As a follow-up to yesterday’s tirade about the importance of encouraging children to become readers, I dug back into my files to locate a piece I wrote in my newspaper columnist days. It ran on Sunday July 30th, 2006, ten years ago yesterday. The complete original text is in a compilation of some of the columns titled Sundays with Ron Rozelle (TCU Press, 2009).
Here’s part of the article:
Many people – what pollsters would label a “significant demographic group” – find young readers’ fascination with the Harry Potter novels to be dangerous, disturbing, and indicative of a societal slide into regions dark and dire. And most, if not all, of their conclusion rests solely on the fact that Harry, the baby-faced lad in the large eyeglasses, is, in fact, a wizard.
My first inclination here is to suggest that this group find something more important to worry about. But what people choose to worry about isn’t any of my business. Also, I’m well aware that their concerns are, in many cases, born of deeply held beliefs, religious and moral, and who am I to trample around in that field? I harbor pretty deep religious and moral beliefs myself, and I don’t take kindly to any such trampling.
So what I would suggest is this: consider the fact that kids, millions of them, are spending time, when enjoying the Harry Potter adventures, reading big thick books. And that, I have to believe, just can’t be all bad. After all, they could be up to no good on the internet, or watching hours and hours of reality shows on television, or racking up body counts in video games, or yakking on the cell phones that seem, these days, to be surgically attached to their heads.
To my last breath I will be an advocate of the importance of reading. Even about wizards.
Before Harry, wizardry didn’t seem to have been viewed as such an evil enterprise. The Wizard of Oz, remember, wasn’t a bad man (just a bad wizard, as he told Dorothy upon being found out). And many venerable ladies who find great fault in young Mr. Potter and other fantasy tales wouldn’t, I suspect, at all mind being called a “wizard in the kitchen.” One of the most famous science teachers of all time was television’s Mr. Wizard, who stirred things up in test tubes and captured the attention of American children at a time when sparkling clean programs like Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best were the standards for home and hearth. Nobody, even in that Eisenhower utopia, objected to Mr. Wizard or to his title.
Several years ago, a student in my high school Creative Writing class wrote a story in which the central character was an old wizard complete, I think I recall, with a pointed hat (perhaps with stars and slivers of moons on it; I can’t remember), a dark robe, a wand, and scowling features. The old fellow’s name was Ellezor. A name which, I thought at first reading, flowed smoothly on the page and was an altogether fitting name for a wizard. I probably scribbled that in the margin, since I am a constant margin scribbler. When students started giggling during their silent reading of the piece, I asked what I had missed.
Ellezor, it turns out, is my last name spelled backwards.
It stuck. And I even began signing occasional memos to my independent studies writers as Ellezor. I never donned a robe or a pointed hat, but I’m sure that at least a few taxpayers would find something to carp about in my identifying myself in a public schoolroom as a wizard.
So, to anyone who might be concerned, I will say this:
I am not a wizard, though I do sometimes play one in class. If I were one, I would use my powers for good, and would turn the world into a better place, with no war, no murders, no prejudice, no starving children. I would wave my magic wand around enough times to make people tolerant of other viewpoints and supportive of their children’s’ interest in reading, as long as the reading material is not truly harmful. I would conjure up long, productive, happy lives for every student I teach, and would make the Texans win the Super Bowl and the Astros win the World Series.
But I am not a wizard. So be not afraid. And have a nice day.