Harry Potter and the moral imagination

Thanks to my Mom, hubby, JK Rowling, and Guttenberg (for inventing the press) for sustaining me over the past month.  The legend of Harry Potter will always go down in my book as a special treat I might not have experienced had I not had an excuse to slug out on the couch while Mom fed me and kept Bruno company.

I distinctly recall my previous boss, the supervising probate examiner in San Diego, gushing about the books in 1999.  She listened to them during her long commute from Riverside county to San Diego.  My parents alerted me to the existence of the first film.  I must've been living in a cave, as they hadn't been to a movie theater in years, and even they knew it was out.  They made a special trip, with my aunt and uncle (they were in their 60's then), to see HP and the Sorcerer's Stone.  They haven't been to a movie theater since, but they loved it, and four movies later their enthusiasm has not waned.  My parents are devoutly religious, but they understand that at the heart of the books is a moral imagination.  It's the hero cycle with all the usual stuff—-courage as the ultimate test of character, powerful images of good and evil, self-transformation, and the importance of friends who are with you no matter what.  That's a simplistic statement, but trust me, I could go on and on about all this.

Some people think the books are "cute".  The Order of the Phoenix, which opens in theaters on July 10, is, as a book, not cute.  At 834 pages, it is dense and much darker and slower reading than the others, and contains little in the way of cuteness.  It deviates from the style of the others in terms of pacing and action, but it obviously propelled me into the 700+ page The Half-Blood PrinceJames and the Giant Peach is cute (although Roald Dahl had a dark side, if you recall Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Matilda), as is Charlotte's Web, although they too nurture the moral imagination.  Those fortunate enough to have their imaginations awakened by these forays into fantastical worlds have access to images and experiences that may be translated into metaphors useful in interpreting the world. How else are kids going to painlessly learn the virtues we esteem as a society?  Not from having their cell phones taken away, not from The Fast and the Furious, not from Brittany Spears, maybe a little from World of Warcraft, and probably not from James Bond.

JK Rowling is undisputedly the queen of the back story.  After the books, one realizes how thin the movies really are, but certainly they make the story real for millions who wouldn't otherwise have the benefit.  But they fall far short of the world of wonder in the HP universe. The stories overflow with details and yes, thematic content, if that's what you're looking for.  I was looking for escapism and was caught off-guard, becoming a junkie needing a fix until 4 in the morning.  Suffice to say I plan a re-read, this time of the British versions, sometime soon.  (Strangely enough, I liked Book 2, but the movie truly sucked.)  This next film promises to be the best one yet.  Let's hope Warner Bros also improves their web content.

I read heaps of other things, of course, but I'm really in search of something as captivating as Harry Potter.  My life is too real as it is, and a good escape is any traveler's dream, even if it's in an armchair.  Since I don't have the benefit of other vices (sugar included), I want to be intoxicated by books and movies.  Not having much luck with movies these days, so I'll take any book/movie suggestions (except horror–I don't do horror of any kind).  Yes, this includes juvenile literature.  Children didn't used to be so corrupted at such young ages as today, but more importantly, they have much more of an open mind and haven't been brainwashed with adults' ideas of good content and language.  Bless Rowling that she managed a completely story-driven epic saga that's well-written and easy to read. 

Did I pre-order The Deathly Hallows?  Not yet.  I'm trying to find a nice special edition.  Maybe something bound in leather, and full of lovely illustrations.  I'd prefer the British adult version though–I'm a bit suspicious of the American editing.  It's a luxury, but one I'd probably enjoy more than, say, fine jewelry.  Well ok, if you must buy me fine jewelry, do so and have it wrapped with a good fountain pen and a fine edition of The Deathly Hallows.  Also, buy it from an independent bookseller, rather from the big chains that are squeezing the hell out of the mom-and-pop stores.

Like Harry, I can practically smell the Thestrals.  And no, I haven't made a pact with Satan.  With any luck at all, maybe good reading can cure cancer yet.

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3 thoughts on “Harry Potter and the moral imagination

  1. Whew, you're back. I don't know Harry much, being of the Tolkien generation and reading that whenever I need mystery and gloom. But keep writing!

  2. Thanks for noticing! I read Tolkien when I was younger, and may do a reread of that this summer as well. I was on a nonfiction jag for a long time, but now I'm back to Charles Dickens. Go figure.

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