Harry Potter and the Cult of the Child  

Posted by Heidi in

As the opening scenes of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two hit the screen and cries of Expecto Patronum, Lumos, and Silenco (one we knew well and used unsparingly in the home of my youth) rose in the air, I was formulating my next Facebook status--Note to self: write a series of best selling books that are made into blockbuster movies for which people wait in line decked out in ridiculous costumes in imitation of the characters I created. (Ka-ching!) Chuckling to myself, as narcissistic writers are wont to do, my amusement soon turned to discomfort and then dismay as I picked up on a disturbing theme in the movie, one that has certainly been present in all things Harry Potter (which I just now accidentally typed as Happy Rotter—a Fruedian slip, no?) from the beginning. However, it was the intensity of the final installment, laid out in glorious movie magic, that revealed it to me with force.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Harry Potter but like other books of its ilk—the Twilight series, The Hunger Games, etc.—as well as movies with similar dynamics (just about every Disney movie made in the past twenty years) it sports negative themes embedded in the positive ones. As a result, there have been rabid fans, as well as rabid detractors, from the moment Hagrid declares “You’re a wizard, Harry.” As for myself, I was never one to be concerned with the fact that Harry Potter’s world is peopled with the antithesis of Christianity, in a phrase, witches and wizards, as I’m a fantasy fan from way back. As time went on, none of my kids became the least obsessed so I dismissed the Potter progression as pretty much harmless. After all, the story is a classic battle between good and evil and what society doesn’t need a few of those? However, as I watched the final battle between those on the side of good and those on the side of evil, a disturbing series of events unfolded.

Case(s) in point: The Malfoy family who walk away from the fray at the final moment, who never totally commit to one side or the other, (the worst kind of villain, in my opinion) whose concern was not standing for a cause they believed in but only the survival of their child. Yet, they suffer no negative consequence for their perfidy. Then there's Mrs. Weasley whose actions are merely marginal for the entire battle but who springs into action when her child is threatened. Her whole world is at stake but her battle cry is “Not my daughter, you don’t!”

And what about the adults who seem incapabale of harming so much as a fly? There’s the ineffectual Professor Slughorn whose big moment is to demonstrate a glassy-eyed lack of comprehension in the face of utter destruction. At least he's still alive. The number of adults who die in the face of the same evil fury over which young Harry and his friends triumph is staggering. One of these, Professor Lupin, discounts the fact that his pointless death leaves his child parentless as he will be sure to understand the "contribution" they made once he's old enough. In my mind, the only contribution his death made was to highlight the fact that it was only "the boy" who could possibly make any contribution at all whatsoever. Even Hagrid, gigantic in size, strength and utter presence, is reduced to a man of small means and accomplishments, who fails to determine that the seemingly dead Harry he cradles in his arms is very much alive.

The Harry/Hermione/Ron triumvirate isn’t the only example of strength, talent, capacity and triumph that, quite frankly, trumps the adults amongst the occupants of Hogwarts. Neville Longbottom, the butt of jokes throughout the entire series for his lack of any redeeming value whatsoever, saves the day in his very own way, not once, but twice. Contrast that with the shot of the once-malignant janitor as he pushes his broom against a pile of dust bordering a mound of boulders. The message is clear; there is little he can do to clean up the mess that has become Hogwarts and we are left to believe that in a place full of experienced spell-casters, there are none but children (who are scurrying around, binding up the wounded, fetching drinks of water, etc.) to make things right.

