Getting over the hate of Harry J. Potter

Graphic by CJ Beaudrie

For six years, Americans wanted “Harry Potter” banned from libraries more than any other book. But in 2004, the series suddenly dropped out of the top ten of the nation’s most frequently challenged books.

The American Library Association’s annual list of the most frequently challenged books. Brian Campbell, an administrative assistant for the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, explained how the banned book list works:

“The top ten list of books is a tally of challenges that have been reported over the concurrent year. In this case, what most likely happened is that there were ten books more in that specific year that were challenged. The Harry Potter books were still being challenged, but not as much as ten other books that year.”

While challenges to Harry Potter have not vanished, the ALA’s numbers do suggest that antagonism towards Mr. Potter have at least lessened.

Pope Benedict XVI, for instance, changed his opinion on the books’ worth. In 2005, the pope criticized the underlying theme of wizardry, but four years later, praised it in the Vatican’s official newsletter, L’Osservatore Romano.

“There is a clear line of demarcation between good and evil and [the film] makes clear that good is right. One understands as well that sometimes this requires hard work and sacrifice,” the pope wrote.

Compared to the lower 48, formal challenges toward books in Anchorage are rare.

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Jane Baird has been at Lousaac Public Library for 25 years. She remembers the initial complaints about Harry Potter, but there was never a formal request that the books be removed or relocated.

“We’ve never had formal complaints toward the Potter novels. More informal ‘gripey’ things like ‘oh I hate these; they’re so evil,’ but no formal complaints,” Baird said.

In her nine years as subject selector for the children’s section, Baird had only ten formal complaints that went to a committee. Most of them were granted, but only to relocate the book.

“I have never removed a book completely from our selves,” Baird said.

One successful request was that “The Diary of Anne Frank” be moved from the children section to the adult section.

“The library has always had books on the shelf that some people will object to, and we always will. The problem arises when well meaning parents, trying to protect their own kids, get carried away and try to take care of everyone’s kids,” Baird said.

As a public facility, Baird said that Lousaac strives for a balanced collection. Other pubic institutions like the Anchorage School District, do the same, and have all of the Potter books in their libraries.

Some schools do not have this obligation. Since the US publication of The Sorcerer’s Stone in 1998, Anchorage Christian Schools has not allowed the books in its library.

“Our stance is basically the same (as when the books were first published). We don’t support the books. I know it’s great to get kids reading, but as a Christian school, we don’t support it,” said Richard Hofacker, Secondary Principle of Anchorage Christian.

For some religious groups, Harry Potter is not even on their radar. David, a representative at the Islamic Community Center who would only give his first name, said that Harry Potter was irrelevant to his community.

He was not concerned that his children might read the Potter books at school or go and see the movie. David said he was more concerned about TV shows like Adult Swim than Harry Potter.

“What does this story have to do with Islam or Christianity? It’s just a story. What does it have to do with anyone?” he said.

Since its publication, Harry Potter has clashed most prominently with fundamentalist Christians. Cartoonist Jack Chick, most famous for his “This was your life” pamphlet, even dedicates some pages to discussing the pitfalls of reading Harry Potter in “The Nervous Witch.”

“Samantha, the Potter books open a doorway that will put untold millions of kids into hell,” one character says.

Some private Christian schools, like Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church, do have the Potter books. Debbie Reaume, a Parish staff member, said that her three children, now all young adults, each bought tickets two weeks before the “Deathly Hallows Part Two” premiere.

Saint Elizabeth Church has had the Potter books in their library since 1998, eleven years before the pope publicly endorsed the series.