The story of young wizard Harry Potter and his adventures at Hogwarts school are a cultural and literary phenomenon, with 250 million books sold in 200 countries and 60 languages.
But, while some parents worry that author JK Rowling has relied on the occult to grab young readers’ attention, with talk of witches, potions and dark magic, Australian academics are jumping to her defence.
A teacher of cultural studies at Flinders University, Bec Pannell, reckons Rowling’s books are unfairly treated when compared with classic children’s literature such as CS Lewis‘s Narnia books, which double as religious allegories.
Ms Pannell said she found it difficult to understand why Rowling’s books were singled out for burning by religious objectors and for banning by some schools when Harry Potter and the Narnia stories shared a number of themes.
“I do think that Harry Potter is part of this larger issue we’re seeing of censorship (in Australia),” she said.
“We have some people protesting outside film premieres that have not even seen the movies. I think the positive (of Harry Potter) far outweighs the negative. I would say to parents, ‘Don’t be concerned, just sit down and read the books with your children’.”
Ms Pannell will present her paper – Magic, Miracles and Muggles: JK Rowling (Antichrist) versus CS Lewis (Christian) – at the first international conference dedicated to the world of Harry Potter, which opens today at Flinders University.
She said there was a need to find out why Rowling’s books had such drawing power with children in an age of TV, computers and Playstations.
“There are still people who say we shouldn’t be studying popular culture,” Ms Pannell said. “But anything that has as big an impact as Harry Potter needs to be looked at.”
One reason for the phenomenal success of the books was that Rowling had managed to make them appeal both to adults and children, allowing her work to be read on more than one level.
“Younger children can read the novels like an Enid Blyton or Biggles story, where they focus on this world of magic and feasts,” she said.
However, the mixing of a realistic setting of a boarding school with magical elements helped readers to deal with darker-than-normal issues such as morality, death, grief, abuse and loss.
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