The Banning of Harry Potter–Ryan French

The Harry Potter series has stolen the hearts of young and old readers through its story of a heroic wizard discovering a magical world. The popularity of the Harry Potter series has made it a staple book in many school libraries. But while the series has garnered vast popularity since its release, the books have not gone unpunished by censorship. According to the American Library Association, the Harry Potter series was among the most frequently challenged books from 2000-2009. Despite commercial success, naysayers say that the use of magic and witchcraft is inappropriate for the age group targeted by the mystical series. This has led to the books’ banning in several school libraries, particularly those associated with religious organizations.

Image: The War on Harry Potter

Joanne Rowling, often known by the pen name J.K. Rowling, developed the story behind Harry Potter in 1990 as she sat in a crowded train headed to London, England (“Harry Potter”). Rowling said, “I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, and all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who did not know he was a wizard became more and more real to me” (“Harry Potter”). Rowling finished the novel in 1995, and sent the manuscript out to publishers. After eight rejections, Bloomsbury picked up the book for publication. Rowling had no particular age group in mind while writing the novel, but Bloomsbury decided to target children ages nine to eleven upon the book’s release (“Harry Potter”). This target audience would eventually lead to the series’ widespread banning in school libraries.

What often follows great success is great criticism. Because the Harry Potter series was branded for children, it faced scrutiny among religious parents, who abhorred the book for its use of witchcraft and wizardry. Religious organizations were outraged by the book series, who said that “Harry Potter is the devil, and he is destroying people” (“‘Satanic’”). By reducing the tale of a young wizard into a tale of occultism, religious heads have found the series to be against the teachings of the Good Book. According to Espinoza, “Religious parents at state schools have complaint Harry Potter glorifies witchcraft, and want it banned from classrooms.” Espinoza also said that Tom Bennett, an appointed school behavior expert in England, said that “some parents – particularly of Evangelical Christian and Muslim backgrounds believe the children’s book “normalizes acts of magic” and that therefore it is exposing their children to the works of the devil.

The ferocity toward the Harry Potter books has led to several bans on the book in school libraries, largely due to religious opposition. In 1999, the book was challenged 23 times in 13 American states (“Religious Debates”). Even public libraries in the United States have faced restrictions regarding the novels. A Jacksonville, FL library was sued by a Christian group after awarding certificates to children who completed the fourth Harry Potter book. In response, the library stopped awarding the certificates. England also enforced its share of bans on the books. In 2000, the headmistress of St. Mary’s Island Church of England banned the presence of Harry Potter books from school property, and said that, “The Bible is very clear and consistent in its teachings that wizards, devils and demons exist and are very real, powerful and dangerous, and God’s people are told to have nothing to do with them” (“Religious Debates”).

The satanic interpretation of the novels has been challenged, with those who oppose censorship citing the moral value of Harry Potter’s tale. According to Shafer, “Potter’s antagonists misinterpret out-of-context sentences because they refuse to read the books. This undisciplined scrutiny is a typical book-banning pattern.” This message rings true, as the books give no inappropriate invitation for children to engage in satanic or Wiccan rituals, as many religious critics of the books’ have suggested. Shafer also adds that censors are “oblivious to the books’ theme of love conquering evil.” The books’ author, J.K. Rowling, has also responded to the censorship of the book. She said, “I absolutely did not start writing these books to encourage any child into witchcraft. I’m laughing slightly because to me, the idea is absurd. I have met thousands of children and not even one time has a child come up to me and said, “Ms. Rowling, I’m so glad I’ve read these books because now I want to be a witch.” (“Religious Debates”).

Since the completion of the book series, the Harry Potter banning craze has largely waned away. While the books may still face an occasional hiccup of controversy, the friction they caused upon publication has mostly dissipated. However, like Harry Potter and its banned predecessors, there will eventually be another novel that stirs up the book banning cauldron. The characters of that proverbial novel will live on, shoulder to shoulder with Harry Potter, Huck Finn, and Holden Caulfield. Because in the deepest irony, book banning only leads to the immortalization of the book, in spite of censor’s best attempts to stifle it.

This project was created by Ryan French for a special topics class at PSU that examines literary taboos.
Works Cited
The War on Harry Potter. Digital image. FivePublicOpinions. WordPress, 30 May 2007. Web. 5 Oct. 2016.