The Wisdom of Harry Potter

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Since the 1997 release of J. K. Rowling's first novel - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - no series of children's books has been more incredibly popular or widely influential. How do we explain the enormous appeal of these stories to children? Should parents welcome this new interest in reading among their kids or worry, along with the critics, that the books encourage either moral complacency or a perverse interest in witchcraft and the occult?
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Overview

Since the 1997 release of J. K. Rowling's first novel - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - no series of children's books has been more incredibly popular or widely influential. How do we explain the enormous appeal of these stories to children? Should parents welcome this new interest in reading among their kids or worry, along with the critics, that the books encourage either moral complacency or a perverse interest in witchcraft and the occult?
In this original interpretation of the Harry Potter sensation, Edmund M. Kern argues that the attraction of these stories to children comes not only from the fantastical elements embedded in the plots, but also from their underlying moral messages. Children genuinely desire to follow Harry, as he confronts a host of challenges in an uncertain world, because of his desire to do the right thing. Harry's coherent yet flexible approach to dealing with evil reflects an updated form of Stoicism, says Kern. He argues that Rowling's great accomplishment in these books is to have combined imaginative fun and moral seriousness.
Kern's comprehensive evaluation of the Harry Potter stories in terms of ethical questions reveals the importance of uncertainty and ambiguity in Rowling's imaginative world and highlights her call to meet them with typically Stoic virtues: constancy, endurance, perseverance, self-discipline, reason, solidarity, empathy, and sacrifice. Children comprehend that growing up entails some perplexity and pain, that they cannot entirely avoid problems, and that they can remain constant in circumstances beyond their control. In essence, Harry shows them how to work through their problems, rather than seek ways around them. Despite the fantastical settings and events of Harry's adventures, children are quick to realize that they are just a weird reflection of the confusing and disturbing circumstances found in the real world.
Kern also shows adults how much they can gain by discussing with children the moral conundrums faced by Harry and other characters. The author outlines the central morals of each book, explains the Stoic principles found in the stories, considers the common critiques of the books, discusses Rowling's skillful blend of history, legend, and myth, and provides important questions for guiding children through Harry's adventures.
This fresh, instructive, and upbeat guide to Harry Potter will give parents many useful and educational suggestions for discussing the moral implications of this continuously popular series of books with their children.
Note: This book is not authorized, approved, licensed, or endorsed by J. K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any other individual or entity associated with the Harry Potter books or movies. Harry Potter is a registered trademark of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
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Editorial Reviews

KLIATT
Kern, an associate professor of history at Lawrence University, has written this for adults as well as YAs. His thesis is that Rowling's novels present an "updated Stoic moral system whose primary virtue is old-fashioned constancy-resolution in the face of adversity." Kern's five chapters are: "Imaginatively Updating and Old-Fashioned Virtue"; "Plot Threads and Moral Fibers"; "Harry Potter's Morality on Display"; "Greed, Conventionality, Demonic Threat"; and "Imagination, History, Legend, and Myth." An afterword deals with Rowling's latest book, The Order of the Phoenix, which was published just as Kern's was going to press. Kern finds much to admire in the Harry Potter books. Rowling's works "offer an exceptionally good example of how historical themes and topics can inform fictional storytelling, even when its setting is contemporary. Her use of the past takes three significant forms: (1) she draws upon history to give her magical world its appearance and customs; (2) she employs her characters' pasts to add to her dramatic portrayal of events; and (3) she develops a moral system that updates ethical principles with a very rich history of their own." Besides analyzing each book, Kern deals with Rowling's critics by name and in detail. Harry Potter and his fans, young and old, learn many lessons. In The Sorcerer's Stone they learn that everyone's fate is death, an obvious fact but a tough one for young readers and for Voldemort, who refuses to die. The Chamber of Secrets tackles prejudice, bigotry, and identity. Truth telling, submission to authority, and following the rules are not always the moral things to do in The Prisoner of Azkaban. Harry's moralabilities are more important than magical ones in The Goblet of Fire, as he struggles to resist evil. The Order of the Phoenix seems to portray a totally different boy, one who usually fails to subordinate his emotions to reason. "Bullying, impulsive, angst-ridden, perpetually angry with his friends and mentors, and sick and tired of their keeping him in the dark, Harry does anything but live up to the Stoic ideals so prominent in the first four books." Just like a teen. But it shows Harry's greatest weakness and greatest strength-love, the source of his power. Kern ends his volume with copious notes and a thorough bibliography,. Parents and teachers will find his book useful in discussing Rowling's popular novels with young people. KLIATT Codes: JSA-Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Prometheus Books, 296p. notes. bibliog. index., . Ages 12 to adult.
— Janet Julian
Library Journal
The popularity of the Harry Potter series has created an abundance of both acclaim and criticism. While many argue that the books encourage moral complacency or interest in the occult, Kern (history, Lawrence Univ.) seeks to prove that the stories actually promote positive moral messages similar to Stoic virtues like constancy, endurance, perseverance, self-discipline, reason, solidarity, empathy, and sacrifice. Children are attracted to the fantastical elements of the stories along with Harry's quest to abolish evil in an uncertain world similar to their own. By comprehensively analyzing the ethical questions posed in Rowling's books, Kern explains that Harry shows children how to work through their problems rather than avoid them. The author rebuts many of the common critiques of the books and encourages parents to discuss the moral dilemmas of the stories with their children. Although insightful, this in-depth interpretation of Rowling's saga is written in an academic style that may alienate the average parent. However, given the popularity of anything Potter, this is recommended for both child rearing and popular culture collections.-Charity S. Peak, Regis Univ. Lib., Colorado Springs Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591021339
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 8/25/2003
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Edmund M. Kern (Appleton, WI) is associate professor of history at Lawrence University.
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