The proliferation of film and story peopled by children who triumph over/in rescue of ineffectual adults has increased at an alarming rate since my oldest was born 21 years ago and even the least guilty amongst us has paid a price. Ask any long-time school teacher--there’s no doubt children have become far less respectful of their elders, more derisive of their superiors and more likely to “talk back” to adults. Even those children who are of a meek and obedient nature seem to have lost sight of their proper place. For example, as we walked out of the final Harry Potter movie, I asked my nine year old if he was going to have bad dreams that night. Humiliated by the question (he’s the baby of the family, but, as I frequently forget, no longer a baby) he took a moment to compose himself and very firmly stated: “Don’t ever ask me that question again.” I was shocked by his turn of phrase and informed him that his father and I made the rules, not him. Yet, if I am honest, I must own some responsibility for his choice of words. Aren’t I the one who tends to snicker at the remarks my teenager makes, the same ones a youthful me would have been sent to my room to repent of? Aren’t I the one who ignores the tirades of my eldest when he is in one of his King of Siam moods (sure, he’s bipolar and experiences temporary chemically induced madness but his younger siblings see the lack of consequences). Aren’t I, in one way or another, as guilty as the next parent of worshipping her own children in this youth-worshipping culture in which we dwell?

Isaiah said (3:4-5): And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. . . . the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient . . .”

I’m not saying that Harry Potter is ruining a generation of children so save your hate emails (unless yours is very well written and makes me laugh). What I am saying is that his story is a symptom of an already pervading attitude that just might ruin us.

This entry was posted on Sunday, July 17, 2011 at Sunday, July 17, 2011 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

18 wise, witty and wonderful comments

I think you've made an incredibly insightful point. I've never thought about the children triumphing over adults aspect of so many books and movies these days... definitely food for thought. I HAVE noticed a tremendous decrease in the respect that children and youth generally have for adults. It drives me insane - the "I'm entitled, I can say what I want/do what I want" attitude that so many kids seem to have. Makes me scared, I think, and motivated to make sure I'm beating respect and humility into my children.

July 17, 2011 at 7:22 PM

Interesting thoughts here. I agree that the authority is transferred to Harry in these stories, somewhat. I think what is really happening is that the children are more obvious with their self-discovery, and the adults (the good ones) are more resigned. I don't know. In this final story, when Harry really is no longer a child, I appreciate the fact that he is willing to die to save his friends. Those are the actions of a man.


July 17, 2011 at 8:53 PM

Have you seen the BYU documentary or read the article about the "New Economic Reality: Demographic Winter"? In societies where each generation is fewer in number than the one which preceded it, I don't see how we can avoid having the majority of children growing up self-centered, though as the economy worsens, the sense of entitlement may decrease to some degree. In China, where most couples have only one child, there are two parents and four grandparents with no other outlet for their affectionate giving. Why wouldn't such children feel entitled?

July 17, 2011 at 9:55 PM

That is a very interesting and different perspective from what I have been reading so far. The idea of a child being the savior of the world (wizarding world or otherwise) was built in the series right from the beginning. And although it was a grown up Harry who vanquished Voldemort, the idea was that right from his birth he was 'the one'. I have never appreciated the idea of born heroes; I much prefer heroes who make themselves heroes. That is not to say that Harry did not live up to my expectations, he did act like a hero, but I always was a little uncomfortable around the idea of he being 'the one' from the time of his birth. Harry Potter might not be ruining a generation of children, but coming to think of it, the series might very well be an accomplice in the creation of an egocentric generation. That is a scary thought.

July 17, 2011 at 11:59 PM

Spot on. Your sentiments echo mine--I had this conversation with my family just over the weekend as I was listening to a Disney show my kids were watching while I was cooking in the kitchen: the adults are written as immature & incapable, while the children are written as liars, cheats, spoiled manipulators--who suffer less than two minutes of consequences of a 22 minute episode.
It bothers me. Why would adult writers cater to children so as to diminish any confidence and trust in their elders? Surely, there's money to be made in the venture of selling ideas to children other than reversing the roles of adults with youth. Someone, alot of SOMEONES has to demand it. Great points, Heidi.

July 18, 2011 at 7:51 AM

I think why in so many stories the children are made the heroes is because thats the target audience. What 13 year old wants to read about how the parents are always right and the children are humble and incapable of doing anything? I'm not saying its right, but I also can't blame media, books or anything else on how my children act. Parents are to blame for lack of respect (as you already touched on in your post), and changing that is only going to happen through better parenting. (I do totally get what you're saying, I hope it didn't come off as angry, since I'm not in the least! :) I have plenty of irks with Disney movies, like why are there rarely two parents? Hmmm? Or how most of the princess's are little brats who just get their way? etc. etc.) Also, even though you're right about Harry being the hero, the books aren't displayed that way in the final battle-- the adults are not useless, they fight just as hard as the children, just an extra thought! :)

July 18, 2011 at 10:22 AM

Roald Dahl has long been the king of wicked and useless adults... and I loved reading those growing up...

