Friday, November 11, 2011

Harry Potter and the Homeschooled Kids

The Shoebox Project
I'm part of a somewhat elite group of young people.

I didn't read Harry Potter until I was twenty.

Well, that's not entirely accurate.  It might as well be, though.  I read the first book when it came out (my mom thought I'd like it since some people were raving about it).  And I didn't read any of the others.  I grew up homeschooled and conservative, and while my parents never told my brothers and I not to read Harry Potter, all/most of our friends' parents and generally our whole social circle operated under the impression that it was all witchcraft and Satan...and even when your parents are more progressive, it's hard to argue with a billion peers and their parents when you've been taught that other people's parents also have to be obeyed and all that.  You figure, hey, maybe my outlier parents just don't *know* somehow that *clearly* these books are bad.  The logic of a kid who wants to obey the rules, generally-speaking (god, how insufferable, right?).

To be fair though, I read the first book, and wasn't all that *into* it.  So at the time, it wasn't a huge deal.  I figured the books that came after were probably similar, geared towards a reading age that I was just leaving (I'm 25 now, so you do the math).  I was wrong, but there was no way I knew that at the time.

So, in a way, it's sort of my own horrible fault (and brothers' own horrible faults) that Harry Potter wasn't part of our lives at all.  Our faults for, really, obeying what we thought we should obey (thou shalt not read of the Potter).  Which means, was it really our fault at all?  Was it entirely our community's collective fault for banning a book that, having read and loved the series now, they clearly had no real concept of (yet somehow pitted against Lewis and Tolkien as though they were polar opposites, Good vs Evil)?  Playing tricks = bad?  Better pack up the Tom Sawyer then, too.  Anyway, it really stinks, as siblings and I have discussed, that we have this huge aspect of our generation's childhood missing.

There aren't many things that I look back on without a certain general fondness regarding homeschooling and my childhood community in general.  There were some oddities, but nothing scarring, nothing dreadful  (I didn't grow up in ATI or Gothard, thank goodness), despite what many people would like to believe about my schooling (the amount of time I spend saying "But not like the Duggars!" to people when I mention homeschooling would probably add up to an absurd number of hours).  There are, in fact, only two things that siblings and I have agreed we missed out on, big time:  Harry Potter and Halloween.

But hey.  Not the two worst complaints a person can have about growing up.  I mean really, what a dull list of complaints!  We're golden, lucky, and beyond.  This Christmas, a sibling will get Harry Potter audiobooks because we might be in our twenties, but ohmygod did you know Harry Potter books age with the reader?!  (Mock surprise there, folks, but it sure would have been a pleasant surprise to my younger self who shrugged about not reading any further than book one.)

The nice thing about Harry Potter fandom is that you can assimilate right in and nobody's the wiser about you being a new immigrant to the fandom world.  When you're in your twenties, it is assumed that if you identify as a Harry Potter fan that you are a native speaker, the same way we're mostly all Internet natives.  So I can have my WeeHermione name, play Quidditch in college (no really I did), and nobody's the wiser until I ramble on about my n00b-ness.

Ultimately, the only real takeaway here could be Make Decisions On Your Own.  But sometimes, that's not realistic.  A parent can give their kid free reign to read whatever they want in the library, but all the same, the kid may succumb to peer pressure (in this case, peer pressure to be GOOD, again, how insufferable, straight outta Elsie Dinsmore*) and read/not read things based on that.  I was never explicitly banned from HP (I was even assigned books that have been banned, like The Giver).

The question now is, what book series will it be for the next generation?  I think this one's over the whole Harry Potter Is Satan brouhaha, so it'll have to be something else.  As a librarian, what books am I going to be handing to kids whose communities are telling them NO?

*Elsie Dinsmore is by far the most insufferable of all literary characters.  Just Google "Elsie Dinsmore insufferable" and you'll see what I mean.  Basically, she's perfect, accepts patriarchal authority no matter her age, reads the Bible on Sundays (no, I mean that's all she does on Sundays, literally), and is just nauseating.  I read the first book as a kid and *hated* her.  I mean really, really loathed Elsie.  At least I had some literary sense!

