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07.20.11

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The Hope in 'Harry Potter'

My daughter "Grew up Potter" ("Growing Up Potter," July 13). Most of the time while watching her devotion to the stories, I thought she was obsessive (she read the first book over 15 times). A few times, I worried she would lose touch with reality. She's in Florida right now at the Harry Potter theme park, with real friends from all over the country, made from their mutual connections to the Harry Potter stories. She developed her rapid reading skills reading and rereading Harry Potter books. She admits she used Potter to escape when growing up, but she did not escape from reality; she is now an honors student. But make no mistake, she digested Harry Potter and the stories are a part of her. I must admit: my daughter is a Potterhead.

Me? I'm 52 years old and suffer from debilitating cynicism. Americans' inability to stop and listen and our unwillingness to take the time to understand each other keeps me worrying about the collapse of American society. It seems it takes an Olympic event or a war to generate national pride. (Not even economic collapse will bring us together.) More and more I think of Americans—whether from the left, right, up or down—as nasty, compulsively competitive and blinded by their own ideologies.

But when I thought about the generation of Potterheads after reading "Growing Up Potter," I surprised myself by strangely feeling a bit hopeful about the future. I see character and morality in my kids and their friends, qualities reinforced by the Harry Potter saga. I see them developing a balanced worldview and an openness toward different people. Not enough Americans read, we don't know how to evaluate complicated subjects, and we don't read and sit around and exchange ideas like the Americans from the 18th and 19th centuries—except for Harry Potter fans. Rowling did a good job in realistically writing about aloneness, friendship, competition, hope, despair, self-doubt, sacrifice, betrayal, stubbornness, anger, moral depravity, loss, blindness, emotional pain, the inability to forgive, imperfection, bravery, misunderstanding, murder, discipline, admission of guilt, sorrow, deception, guts, loyalty and faith. With each of these subjects, I thought of a specific scene. Harry Potter himself becomes incorrectly judgmental and obtusely stubborn—God bless him. (Or should I say Rowling bless him by making this fictional character so real and imperfect. Even I once blurted out to Harry, "Shut up and listen to your friends" while reading one book.) And the heroes often died in the stories. In many ways, this series of stories tells the same archetypal tale of heroism told throughout the world and throughout history.

I suspect that Rowling's handling of real-life issues is why the Harry Potter stories are so important to the generation of Potterheads. In a world when presentation is valued more than reality, and lies are given heavier weight than truth, this fictional story is brought to life sometimes more clearly than some of our experiences of reality—experiences that can make us think we live in a world of lies. I exhibit tremendous discipline by allowing you to fill in your own examples.

However, I feel hopeful that the generation of Potterheads, walking around with such a deep and moral story in their heads, will give the world just a little bit more balance. Since much of the story describes deception and lies, it makes me feel good imagining millions of Potterheads running around with Their Story working about their brains. The fans of Harry Potter have already started transforming their inspiration from the fantasy by forming real charitable activist organizations. And in Harry Potter's world, even though some of the heroes die, evil is ultimately exposed. Bad guys ain't got no heart.

Scott Callow

Sebastopol


Who Cares About Humans?

Regarding your Open Mic article ("Save the Humans," July 13): It is far more important to save whales than humans. The planet has way too many humans and way too few whales. I'm really worried about radiation too, but mainly because it is one of the many things killing whales. Humans create radiation, so we deserve to have it kill us. Whales don't.

Tui Allen

Waikato, New Zealand


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