the intent of the rules? Considering the ruled were put in place to make sure nobody had an aerodynamic advantage over anyone else, yes. Could you still argue that this is not technically cheating? Absolutely. But in my opinion it is. And this is is the example that most closely mirrors what Harry did.

  73. #73 Greg Laden
    October 3, 2009

    Jose: This may be cheating, but for the stock cars, the fender-droppers could be punished for breaking another rule, which MUST exist about rigging your car so shit falls off during the race on purpose!

    I don’t know the hidden ball trick.

  74. #74 José
    October 3, 2009

    Well, there’s a rule against having things fall off your car now.

    Here’s the hidden ball trick.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hidden_ball_trick