Popcorn at the Movies Sold-out movies and empty bookshelves aside, one of the most important aspects of the Harry Potter phenomenon is the controversy that surrounds it. Parents, teachers, kids, adults, newspapers, magazines, psychologists and the like have something to say about Harry Potter. There are theories that the books have an underlying evil theme. There are other theories that the Harry Potter books have reinstated an appreciation for literature among today's children. The bottom line is that kids want to read as a result of Harry Potter. But, there is a very real concern among parents and Christian communities that the material is not fit for children. Take a look at the different sides and make up your own mind!

And the Most Challenged Bestseller is...

The first three books of Rowling's ongoing Harry Potter series were the top four New York Times Bestsellers for a year straight. The fourth Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was at the top of the list at its debut as well. It was a huge controversy because authors and critics galore were complaining that these books were merely children's books and should not be on the New York Times' Bestsellers list.

As a result, the Times came up with a brilliant solution, or so they thought. They started a Children's Book Bestseller List. Of course, the four Potter books were #1-4. And as one would expect, it appeased some and offended some that the Times started a new bestseller book solely because the Potter books were taking up slots which people like to see "adult books" occupy.

According to an article on the matter by Kera Bolonik, the entire ordeal caused quite a stir. She boldly points out that "It takes a wizard to change the course of the Times."

Some people, such as an editor from HarperCollins Children's, think that it was about time to have a separate bestseller list for children. The pro people say that childrens' books have been neglected for a long time and that they deserve free advertising as well.

On the other hand, people who believe that the Harry Potter books are just as much for adults think that it is disgraceful to take them off the New York Times' adult fiction bestseller list. Reasoning includes the fact that if the Potter books sell the most copies, then they should be at the top of the list.

Bolonik's article quotes the president of the Scholastic Children's Book Group Barbara Marcus saying that the New York Times' Bestseller list should be an accurate refelction of the bestselling books in the country. It is traditionally known as a consumer reference for popular buying trends in books.

When the American Library Association published the "Ten Most Challenged Books of 2000" in a January 2001 press release, the Harry Potter series was at the top of the list. According to the ALA, their Office of Intellectual Freedom had more than 1100 formal challenges to the Harry Potter books in 1999 and 2000. The ALA defines a formal challenge as "a written complaint filed with a school or library about a book's content or appropiateness." They also said that the number of formal complaints is probably much less than the number of actual verbal complaints. The Harry Potter books received complaints for occult/Satanism and anti-family themes. The Harry Potter books are in a class with other challenged books such as Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.

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Is Fantasy Good or Evil?

One of the great things about the media and the online world is the different opinions that are out there. In a yahoo search for the words "Harry Potter" and "Evil" there were 19,200 results. And that is just half of the story. There are just as many opinions out there for why Harry Potter is good for the literary world and should not be viewed as a threat to moral or ethical standards in children's literature.

Some strong opponents to the Harry Potter books are Christian groups. One such opponent is the Rev. Joseph Chambers of the Paw Creek ministries in Charlotte, N.C. Chambers wrote an article about Harry Potter and the Antichrist. In his article he said that the Harry Potter books are a "creation of hell helping prepare the younger generation to welcome the Biblical prophecies of demons and devils led by Lucifer himself." Chambers supports his beliefs with a comparison of things in the Harry Potter stories to the devil and his workings.

The Owl is Watching

Other Christian groups are worried about children relating Harry's wizard activites to the practice of witchcraft. Cutting Edge Ministries, a Christian group, has posted an entire Web page to inform parents of the danger of letting their children read Harry Potter. There is a very real concern among this ministry to the power of the activities in the books on their children.

There are anti-Potter groups all over the world these days and their editorials can be found in almost every newspaper or magazine around. It is hard to miss what people are saying about Harry Potter, whether good or bad.

In a New York Times Op/Ed article by well-known children's author Judy Blume, she defends Harry's bad rap. Blume said, "The real danger is not in the books, but in laughing off those who would ban them." Blume basically argues that society should have faith in the freedom of expression for the right to choose what one reads. She makes a point that much of children's literature includes witches and wizards such as Frank Baum's Oz series, and C.S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles. Blume and other supporters claim that people should be excited that children want to read and not be so concerned with the realms of the imagination.

Critic Richard Bernstein wrote an article for the New York Times about fantasy and the Harry Potter books. Bernstein puts much importance on the research done by child psychologist Bruno Bettleheim about the use of enchantment in children's literature. According to Bernstein, Bettleheim found that much could be learned about human nature and the way in which we act by studying fairy tales and fantasy.

Bernstein relates this to the Harry Potter controversy. Basically, he says that there is no proof that by reading fairy tales and using the imagination to partake in fantasy in literature, children are adhering to evil. Like other critics, Bernstein brings up past literary staples such as The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland and the Grimm Brothers' Fairy Tales. Bernstein and other critics who are pro Harry claim that fiction is just that: fiction. It is not the way we live or attempt to live, but just an exercise for the imagination and a way to for humans to seek creative release.

The Harry Potter controversy is not likely to fade soon as more books are expected to be released in the future. Whether you approve or disapprove, the magic is definitely all around us.

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Copyright 2001.