In my last post I discussed magic and Harry Potter. I’ll finish that up now and start a discussion on the use of violence and language in the Potter books.
Magic is appropriate to use in fiction. Often it is used to represent the supernatural occurrences that really happen in the world. Magic is appropriate to use as long as it doesn’t closely associate itself with real occult practices. In Book Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Harry’s divinity teacher enters a trance and the description sound eerily like an occult type of trance. The fact that her eyes go blank and unfocused and then her voice changes to a different low and rough voice is disturbing. It almost sounds like she was momentarily possessed. This is objectionable and every time I read the passage it gives me a pause. Still, Lord Of The Rings does contain something similar. When Frodo is in Shelob’s lair he takes out Galadriel’s phial and suddenly starts speaking in elvish in a voice that is not his own. The first time I read this passage I also had a pause. The only explanation I can give as to why more people don’t object to Tolkien like they do Rowling is that Tolkien’s references don’t seem like they would happen in the real world like Rowling’s does. I will touch on realism in fiction in the next post.
The use of objectionable language and violence does not necessarily condemn a work. If it did, people couldn’t read any of the literary classics or even the Bible. The main issue with violence and language is how it’s portrayed. The main objection to the use of violence in Harry Potter is that it is very graphic and sometimes gratuitous. The two examples I will cite are from the first and fourth books. In book one, while in the Forbidden Forest, Harry sees Professor Quirrell drinking blood out of the body of a dead unicorn. In the fourth book, in one of the most graphic and violent scenes Wormtongue performs a most gory procedure to restore Voldemort. He uses the crushed bone of Voldemort’s father, takes some of Harry’s blood, and then cuts off his own hand to finish the spell. This is all described in graphic detail which is unneccesary and especially inappropriate for supposed children’s books. Now graphic violence isn’t always inappropriate. The Bible is very explicit sometimes in its descriptions of peoples deaths. What matters about the use of violence and other objectionable elements is how they’re presented.
Now in regard in to objectionable language, it is to be expected that secular fiction writers will use the same language as those they write about. The debate about the appropriateness of this kind of realism is beyond the scope of this series. If anyone would like to discuss it further please bring it up in the forum. Is profanity ever appropriate in writing? I would say no. Will I read a work that contains profanity? Yes, but if there is an abundance of it, I will stop reading a work rather than subject my mind to such garbage. Usually profanity is used by those who lack education, manners, and self-control. It is almost always substandard language and inappropriate in any situation. If someone starts using profanity, my estimation of them tends to drop proportionally. I’ll tolerate a very small amount of profanity, if the rest of the content is good, but I would never encourage someone to write like that or even necessarily read the same work. In my next post I plan to discuss realism in Harry Potter and will try to wrap things up before I post my review of the latest book early next week. As always, if you have any comments, questions, or criticisms, please let me know.