Wild about Harry: Why the Potter Books Upset the Religious Right. (Perspective)

Article excerpt

Recently, my daughter Christina, a University of California at Berkeley graduate, spent a few weeks with us at home. She left a job at one of the country's biggest advertising agencies so she could return to school and get an advanced degree to do the thing she's really wanted to do all along: teach in the California public school system.

There are plenty of reasons to have your children home, but with Christina an added benefit is she shares my interest in movies. In fact, she is usually willing to go to any movie at any time playing anywhere. One night we discovered that "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" was about to have its last showing at the Uptown -- an old-fashioned "movie palace" in Washington with a giant screen, big comfy chairs and even a balcony. We decided we had to go.

Neither of us has actually read any of the Potter books, but as Christina put it, "We've got to see this as a cultural event." I was drawn into the film right away and enjoyed its strong characterizations and clever storylines. Christina was similarly caught up in its richness. Trying to imagine back to when I was 10, I know I would have devoured those books, would have insisted on seeing the movie on the first day of release and pleaded with my mother to make a costume for me to wear to it to boot.

Alas, not everyone is wild about Harry. Outraged fundamentalists have been gunning for the books for years, arguing that the series -- a fanciful depiction of the adventures of an orphan wizard-in-training in England -- promotes witchcraft.

Days after I saw the movie, an item in the paper caught my eye. In Alamogordo, N.M., a congregation held a literal book burning of the Potter series. Pastor Jack Brock of the Christ Community Church consigned 30 of British author J.K. Rowling's Potter novels to the flames. He conceded to reporters that he had not in fact read any of them, but he was sure they were "a masterpiece of satanic deception ... that encourage our youth to learn more about witches, warlocks, and sorcerers and those things are an abomination to God."

People have the right to do dumb things. Unless my house happens to be downwind of Brock's bonfire, he has the right to try to convince kids and their parents who have put their hard-earned money into Potter books to destroy them. In this country, private citizens are even allowed to burn their own flags to make a point.

I only get disturbed when Brock's addle-headed analysis leads him to want to burn somebody else's copy of Harry Potter -- literally or figuratively. Unfortunately, that too is now happening around the country as Religious Right-types try to get local officials to ban the volumes. …