A colleague just wrote me to tell me about the Harry Potter wars erupting in her daughter's third grade class. What's a Harry Potter war? Check it out: the vast majority of the class is obsessed with Harry, but one child's parent refuses the let her child read the books. At all. Or watch the movies. Or…have anything to do with them. The person who wrote me noted that she fully understands and appreciates this mom's attempt to stem the raging floods of pop culture, though they don't necessarily agree on what is most harmful (interestingly, this same colleague banned High School Musical when her daughter was in kindergarten).
But the issue is that recess has been taken over by "spell wars," along with "Do you think you're a Gryffindor or a Ravenclaw?" debate. And the left-out child finally spat out (sort of predictably), "Well, Harry Potter is stupid anyway, and so is anyone who likes him!"
Said incident culminated in colleague's daughter refusing to sit with her at lunch if she said that, and left-out child telling the teacher, and colleague's daughter being dressed down. And yes, yes: there were offers from colleague's daughter to left-out girl to tell her the whole story, beginning to end, so she would know what was happening. These offers were summarily refused in the vein of "I don't want to hear it because it's a dumb story and anyone who likes it is dumb."
So let's all take a moment and be grateful that what they're fighting over is books, rather than, say, who gets the cigarettes. And also to acknowledge the universality of "You're talking about something I don't know about/am not allowed to know about/don't understand, therefore it is dumb and I will go cry now."
When I heard about this, of course I wanted to write about it here. But now that I am, I am not entirely sure what I want to say about it. Surely it is that kid's mother's prerogative to choose what her daughter may and may not read—especially given that the girl is 8. And there is something sad and noble about the girl trying to back her mother up on it. No doubt she feels conflicted; she wants to be part of things even while she knows she is specifically not supposed to. It's a tough spot to be in. And we can empathize, too, with the kids who are just freaking swept up in the thrill of finding a whole fictional world big enough to accommodate them. And not knowing how to deal with the kid who won't cross that Rubicon to join them in their new thing. Sure, they know they're supposed to be inclusive. But come on! Finding out who is supposed to be a HufflePuff is too compelling to just let it drop like that to spare one kid's feelings.
I suppose, on reflection (look! I'm reflecting! It makes me feel very mature), this is more a question of playground etiquette than a literary, uh, conundrum. It's strange though, isn't it? It makes me wonder about the strange power of Harry Potter, which is so powerfully pop culture, so un-bookish in my old-fashioned, loner-focused, outdated view of what being involved in a book really means. I always thought of books as uncool, and then somehow that uncoolness was cool. And then here's a book that is just…cool. (Yes, I know what's cool for 8-year-olds isn't necessarily cool, I know. But to them it's cool.) So what does it mean, exactly, when a book is cool? It makes me wonder.