William Brown

Harry Potter—reading question


In an article published on March 12, 2000, Charles Levendosky (of the Casper, Wyo., Star-Tribune) writes “In the United States, the [Harry Potter] books have been banned in at least 26 schools so far.”  Levendosky explains that the protests arise out of a dislike of “Potter using magic to solve his problems.”  Respond to these critics by exploring Potter’s use of magic to solve his problems and try to convince them that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone should be allowed in school libraries and on reading lists.

         Although J.K. Rowling’s book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, uses magic, sorcery and witchcraft to advance the plot and plight of Harry Potter, one must realize that magic is not the Harry’s primary means of solving problems.  The largest problem facing Harry in the story is how to find the Sorcerer’s Stone before Voldemort can use it to strengthen his dark powers.  Yet of the six obstacles or trial Harry must face, magic is the primary solution to only one obstacle.

            The first obstacle Harry, Ron, and Hermione face is Fluffy the three headed dog.  Harry plays a flute to put the animal to sleep (275).  No magic used to solve this problem.  Granted, this is not the case in the second obstacle.  Hermione does use magical fire to chase off the Devil’s Snare.  However, it was Harry’s calm in the face of danger that allowed the three children to get out of the deadly plant.  Hermione remembers that fire will save them from the Devil’s Snare but when Harry tells her to make one, she panics and can’t think how to make a fire.  Ron yells at her to use her magic.  Afterwards Ron says, “Lucky Harry doesn’t lose his head in a crisis” (278).  Hermione’s magic would have been useless had Ron and Harry not been able to analyze the situation.

            In solving the third obstacle (the room of keys) Harry does use a magic broom to chase after the winged keys.  However, it is analytical skills, good eyesight, and athletic ability, which truly catches the winged key.  Harry uses analytical problem solving skills to figure that the key they needed to open the door would be “a big, old-fashioned one—probably silver, like the handle” (280).  Harry then has to uses his eyesight and athletic skills to spot and capture the key.

            In the next chamber—fourth obstacle—Ron must use strategy and intelligence to solve the problem.  The three must win a game of chess in which they substitute themselves for three pieces on the board.  Ron uses his knowledge of chess to set up the winning move.  Ron then heroically sacrifices himself for the win.  “That’s chess,” snapped Ron.  “You’ve got to make some sacrifices!  I take one step forward and she’ll take me—that leaves you free to checkmate the king, Harry” (283).  Ron sacrifices himself, not just for his friends, but for the greater good. 

            To solve the fifth obstacle, Harry and Hermione are given a riddle.  They must deduce which bottles on the table will send one of them forward (to the next obstacle) and one of them back (to safety).  Brilliant,” said Hermione.  “This isn’t magic—it’s logic—a puzzle.  A lot of wizards haven’t got an ounce of logic, they’d be stuck in here forever” (285).  Hermione uses her analytical skills to solve the riddle and figure out which draft will do what.

            Once Hermione is safe, Harry finds himself in the last chamber (sixth obstacle) looking at the Mirror of Erised.  Harry knows that the mirror will show the viewer his fondest wish.  The mirror is used in this setting to demonstrate the power of a true heart, the importance of doing something because it is right.  Harry wants “more than anything else in the world at the moment is to find the Stone before Quirrell does” (291).  Harry does not want the Stone to use for his own purposes, he simple wants to find the Sorcerer’s Stone first so Quirrell will not be able to use it to strengthen the evil powers of Voldemort.  Harry’s non-selfish personality is the reason the Sorcerer’s Stone drops into his pocket rather than Quirrell’s.

            These examples clearly demonstrate that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone teaches strong, healthy values.  This book should not be kept off reading list and out of libraries.  It should be encouraged reading.  Besides, it’s fun.

Note on level of competence:

            This question is designed to demonstrate competence of evaluation in Blooms level of Taxonomy.  It requires one to compare and discriminate between ideas, to verify value of evidence, and to recognize subjectivity.