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Taking Responsibility–A Blast from the Past

I have always been a reader. When I became a mother, I did all I could to teach my son to love the written word. It was sometimes an uphill battle. There was the teacher who used reading as punishment, setting impossible goals and choosing the worst books possible. Then there were the required summer reading lists with books often containing age inappropriate topics. This post came out of the latter and shows just how important it is to know what our kids are reading, especially for school.

Taking Responsibility

MGC is usually a blog by writers about, well, writing. Or at least about the publishing industry, be it traditional or indie. Today, however, I’m going to step outside of the writer persona and into the reader and, more importantly, parent persona. You see, I saw an article linked on Facebook this morning that had me alternating between shaking my head and wanting to shake someone else. The article itself isn’t all that important. What is, is the mindset behind it and the pointing of fingers without taking a moment to take a bit of personal responsibility.

In this case, yet another person has raised their head to complain about Harry Potter. Believe it or not, but according to the post, Harry Potter promotes a rape culture.

Yes, you read that right. Harry Potter promotes a rape culture.

How? I know you are each asking that and the answer is simple. It does so because — gasp — love potions are used.

Now, on the surface of it, if I squint really tightly and turn my brain off, I can almost see the point. After all, love potions do take the “choice” away from the person it is being given to, much like rohypnol or any of the other date rape drugs.

However, let’s not squint and twist our brains around and actually look at the allegation in the light of day and as adults with more than two working brain cells. Are we going to condemn every story — every fairy tale — that has been told over the years and centuries that has mention of love potions in them? Think about it. Most of those stories revolve around young women, teenagers often, who use the potion to win over the man of their dreams. Will we condemn those stories as promoting rape culture or give them a pass because the one using the potion is female?

Now, before I go any further and some of those who might read this think I have no problem with using an artificial means to take someone’s free will or ability to knowingly consent away from them, I don’t. In fact, you won’t find many folks with a lower opinion of anyone — male or female — who do so. I have worked with victims of sexual assault, male and female. I have friends and family who have been such victims. No one has the right to force himself or herself on another when that person either refuses to give consent or who has been so compromised that consent cannot be freely and willingly given.

With that said, when looking at Harry Potter, you have to remember it is fiction, fantasy. Love potions don’t exist. However, as a parent, when you are reading the book with your kids — or when you see your child reading it — talk about the book with them. Use the book as a teaching moment without taking away the joy of reading. In other words, take responsibility to read the books your kids are reading and then take responsibility to spend some time talking with them about it.

Maybe I’m strange that way but ,when my son was growing up, I made a point of knowing what he was reading, what movies he wanted to see, what video games he wanted to play. I didn’t wait for him to come to me and ask about something in a book. Well, not usually. One book on his summer reading list I read half of and made an assumption about the book. That assumption came back to bite me. More on that in a minute.

I didn’t do that sort of supervision because I wanted to keep my son from reading anything that might “harm” him. I didn’t do it to keep him from reading something I didn’t agree with. I did it so we could discuss the book — or the game or the movie. If there were themes I thought he might not understand, I wanted to be prepared to discuss them with him. What I usually found was that he was already three steps ahead of me. However, on occasion, he did have questions or he wanted to talk about what he had read.

The one time not reading the entire book came back to bite me was, as I said, with a summer reading list book. My son was about to go into the fifth grade. We were on vacation out-of-state and this was the last book he had to read. I’d read about half of it and nothing set off any of my warning bells that there might be a theme or scene or anything we might need to talk about. It was a nice little gothic mystery.

Until you got to the last two chapters. Then, out of the blue, came a very graphic attempted rape scene that culminated in an almost as graphic murder of the attempted rapist by the ghost that had been haunting the house. Imagine my surprise and then frustration when my son started asking me questions about the scene. We had a long talk about the scene and how it fit in with the rest of the book, the realities of rape (age appropriate discussion) and how no one, male or female, had the right to force someone else to have sex. If I had read the entire book, I would have been prepared.

What I learned when we got back home — and when the English teacher who had assigned the book as part of the summer reading list finally agreed to meet with me — was that the list for these newly minted fifth graders had been compiled by so-called experts: librarians, business professionals and education administrators. Oh, and the list was actually for students going into the 10th grade but because my son and his classmates were in the gifted and talented program, the teacher had deemed the books appropriate. It didn’t matter that there was a five year difference in age between the students the books had been recommended for and those she had assigned them to.

Responsibility. Or, in her case, a lack thereof.

Her response was to try to pass the responsibility buck back to me, telling me that I could have requested another reading list, or at least an alternate to the book I found objectionable. The problem with that was we weren’t given the list until after school was out for the summer and teachers unavailable. Then there was the little fact that nowhere in any of the information we were given with the list was there made mention of being able to substitute books.

I dropped the ball by not reading all the book but the teacher and the administration dropped it first and farther by not taking into account the age of the students being told to read a book recommended for kids much older than they were.

So how does this relate back to the Harry Potter books? Simple. From the time the first book in the series came out, parents and educators and critics have condemned the books for a number of different reasons. There were the calls to ban the books in schools and libraries because they promoted devil worship and witchcraft. Of course, many of those making the claims had never read the books. They weren’t about to risk being contaminated by Satan’s work.