Of course, I can't say that I was the MOST respectful child...

and although I see your point - I love love LOVE Harry Potter... and think that like any book, if presented in a proper light - with parental discussion - even a negative lesson can become a positive one...

July 18, 2011 at 1:25 PM

While I see your point, I completely agree with Melinda. And I have to admit, though I've read and loved all the Harry Potter books, I've only seen the movies 1-4. I just haven't gotten around to seeing the others.

As far as some people like the Malfoys not getting their just desserts, I actually liked that. In real life, sometimes good people die and bad people get away with things. We use these things as opportunities to teach our children that life isn't always fair, but the Lord is, and those people will pay for what they do eventually. However, I love how just like according to my beliefs, good triumphs overall.

Something to remember about books such as Harry Potter is that they're written from a kid's point of view. There is plenty going on behind the scenes around the HP world, but Harry's world is about him and his friends. I guess I never got from the books that Harry and his friends were the smart ones and the adults were stupid. It was the adults who kept everything going until Harry could do what he needed to do. And the reason Harry was "chosen" was because he was almost killed, and as a result became instrumental in defeating Voldemort.

Now about Disney movies and the stupidity in those? Oh, don't get me started. Vapid princesses, disobedient kids, etc. Ick. My daughter loved Sleeping Beauty, but when she was four said, "Sleeping Beauty is whiny and cries all the time." :D

July 18, 2011 at 2:29 PM

Very interesting! I never considered this before, mostly because I assumed the youth were the heroes because it's young adult fiction--that's the target audience--not because there is a theme of kids vs. adults. I do appreciate that Harry was loyal to authority and turned to adults for guidance throughout the series (if he deemed them worthwhile, that is). He was certainly "Dumbledore's man," and was desperate for parental guidance. He had parental figures throughout the book, such as Sirius and the Weasley parent, that he respected and loved. I thought Hagrid knew Harry was alive, and was covering for him. I'll have to re-read that book. Good post, Heidi!

July 18, 2011 at 2:40 PM

Marisa, (and others who feel compelled to defend Harry) I did not mean to imply that the author intended to write a book that made adults look stupid. It's a very well used plot device to separate the protaganist from everyone he/she depends on in order to increase the danger and the drama and the triumph at the end and I believe that was exactly what she was doing and why. My issue is not with Harry Potter himself (who is a really good kid and who, aside from Snape and the various potions teachers, is very respectful of his elders, etc.). In isolation, Harry Potter is not a problem--but when added to the prevailing theme amongst children's media, it is disturbing. The problem is really the way our culture caters to children and what the end result of that will be. Not good.

July 18, 2011 at 3:17 PM

Also, if parents use HP and other media to discuss these things--such as the fact that the Malfoy's are examples of real life sitautions and that's how life is sometimes, etc., than that's great! However, there are many parents who don't understand their role as their child's teacher and mentor nor pay attention to what their child is watching. I once heard a mother say that her daughter was getting a diamond ring for her 1st birthday--and how special that was because it would be her first diamond ring--as if life is about collecting as many diamonds, from unsuspecting marriage penitents I presume, as one can. This whole idea that the world revolves around the child and his/her needs/wants/demands
and not the other way around is incredibly problematical.

July 18, 2011 at 3:21 PM

Heidi, I agree with you 100%. There is far too much catering to kids these days, and that makes them feel entitled. There's a parenting book, Love and Logic, which talks a lot about that very thing. Diamond ring for a one-year-old? Sad. But I guess that reflects (pun intended) on the values of kids these days.

I wonder if a lot of it stems from kids of parents who went through the Depression--their parents weren't indulgent, so they go whole-hog the other way in giving their kids everything. Sad to see what's come as a result.

