MUGGLES FOR HARRY POTTER!
Letters from muggles of all stripes–parents, grandparents, teachers, doctors, librarians, readers old and young–were unanimous in decrying Lakshmi Chaudhry’s “Harry Potter and the Half-Baked Epic” [Aug. 13/20], her review of the final book of the series. Letters featured such terms as “humorless,” “sanctimonious,” “asinine,” “off the mark,” “nonsense,” “half-baked” and “a review that might have appeared in The Weekly Standard.” A reader opined that Chaudhry had “splattered herself with her own ink. Perhaps the quill she used came from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.” No letters were delivered by owl. –The Editors
I was taken aback by Lakshmi Chaudhry’s venomous attack on the Harry Potter saga. Looking behind the cheap point-scoring, I find it hard to see what her problem with the book really is. On the one hand she criticizes Voldemort for being a cardboard villain but then has a go at Harry for not being a cardboard hero and at the series for not having a cardboard and crystal-clear moral. I suspect–based on her pulling Bush into the last sentence–that the real problem is that J.K. Rowling didn’t use the final battle to mirror the great battle in American politics. Perhaps she’d have liked to see Harry lead the charge to impeach Voldemort?
Is Lakshmi Chaudhry really Rita Skeeter in disguise, and is this really the Daily Prophet? That could explain why you failed to pick a reviewer with no ax to grind to critique the Harry Potter books. You could have chosen a high school or college student or even me, a grandmother who’s a retired librarian, editor and writer with two degrees behind my name, and who has read all the books seven times. We could all tell you that Chaudhry/Skeeter missed the major points of the epic. First and foremost–it’s a great story! The imaginative weaving of several plots, the character development and the creation of another world all draw the reader into caring participation with the characters. Good conquers evil! All classes of creatures care! And yes–love and unselfishness are important. Got a problem with that, Skeeter?
ANNE MORROW DONLEY
Lakshmi Chaudhry’s critique was shortsighted. The books are written to appeal to young readers, and Rowling has hit that mark dead-on. If Chaudhry doesn’t know that adolescents are preoccupied with themselves and where they fall into the scheme of things, she is, well, preoccupied with being an adult. Most children don’t know anything about Hitler or World War II. Rowling brings a taste of the “real world” into a story that children can and want to relate to. It is a beginning. I feel the books do much good in giving kids an idea of the horrors that lurk “out there” without destroying hope that sacrifice and perseverance can win in the end.
The charge of “moral fuzziness” leveled against the Harry Potter books recalls the term “moral clarity” that right-wingers ascribe to themselves. Harry gradually achieves maturity by understanding the flaws in his various fathers and by assuming responsibility when their foresight fails. Only when he understands that his idolized teacher, Dumbledore, was driven by his own acute sense of failure does he at last gain the insight necessary to undo Voldemort.
There are no fathers endowed with wisdom or queens radiating gentle beauty; good and evil are not cosmic forces embodied in hero-saints and demon-villains but the result of human steps and missteps. These moral and psychological perceptions drive the drama, and they drive fundamentalists wild.
I wonder if Lakshmi Chaudhry has spent any time reading Harry Potter with a child, the actual audience for the series. My son has thoroughly enjoyed the books, and I have read them so we can discuss them. I have encouraged him to dig deeper, to ask questions and to wrestle with some of the larger issues developed in these books.
This final volume follows the kind of quest that only a 17-year-old could undertake: the hard task of making the transition from child to adult. Because of his youth and inexperience Harry is not the most contemplative of heroes, and this lends credibility to his character. In a sense he is a typical 17-year-old, thrust into a situation that is clearly beyond him, trying to make the best of it. This means that he will approach events in a way that strikes many adults as shallow or naïve. Guess what? This is a more accurate representation than is usually trotted out for our perusal.
As for the epilogue–this is where I think Chaudhry displays a blind elitism and a misunderstanding of the series, as she finds this domestic tableau simplistic and shallow. I find it note-perfect. It represents the core of what Rowling was trying to describe as Harry’s deepest yearning: a loving family.
Chaudhry wants cosmic significance. What most of us want is the love of family and friends safe to find their future. When boiled down, the solutions to the grand conflicts in history and in the present offer that opportunity. Perhaps that is simply too banal for Chaudhry. If so, that is a pity.
