You might be wondering what the point of this post is. I mean there’s nothing wrong with being realistic is there? Well, the answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think. Realism, when used appropriately, can enhance fiction by making seem, well, more real. When most people read they are drawn into the author’s world and their sense of reality is temporally changed. All good fiction should affect this kind of change. Using realistic elements can make stories come alive and cause them to ring more true and genuine. Unfortunately realism can also produce negative results. Detailed descriptions of violent acts, immoral activities, natural human processes, and other such things are usually inappropriate and provide information which is not necessary to furthering a plot. The issue with Harry Potter is whether it crosses the line with its realism.
The most common complaint in this area is Rowling’s presentation of her story as if it were happening in contemporary England. It is an undisputed fact that the Harry Potter books have cause a surge in interest in the occult and witchcraft among young people. Booksellers and also these religious groups are capitalizing on this interest. Children have written Rowling requesting entrance into Hogwarts (the wizarding school where Harry Potter attends). Children want to repeat what they’ve read in the books and are looking for ways to do it. It seems strange that other fantasy books such as The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings have not caused these kinds of results. My opinion is that Harry Potter is presented in such a way that reality and fiction are not clearly separated. With Tolkien, Middle-Earth is obviously not the world in which we live. With Lewis, while London and the English countryside are involved, most of the action takes place in or originates in Narnia. These works are obviously works of fantasy, though the characters display traits and features found in our world and they encounter situations that have parallels in the modern world. Rowling makes no such distinctions and one almost feels that if he searched hard enough he could find the places Rowling describes both in London and all around England.
If this type of blurring wasn’t bad enough, Rowling’s use of contemporary British slang and more importantly graphic realism creates mental images that are inappropriate for both adults and children. The graphic violence portrayed, crude language, and also hints at sexual feelings and desires and the utter casualness in which they are used is both appalling and disturbing. Lewis and Tolkien would be ashamed to have their works compared to Rowling’s works. I’ll cut myself off here before I go on a tirade on the appropriateness of objectionable elements.
I would like to insert here that I have on some level enjoyed reading the Harry Potter series and look forward to Rowling finishing it with the final book in the next year or two. The story is fascinating and she does have her literary moments. Some scenes have especially gripped me and I have not been able to put her books down in some parts. That reaction in a seasoned reader such as me should provoke both interest and alarm. If what one is reading quality literature then such an effect is desirable. If it is less desirable literature or it contains negative aspects then consider the effects that has on the reader. To readers everywhere I must exhort you to read critically and with discretion. I intend to write one more post in this series which will contain a review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6) and also a discussion of moral objectivity and relativism in literature. After that post, I am planning on doing some posts on some recent historical works by David McCullough, George Marsden, and other prominent historians. Any comments, criticisms, or questions are welcome.