Responsibility.

To read and think before condemning.

There were complaints because the books didn’t follow the hallowed “Zero Tolerance” edict that has been put into play in our schools. Harry and friends never, ever should have done anything to protect themselves from the bullying and attacks from those who weren’t good and pure.

Responsibility.

To read and think and discuss bullying and standing up for yourself and others.

Responsibility.

To make sure your kids understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

Now, about those love potions. What a great opportunity to talk about what I just mentioned, the difference between fantasy and reality. Or how about how it is never acceptable to take away someone’s free will? There are so many things you could discuss, all without taking away your child’s joy in reading the book. Discuss, not lecture.

It’s simple really. By talking about the book — or the movie or TV show or video game — you are spending time with your kids. You are bonding. You are showing them you care about things they think are important or that they care about. That is what’s important and will set the example for how they can be good parents when the time comes.

With regard to the allegation that the use of love potions in Harry Potter promote rape culture, gimme a break. It’s a fantasy, first and foremost. For another, as far as I remember from the books (and it has been some years since I read them) it was generally made clear that there were negative consequences eventually from using them. But none of that fits the social construct right now. That means it is up to each of us as parents or aunts and uncles or extended family or big brothers and sisters to make sure we know what our kids are reading and to take the time to discuss it with them.

In other words, we have to adult and take responsibility.

Who knows, in doing so, we might just find a few new authors and books we like in the process.

(This post originally appeared on MGC back in 2016.)

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Featured image by Annie Spratt from Pixabay

23 Comments
  1. Christopher M. Chupik #

    When everything is problematic, nothing will be.

    February 18, 2020
    • We are well on our way, eh? Looking at the news, all I can do is laugh. Who do they think is buying this shit?

      February 18, 2020
    • Mary #

      Except that it’s like the surveillance cameras in “If This Goes On. . . .” The point is not to catch you in wrongdoing. It’s to have record of your having done wrong so they can nail you if they want to — they won’t bother to nail you unless they want to.

      February 18, 2020
  2. It’s a side note to your main issue, but as I recall, love potions were one of those things in Harry Potter that were deconstructed; in the early books, they were treated like a joke, then by Book 6, made to look more like the roofies they were. When it was revealed that Tom Riddle Sr. was given a love potion, the fandom flipped almost overnight from hating the guy to pitying him. In other words, Rowling did more or less what you suggest: playing up the fantasy for younger kids, then having a serious discussion of the implications of that fantasy as they got older.

    I’m not an uncritical admirer of the Harry Potter books by any means, but there are a lot of things that Rowling got right.

    February 18, 2020
    • Rowling was doing fine right up to the end of the fourth book, where she drops a gruesome child murder in by parachute. I kept reading after that, but I’d never give those later books to a child. Same with that “Golden Compass” series by Pullman. Not for a kid. Maybe a teen.

      As to Harry Potter promoting “rape culture,” clearly rubbish. JK Rowling’s views on such things are widely known, she’s not for it. In the book, the characters are clearly not for it.

      Of late there’s been a marked tendency to read things into books that simply aren’t there. Somebody even did it to my book, which surprised me. I thought I’d covered all the bases, they found a new one.

      But then a lot of things surprise me about the vast sea of humanity. Guess I’m a more non-standard type than I’d previously thought. ~:D

      February 18, 2020
      • Well, Rowling was trying to meter the books with an ever-increasing complexity and reading difficulty, such that it would mirror the protagonist’s growth.

        Unfortunately, she forgot that a lot of kids read the entire series at once, and that she was going to have to watch out for that.

        But of course, the real problem is that she didn’t have any good editors or trusted readers to prune the later books. Sheesh, did she need that.

        February 18, 2020
        • I read an interview where she mentioned the books were “growing up” along with the audience, but as excuses go it was very thin IMHO. I avoid listening to her as much as possible, she’s quite annoying.

          If they hadn’t been marketed as -children’s- books I would have had no complaints. Quite acceptable for YA or for grown-ups.

          February 18, 2020
  3. Zsuzsa #

    Oh, and as far as, “you could have requested another reading list, or at least an alternate to the book you found objectionable” is concerned: parents who do that are usually labeled censors, book burners, and ridiculous prudes who don’t want their kids to have the slightest clue about real life. It tends to happen, no matter how limited and reasonable the objection might seem (“Is it really appropriate to have an illustrated edition of Lady Chatterly’s Lover in the elementary school library?” “What, you have something against kids reading the classics? Philistine! Book banner!”).

    This shouldn’t matter when you’re trying to take care of your kids, but parents are humans, and humans are social apes, and so it will matter. Most will choose not to rock the boat and trust the teachers no matter what their own doubts are. And so I think the teachers do have a responsibility to be worthy of that trust to the best of their ability.

    Yeah, I know, with the modern public schools, that’s a fantasy, but this is the “ought implies a moral obligation,” not necessarily what will happen.

