Thursday, 23 June 2011

Pottermore! Squee! Discussing geekery, Potter and pacifism.

Oh my! Have you all seen this? J.K Rowling has announced what  Pottermore is all about! There have been glimpses and rumours and it's all been very exciting. There's basically going to be a whole interactive experience, with loads of new information and detail about the Potter world. People who use the site will get sorted into houses and will follow the stories from the books but with MORE and DIFFERENT stuff!

Excited Potter geek Duck.
*ahem* Excuse me.

So guess what I'll be doing in some of my 'spare' time from October - or if I'm insanely lucky earlier! (A million people will get to use the site from July, I suppose to test it out, check it all works, find bugs and start creating community).

Poor Duckling will be hearing even more about Harry Potter than usual! We listen to the audio books a great deal. Stephen Fry has a wonderful reading voice.  They're wonderful for listening to while we do dull chores or fun crafts. Mr. P and I love his interpretation of the characters and plot. Duckling recognised Mr. Fry's voice from earlier than I'd care to admit (I listened a lot during pregnancy too). We've only had the first 2 films on in the background while she's awake since she started taking notice of the TV though, as the later ones are a bit scary for a baby or toddler.

You might have got a tiny hint that I love the books. The films are great too, but it's the books that I love more.  I hope I'm around when the next generation make their version of the films though - I'd like to see how they interpret the books and what they make of having all the information the film makers and actors didn't have this time.

I'm not sure there is a Quaker view of Harry Potter (I'm not sure there's ONE Quaker view on any given topic actually!) but I think the books have a great deal to offer the Quaker child, and to the Quaker parent discussing them with their children. Who am I kidding? I think they offer a great deal to adults too! Reading fiction and the use of story is an important part of being human. It helps us to name and face our fears, to define the characteristics of heroes and villains, to understand ourselves through empathising with characters and plots.

There has, of course, been controversy about the Potter books. Jack Chick (Of 'chick tracts' fame) had a character in a tract declare in 2002 "the Potter books open a doorway that will put untold millions of kids into hell", and of course there was the section of the Christian Right trying to get the books banned for encouraging witchcraft and unethical living despite not having read them.

I ... Don't think they know the God I know. I'm no sure I want to be introduced to that God to be honest. The one I know actually likes people for a start, and certainly won't send children to hell for enjoying the imagination He gave them.

I disagree anyway. As a Christian and as a Quaker I find the books have a positive message. Sure, the books set up and follow the progress of a war, but in the meantime they provide examples of altruism, generosity, humour, the fight for equality, love as a powerful force, the importance of friendship and so many other messages I want my daughter to hear as she grows up and into her adult life. They are part of a tradition of stories that help us to confront difficult subjects in a safe manner. Reading or listening helps us to think about our moral viewpoint and also to process our difficult experiences.

The wizard war itself is potentially problematical as a pacifist reader of course, but even there we see characters struggling with their desire for peace  and to not have anyone hurt, and their understanding of what seems inevitable if that peace is to be achieved.  Harry's friends, family and community do not choose to be at war.  Rather they find themselves in a set of circumstances in which confrontation is inevitable and they must chose between standing up for what they believe is right and allowing the most evil wizard of all time to gain power over not only magical folk but muggles too.  War is not glorified. The consequences of a 'civil' war are dealt with in the text, showing families divided (Percy Weasley for instance - though he came round in the end like a Good Egg. The Potters ripped apart by death, the Longbottoms by torture), families torn in their loyalties (I thought the Malfoys were so well written in book 7 - all bets were off when they needed to find each other, and having deserted their posts they were unsure where to sit in the aftermath celebration) and of course destruction and grief that reaches through the pages and tears at your heart.

Quakers are not all pacifists of course, though most find something that speaks to them in the peace testimony. I find this quote from F&P useful;

Conscientious objection is not a total repudiation of force; it is a refusal to surrender moral responsibility for one's action.

Kenneth C Barnes, 1987

I know that many Friends during WW2 struggled with whether to join up or be a conscientious objector (many of course joined the Friends Ambulance Service or the Red Cross).I think it can be argued that the Potter books show similar internal struggles and a clear message - war is wasteful (The countless lives lost in both wizarding wars) war devastates (the image of the Weasleys holding each other up in their grief while Harry is so shocked and guilty he cannot bring himself to join them), war is cruel and pointless (Snape, poor Snape, murdered mercilessly and for the reasons that turn out to be futile). War is hardest on the innocent (Colin Creevey, countless 'unnamed but no less regretted muggles' as Potterwatch in Deathly Hallows puts it).

"Not many people will be challenged to a fight at the office, but many Quaker teenagers have to defend daily a peace testimony which they may not yet have worked through for themselves." Hugh Pyper, 1986, from F&P 22;68.

These are not pacifist books. They are filled with conflict. Just as war poetry and fiction from WWI and II helped me to form my own interpretation of the peace testimony and understand the realities of war inasfar as a civilian who's never lived through such a thing can, the depictions of the subject in Harry Potter's world present the possibility for a Young Friend of safely exploring the topic emotionally and intellectually.

War is just one of the many hard issues that Rowling attends to in the Potter books. I might have to write about a few more some time. I've enjoyed this post!  Books are one of the key tools at a parent and child team's disposal while they're exploring the world and all its many issues together. While Duckling's a bit small to appreciate the scale of these particular books right now I hope she does find them thought provoking and above all entertaining.


- Anelli, Melissa (2008) Harry a history. Pocket Books, New York. (The website is great btw).

- Britain Yearly Meeting (1994) .Quaker Faith & Practice Retrieved 23rd June 2011.
- Chick, Jack T.. "The Nervous Witch". Chick Publications. Retrieved 23rd June 2011.

 - Rowling, J.K (2007),  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Bloomsbury, London.


  1. Hear, hear!

  2. IANAQ, but it seems to me one of the interesting parallels with Quaker thought is Harry's relationship with authority — when he agrees with authority figures he gives them due respect, but when he thinks they are wrong or unjust he always stands up against them. (Sometimes to a fault.)

  3. Thanks Ruth. :)

    That's a really good point spudtater, thank you! I think that could be a topic all by itself quite easily!

  4. I'm a pacifist. And I'm not religious. And I still enjoy Harry Potter - it's fiction after all, and I don't think it sends out bad messages any more than any other movie, in fact I think it encourages children that they will succeed if they are loyal, and brave, and honest.