Doesn’t that sound like a Harry Potter title? 😉 Bear with me through the Harry Potter remembrances, I do have a point.
Over the weekend, while Banned Books Week was getting under way, I saw various blog posts listing popular and well-respected books that have been challenged. Harry Potter is usually on the list, and there have been SO many comments saying “Harry Potter? Really? Why?” and things of that nature.
If you missed the Harry Potter controversy, I envy you. (Not only) in Alabama, it was a huge deal. Parents had meetings. There were ban attempts. People wrote and read books about whether or not it was demonic or would entice children into witchcraft. (Thankfully they seem to have fallen off the radar — I can’t find the one I remember most or I would link it.) It was common to broach the subject in a deeply apologetic tone: “I don’t know how you feel about Harry Potter, so I can put the books away while our kids have their playdate…” Many kids I knew weren’t allowed to read it.
As a newly-minted teenager, thirteen or fourteen, I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to read it and I didn’t want to ask, but I volunteered at my local library for a few hours a week. One of my jobs was to rewind VHS tapes(!) and I could read a book while doing so. With much trepidation (and much anticipation) for the horrors I was about to expose myself to, I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was so common (even a small town library knew how to supply a demand!) that there was guaranteed to be a copy there, so I would read it while rewinding and then put it back to pick up again the next time.
I quite enjoyed it. It was clever and funny and engrossing, and basically a lot like the stuff I already read! Books like Wizard’s Hall by Jane Yolen, or The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander, or So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane. (I recommend all of those with flailing and gibbering and tears of joy, by the way.) At some point I felt comfortable bringing them home — turned out we were totally allowed to read them, my whole family started reading them, and we’re all still fans.
The furor has died down, but the concept of books about wizards and witches was and is dicey, not only for HP. Enter the phenomenon of apologetic notes pasted into books.
I saw them in Harry Potter books — little pieces of paper glued or taped into the front covers, explaining what the plot of the book was, what kind of magic was being done, and why it was okay for kids to read, should their parents allow it. I’m not sure where these notes come from. I have an ex-library copy of Greenwitch by Susan Cooper with a handwritten note from the donor taped in: “This book is part of a fantasy series similar to C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia.” The witch in this book represents evil – much like the witch in The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe. Evil is defeated in this book. If you have a problem with this, please return the book. -Mr. Washburn.” I’m not sure if he means the library should return the book or the patron!
Sometimes there’s no handy attribution, there’s just a book about a witch with a handwritten note taped in it to defend it. (And before you ask, yes, I’ve seen these in Narnia books!) The copy of And Tango Makes Three that I checked out for yesterday’s post had a typed paper glued on the first page with an excerpt from a review explaining that they were real penguins, etc., that probably came from the lending library itself.
So, my question for you is, what do you think about this? Do you see these notes in your area? Are they overly diffident toward people who’ve clearly pre-judged the book, or are they a good way of addressing concerns? What do you think about the Harry Potter phenomenon and how people reacted to the simple presence of witches and wizards?