Bingo 23 Banned Book
The Harry Potter series has been challenged for many things including glorifying witchcraft, encouraging bad behavior like disobeying rules and lying, and for being un-Christian. This recent ban though is almost laughable, but it did make the international news (click for link): Reverend Dan Reehill, head St Edward Catholic School in Nashville, Tennessee, apparently decided that the spells presented in the series were real. He supposedly consulted the Vatican on this, and had the books removed from his school library so that his students could not use them to summon evil who knows what from the depths.
Let’s talk for just a second about my suspicions about this claim. For the record, I liked the Harry Potter books when I was in high school and college, purchased several at midnight release parties, then got a little tired of certain things, finished the series after book 7, haven’t seen all the movies, and haven’t re-read until now. I picked up my now-battered copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone which I think I may have stolen/permanently borrowed from my stepmother after she’d bought it for a book club (she never asked for it back). I have a master’s degree in Latin, I have taught Latin at university and high school levels, and I have a PhD from a Jesuit university (a branch of Catholic brotherhood). Point is, I know my source background on this.
Let’s take the first spell directly used in the book: Wingardium Leviosa (which of course must be read in Emma Watson’s Hermione voice). First off, there is no proper verb here, so by the grammar alone this spell is technically not a command, and should not work. “Leviosa” is not a recognized verbal form in Latin, either Classical or Church/medieval. Problem 1. Problem 2 is that “Wingardium” means “feather” (kinda, it’s not real Latin either) yet Ron uses the spell successfully on a wooden club carried by the troll that gets into Hogwarts earylish in the book. If the spell is meant to translate “feather, lift!” or similar, it shouldn’t logically be able to work on a piece of wood, assuming this is a functional spell, which by the words it shouldn’t be. There’s only one or two other spells used in this first book, and they present some similar problems of language. I would think that experts from the Vatican would be familiar enough with Latin to realize this. Plus, none of these spells are used to summon demons or commit other acts of evil more serious than a prank (the immobilizing spell used on Neville towards the end).
The second issue is that I have, during my academic work with medieval argumentation, actually looked at medieval spell books and books of charms and magical cures. The spells and spell craft in the Harry Potter world do not match the practices of magic shown in the real records of what people thought worked. What people who may or may not have actually believed in magic actually did does not often include using wands or just saying things as a command one time. Some of the practices could be based on this reality, like the first scene with Snape in Potions, since some of the items he mentions, like the bezoar being used to counteract poison, are in line with historical records, but I don’t see anyone terribly concerned about people suddenly trying to force goats to eat stones. I don’t know about how closely any of the magical practices in Harry Potter’s world align with modern witchcraft or Wicca, but I doubt it’s any closer.
I really liked this book when I first read it, and it was still highly enjoyable. I do think that with the sudden jump in length between books 3 and 4 came with a noticeable change in the style and re-readability of the books. To me, the series become significantly less about the characters and the world at that point, and more about adventure plot, to its detriment, but not enough so that the series should be banned. I know far too many people who say that this series is what made them readers or writers, which is another reason why I have a hard time believing any educator who claims these books are bad for children or young adults (or anyone else with even a tiny bit of common sense).