Savinien gave 1 of 5 stars to:
recommended for: No One

" "Oh, what a better place the world would be if all girls could be like Elsie Dinsmore! True, she suffered for her faith in God--her cousins' governess forbids her to go on an outing to the fair, she falls off a piano bench and hits her head against the piano leg, and so on--but her quiet endurance of unjust sufferings convinces people to convert to Christianity and stop being mean to her.

Fainting, submission to injustice, and similar expressions of helplessness prove Elsie's moral superiority to the tougher and morally callous characters that surround her. When her mean cousin Arthur blots her copybook--thus denying her the joys of an afternoon trip to the fair--she acquiesces to the unfairness of the governess's punishment with all the sweetness and humility of a lamb led to slaughter. Never mind that the repentant Arthur offers to tear out the offending copybook pages and save her from such humiliation. All sins must have punishments, and the more Elsie suffers for other people's sins, the better role model she is for young girls.

This brings us, of course, to the touching piano scene. Her long-absent father orders her to play the piano for his guests--on a Sunday. Instead of realizing that her father's command likely stems from pride over her accomplishments, Elsie interprets his command as disrespect to God's command not to work on the Sabbath. Her loyalty to God's commands and her suffering convince her father to convert to Christianity.

When I was a kid, I once tried refusing to do chores on the Sabbath. All it got me was a tongue-lashing.

Now, if I had been able to faint, imagine what would have happened.

They locked their sweet, dutiful daughter in the bathroom with the bucket full of cleaning supplies, until such time as she consented to clean it. The young girl, however, knew that to obey God is better than to obey man, so she sat quietly in the edge of the tub until the combined fumes of the cleaning chemicals (kept in leaky containers, we must assume) made her faint. She fell, striking her head on the hard fiberglass tub. Horrified at the noise, her parents rushed inside and lifted her up. Blood seeped from a cut on her forehead, which had struck the faucet during her fall. Overcome with sorrow at the suffering their actions had caused, the two parents repented of their disregard for God's commandment and promised to never force their daughter to work on the Sabbath day again.

See? Fainting and helplessness are the best tools any girl has for spreading a mature love for God to other people. Why didn't God make me that weak?"

--by Savinien on GoodReads (A lot of these reviews sum it up nicely)


  1. It's funny that you mentioned Harry Potter growing with the characters as if it wasn't already well-known. I guess it is. But how many other series are really like that? You read the first one. Most series don't develop as wholly as Harry Potter does. Many don't pace as well (authors seem so excited to get to the next that their foreshadowing sucks OR they are milking it for all its worth and tell the same information or follow the same formula way too often-- in my opinion, anyway).

    And I'm not really sure how much you really missed out on. Honestly, I was one of those kids who read the first Harry Potter when it first became a name-- and got each successive book. But even though it was the thing in my house-- my mom, dad, and I would all fight over whose turn it was to read it when it first came home with us-- we never did the midnight releases or dressing up to wait for movies. Actually, the movies weren't really that interesting to me until the Half-Blood Prince. I think I regret never going to the midnight release of one of the later movies dressed ridiculously. But when I was in school, around the same time you were, it's not like it was really a big thing to talk about Harry Potter. It was something that me and my two closest friends liked and talked about. It was actually more when I went to college that it was a BIG DEAL. My friends were obsessed.

    And my hubby, Chris, is in the same boat as you. He thought reading Harry Potter sounded pretty lame. But he started reading it to the kids he mentors, realized how well-written it is, and when he broke his leg, he spent all summer reading the series. He loved it. Funny, he started to read Harry Potter BECAUSE he became lame, not the other way around. :)

  2. Heh, it's really just that as a kid I was so out of the Harry Potter loop that I had no idea they changed with the age of the intended reader! It's a shame really since I think I might have given them a second chance had I known! But, when you're out of a loop, you're out of a loop. :( I'm just glad I can really enjoy them now!

    I'm glad that I was into LOTR instead, if only because I still got the whole online-fandom/opening night experience that way! *nerdimus maximum indeed*