KEN A. GRANT
Chaudhry seems to suggest that a real hero never doubts. I submit that all people doubt. The difference between the courageous and the cowardly doesn’t lie in the doubts but in what they do with them. That Harry ruminates about lost time with his parents, has personal preferences and friendships, and begins to doubt Dumbledore makes his actions all the more heroic. The cowardly wallow; Harry moved forward. Regardless of his needs, he completed his mission for the benefit of the wizarding, and muggle, world.
What’s odd about Chaudhry’s review of the latest Harry Potter book is that anyone would bother to analyze it. The Potter franchise is a series of by-the-numbers tales in which special, somewhat nerdy kids gain access to magical powers within the context of a fantasy world. This is a formulaic genre, not intended, as Chaudhry seems to believe, to contain some deep intellectual reflection on current political themes and events. The series has made J.K. Rowling and her publishers rich and has provided an escape for a certain category of kid. It’s a product. Through whatever magic, it became a hit. End of story.
In this age of agonizing over the death of the book and will Johnny ever learn to read, we should be tickled pink that millions of kids and parents and grandparents are reading together and enjoying it!
JEAN BASS, grandma
NO NUKES–THEN & NOW
Silver Spring, Md.
Thank you to my wonderful colleague and friend Jonathan Schell for “The Spirit of June 12” [July 2], his insightful review of the past twenty-five years of national and international nuclear politics. His description of the grassroots nuclear disarmament movement, its strengths, victories, shortcomings, hard-to-quantify direct effect on policy, as well as the urgent challenges we still face are very much on the mark.
However, it is incorrect to state there is “no heir to…the freeze movement.” Organizationally, there certainly is: Peace Action (formed from the merger of the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign and the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, or SANE), still the largest peace and disarmament organization in the country, with more than 100,000 members. And many other organizations that either started or grew during the freeze heyday in the early 1980s are still going strong.
While the grassroots fervor of the freeze has yet to re-emerge, the impact on public opinion, if not yet on government policy, lives on in the solid support for the global abolition of nuclear weapons, more than 70 percent in opinion polls. And without a doubt, the mass rejection of George W. Bush’s quagmire in Iraq is due in no small part to the efforts of peace groups and organizers who trace their roots to the freeze movement, as well as newer organizations and activists.
Peace Action is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary with, among other things, a new book, Peace Action: Past, Present and Future (see www. peace-action.org).
Executive director, Peace Action
New York City
I stand corrected by Kevin Martin. Peace Action is the undoubted principal heir to the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s. The credit due Peace Action is all the greater for its having remained vital and strong while so many–the press, academia, foundations, even the public–turned their backs on the nuclear question. Special honor is due those who remain faithful and active in a cause in the lean years as well as the fat–to the winter soldiers of the antinuclear movement–so permit me to join in heartfelt congratulations to Peace Action on its fiftieth birthday.
It has not, of course, been alone in its long march. The American Friends Service Committee, Women’s Action for New Directions, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and Physicians for Social Responsibility, among many others, have never wavered in their dedication to nuclear abolition. A new group, the National Religious Partnership on the Nuclear Danger, is marshaling antinuclear sentiment in communities of faith. On the West Coast, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation is at work educating a new generation on the nuclear facts of life, and the Western States Legal Foundation keeps a sharp expert eye on the nuclear weapons labs. The Lawyer’s Committee on Nuclear Policy has been steadily refining its excellent proposal for a Nuclear Weapons Convention. Recently, the committee issued a fine, deeply informed fresh appraisal of the nuclear dilemma–Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security?–which sets forth the new forms that nuclear danger has assumed while people were looking the other way.
Also noteworthy is an article in the Wall Street Journal, in which former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Defense Secretary William Perry, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Senator Sam Nunn called for a revival of Ronald Reagan’s vision of “a world free of nuclear weapons.” The article marks a sea change in established opinion, which previously (with the hugely significant exception of Reagan) had formed a solid phalanx of opposition to nuclear abolition. It would not be more surprising if the four horsemen of the apocalypse had turned around and started galloping the other way. This development creates the happy possibility of finding common ground between those who were on opposite sides of the barricades. And as Martin points out, something like 70 percent of the public agrees with the emerging consensus. Like the antinuclear movement and the defecting nuclear priesthood, people understand that the problem is not just proliferation or nuclear terrorism but nuclear weapons themselves–all of them–which help no one and menace all.
The nuclear danger is ripe and overripe for public rediscovery, which has in fact already begun. This time, it’s clear that the goal of all efforts would not just be amelioration–a freeze or reduction or a test ban–but the long-deferred holy grail of all who have struggled against the danger for more than sixty years: the abolition of nuclear arms.