In a BBC Radio interview, Stephen Fry asked ‘Harry Potter’ author J.K. Rowling about “not holding back from the difficult and the frightening and the treacherous and the unjust and all the things that most exercise children’s minds.”
Rowling (her name rhymes with bowling, rather than howling) replied, “I feel very strongly that there is a move to sanitize literature because we’re trying to protect children not from, necessarily, from the grizzly facts of life, but from their own imaginations.
“I remember being in America a few years ago and Halloween was approaching, and three television programmes in a row were talking about how to explain to children it wasn’t real.
“Now there’s a reason why we create these stories, and we have always created these stories, and the reason why we have had these pagan festivals, and the reason why even the church allows a certain amount of fear… we need to feel fear, and we need to confront that in an controlled environment. That’s a very important part of growing up, I think.”
Rowling adds, “What are we saying to children who do have scary and disturbing thoughts? We’re saying that’s wrong, that’s not natural, and it’s not something that’s intrinsic to the human condition. That they’re in some way odd or ill… That’s a very dangerous thing to tell a child.”
[Photo: Rowling at work in one of her favorite cafes.]
Our shadow self can be a source of rich imagination and creative energy. And how we respond to those aspects of ourselves, and to the “disturbing” or frightening thoughts we have throughout life, impacts our emotional health in many ways.
Clinical psychologist Robert Maurer finds that one of the key ingredients in the creative process is fear, and how we deal with our fears. [See article Writers can use fear to advantage.]
In his article Harry Potter and the Power of the Positive, Dave Shearon notes that in the stories not only do the children face fearful experiences, but find powers within themselves to prevail.
Shearon writes, “Although Harry does not seem to have the type of magical power that would enable him to face the evil wizard, he has already survived several confrontations. Professor Dumbledore has repeatedly claimed that Harry has a magic greater than his opponentâ€™s, and one which his opponent underestimates: the magic of love.
“Sappy? Absolutely. These days, however, I am convinced that ‘sappy’ and ‘soft-hearted’ are not particularly strong arguments against a proposition. Chris Peterson reports that the character strength that distinguishes the best leaders at West Point is the capacity to love and be loved.”
As Shearon notes, “positive psychology is not just about avoiding bad things. Research evidence also continues to mount that a general approach to life based on a frequent experience of positive emotions and habitually positive thought patterns actually increases the likelihood of good consequences.”
The books also confront other primal experiences in human life, such as dying. J.K. Rowling was deeply affected by the death of her mother from multiple sclerosis in 1990.
“My mum died six months into writing (the books), and I think that set the central theme â€” this boy dealing with loss,” Rowling says.
“I think children are very scared of this stuff even if they haven’t experienced it, and I think the way to meet that is head-on,” she says. “I absolutely believe, as a writer and as a parent, that the solution is not to pretend things don’t happen but to examine them in a loving, safe way.” [Assoc. Press 7.19.07]
In her review of the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Mary McNamara writes, “Unlike the predecessors to whom she is invariably compared, Rowling is neither illuminating Christian myth (C.S. Lewis) nor confronting a post-trench-warfare world of industrial corruption (J.R.R. Tolkien). Instead she is sharing a more populist message: The real quest in life is that of personal transformation, and not even the Chosen One can go it alone.
“Throughout the series, the three main child characters â€” Harry, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley â€” have changed before our very eyes as Rowling deftly captured both the natural maturation process of each and the effect shared experiences have on friendships. In this final book, they, and most of their friends and enemies, learn precisely what they are each capable of.” [From Harry Potter comes to a magical end, Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2007]