    February 18, 2020
    • And the proper response to that is to laugh at those calling you a book burner; saying it’s a shame they aren’t smart enough to recognize the difference between making a reasoned choice for what’s best for your kids at any certain age, and just mindlessly destroying things because someone called, “Book Bad!”

      Makes you wonder if Bill Cosby would still be in prison if he’d up front told every woman, “Here, this will relax you, and suppress your inhibitions to my suggesting we have sex.”

      “Your honor, how can it be rape if she verbally and physically gave her informed consent?”

      Granted, that’s not what Bill told them. /sigh If only he’d been more honest about it with them, most of them probably would have climbed into bed with him anyway.

      We may not have love potions, but we do have potions of suggestibility, and forgetfulness. But nothing lasts forever; except maybe, regret.

      February 18, 2020
      • Zsuzsa #

        I agree it’s the proper response, but like I said, we’re social creatures, and the pressures to fit in and not be the subject of mockery usually override “the proper response.”

        February 18, 2020
      • snelson134 #

        And for all we know, he did. After all, no one was filing charges at the time, and there certainly weren’t tape recorders going. And a man’s word in today’s Western legal system is an intentional(?) mirror image of a woman’s word under Islam.

        February 19, 2020
        • Steve, you know better. Why do you insist on bringing politics into every discussion here? Take it somewhere else.

          February 19, 2020
          • snelson134 #

            I replied to a comment about Bill Cosby with another comment about Bill Cosby, and I introduced politics??? Okaaayyy.

            Tell you what. Rather than double and triple and quadruple think whether or not I’m stepping on Amanda’s ever changing and invisible “political” tile, I’m just going to respond to the articles and comments as best I can. You want to take offense and ban me? Swing that hammer.

            Because life’s too short to worry about stuff I can’t possibly figure out without telepathy and precognition.

            February 21, 2020
            • Steve, you are the one who brought Islam into it, when it had not been mentioned before and had nothing to do with the Bill Cosby comment you are trying to us as justification for what you said. Then you chose to be the offended party. You’ve been warned before. This is your last warning. Don’t like it, quit commenting. I know I’m not the only one of the bloggers here to warn you to stop.

              February 21, 2020
    • I’m not allowed to talk to the Education Professionals. I’m prone to laughing in the wrong places and asking questions like “Are you f-ing kidding me with this?” This is not productive.

      We send a different denizen to represent Chez Phantom, one who never laughs inappropriately but has the Education Professionals in a “cooperative mood” by the end of the conversation. Either from the charm, or from the quotation of regulations and things put in writing. Educational Professionals respond to quoted regulations like vampires to daylight. >:D

      February 18, 2020
  4. I do have to wonder how Rowling’s books will be handled going forward since she is (currently) on the outs with the LGBT crowd.

    February 18, 2020
    • Christopher M. Chupik #

      They’ll need to read another book.

      February 18, 2020
      • Going to be a problem for them, according to Book-Bub numbers at MGC they don’t read.

        February 18, 2020
  5. I have books that I use as references when I teach, that I do not make available to my students. They are non-fiction. I have some students who are 2-3 years younger than their peers, some who are less mature than their peers, and some who have been very, very sheltered. If they want to read those books, I pass the word on to their parents, along with information where to find the books so that the parents can check the books and determine if they are appropriate. The few times students have made the request, the parents said “No.”

    February 18, 2020
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      Come on, it isn’t like you use references that might’ve damaged people ten years older than your students. 🙂

      /sarcasm

      I haven’t found the courage, or a place in my life where I could read and risk the consequences, for Frank Dikötter.

      February 18, 2020
  6. Either my school district was weird, or I and my parents just ignored all the summer BS. I don’t remember ever having a summer reading list, recommended, voluntary or otherwise. I did tons of reading. But it was always stuff I chose to read, whatever caught my fancy.

    The only two books I ever remember my parents specifically talking to me about were The Pigeon With Tennis Elbow when I was about 9 (because of the reincarnation aspect being rather anathema to Catholics) and The Robots of Dawn when I was about 13 (because of some sexual things the people were doing with robots). We talked about various aspects of Star Wars, Star Trek and Sherlock Holmes now and then. But it was usually about plot points. Everything else they usually just looked at shrugged their shoulders.

    February 18, 2020
  7. Rusty #

    I wonder if the book-banners ever think about the “forbidden fruit” theory…. Back in my grade school days, the “powers that be” were all for banning the book “Catcher in the Rye.” Now, most of my classmates (and myself) would never have paid any attention to that book, but when we heard that some folks wanted to ban it, then we all wanted to read it, if only to see why they wanted to ban it. I also bought the record “They’re Coming to Take me Away” (by Napoleon XIV) when I heard folks were trying to ban that record.

    But in today’s world, some folks would think of a conspiracy of the banning of Harry Potter books, and that the author must be behind the ban in order to sell more books from the controversy!

    February 18, 2020
  8. You pays yer money and you takes your chances. I’d rather have a six year old kid that could easily read Rowling stuff, love potions, “rape culture,” and all, than an eighteen year old that reads well below grade level, loves reality TV, calls friends “niggas” and “hoes,” and knows the lyrics to every R&B and rap song that hit Billboard since that kid was ten.

    February 18, 2020

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