July 18, 2011 at 4:43 PM

I agree so much with this post, that I don't even know what I'm planning to say as a comment, I just wanted to agree with you. Avram and I have long thought that Harry was portrayed as quite that impertinent kid, who never listened to adults if it did not agree with him, and who always saved the day because of it. I don't think this is some sort of Potter problem - I think it is a societal thing.

And yet, it's difficult, because just kids doing things in books, that in real life they'd never be able to do - that doesn't necessarily teach children to be entitled and selfish and rude. I'm thinking here of The Dark is Rising Series, where Will is a child. Or the boxcar children - I never liked the actual series, but I loved the first book, where they go and live in a boxcar. Roald Dahl constantly has children doing fantastical things and saving the day.

As I think about it at this moment, maybe it's something about the attitude of the books. We all as children (I think) like to read about children who are independent, who are the decision makers in their lives, and who quite often, through magic, have much more exciting (dangerous! Real! World Altering!) choices than whether to practice the piano. I don't think this is a bad thing, but I have noticed that in today's world our children have less actual freedom than ever. We watch over our kids, and because of the ever further reaching Internet and News, we know of every child that is kidnapped, every playdate gone wrong, every sleepover that ends in disaster. So our kids, as a culture, are kept at home, not playing outside. With no freedom - because we prefer smothering to danger. (Okay, I know I'm going on forever. Avram isn't here - so I have nothing else to do - sorry).

So I think that this has become reflected in our media - even as true choices decrease, the theoretical child choices, freedom, increases, and it does so in negative ways - rejecting parents, seeing rudeness as cleverness. I wish I had some magic pill to fix this. As a parent of young children, it does scare me to realize how much my society fights against creating children the way I want to raise mine to be. Independent (At age 18! According to a study I read about, having an 18 year old be independent is like having a 13 year old move out in the 1950s - with how much relative responsibilities and capabilities they have.) Capable. And respectful.

Yet we soldier on - what other choice is there? And it's not like I won't let my children read Harry Potter (although disney TV shows, along with basically most TV shows, are right out). I think that like you said, paretns need to pay attention to what their child is watching, or reading, and talk to them about it. And also, I think it's really easy to be preachy, when your oldest is only five and a half. That is all.

July 20, 2011 at 7:53 PM

Thora--thank you!!! Yes, yes and yes!!!! I never claimed Harry Potter to be ultimately responsible so I'm not sure why so many felt they needed to fly to his defense. As I have said, HP's world is at worst a contributor to an already existing problem, at best an indicator of what has been happening in the last couple of decades (or maybe longer but I've only been paying attention for that long).

July 20, 2011 at 9:59 PM

don't have much to contribute on this my dear
as I have NEVER read a single Harry Potter book or seen any of the movies.
Is that a bad thing??

July 22, 2011 at 7:48 PM

Well, I personally think your post is really insightful and something I hadn't thought of, so I enjoyed it! I havent seen all the movies or read all the books. Hehe, I always quipped "I've seen all this before: it was called "The Worst Witch." lol. Now there is a classy 80s witch movie! ;)

That said, as a parent of child who is about to enter the public school system, I find myself worrying new worries. And fighting battles with a child that is so like me it sometimes is crazy-making ;) I think there are positive and negative things about all stories and characters (Twlight: Edward is super possessive! and Bella has no hobbies or interests aside from being in love! Although...it does show girls that they deserve to be treated respectfully and like a lady) I suppose the best thing to do is just talk about it with the kids and see what their thoughts are. That's my hope any way! Here we come, public school! lol

July 23, 2011 at 4:50 PM

Appreciate your thoughts here,Heidi. I've not read or seen anything past the 3rd book. I think you are probably right about a lot of this. Or all. If I every read or watch it all I'll let you know if I agree completely. :)

July 25, 2011 at 10:26 AM

Hey Heidi! How's your summer going? I just got back from my break and getting back to the blogging.

Interesting thoughts on Harry. I agree that there are positive and negative in each book. I'm just glad that the right side won in that book. =)

August 4, 2011 at 7:22 AM

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