Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Like millions of others, I just finished J.K. Rowling's The Tales of Beedle the Bard. The book contains five fairy tales Harry Potter would have read. Even for a slow reader like me, the book took less than an hour to read. But still, it has a lot to recommend it.
First, of course, all the proceeds go to an excellent charity to help struggling children. And second, it reminds me of two strong themes in Rowling's writing.
The first theme is tolerance, acceptance of people who are different than we are. She drafts that theme in terms of the relationship between wizards and Muggles (folks like us). Some elitist wizards discriminate against Muggles, but the Harry Potters of the wizarding community work with, accept, and empower Muggles. And the Muggles do the same for them.
Beedle has a tale about the relationship between wizards and Muggles.
And Rowling's second theme is a theme I find especially compelling. It has to do with censorship. Each of Beedle's tales has a comment from Albus Dumbledore. In one of his comments, he discusses Brutus Malfoy's attempt to have one of Beedle's tales banned. Malfoy wants the tale banned because, in the tale, a human knight marries a witch. Such "intermingling" is an anathema to Brutus Malfoy. Thus, ban the book! The book is unfit for young people's eyes.
At the risk of revealing something about my age, I'm reminded of how I reacted to J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. I read that book in high school. My parents never tried to supervise my reading. My father was a psychiatrist. As a junior high and high school student, I was reading Kinsey's sex surveys from my father's bookshelf. So I don't believe in book banning.
Besides, I don't think it works. If you want a teenager to read a book, just tell him or her she can't do it. That will make any self-respecting teenage rebel look up the book every time.
Youth do need protection from all kinds of things, especially from abusive enticement and exploitation over the Internet, but truthfully, the best way to do that is for parents to have an open and caring relationship with their children. Open, loving communication works much better than book banning.
So, I admire J.K. Rowling. I was grateful for her Harry Potter series and for the tolerance it embodied. I also thought most of the books were rip-roaring good stories.
The short book The Tales of Beedle the Bard carries on that tradition, maybe without the "rip-roaring" part.
If you haven't read Beedle's fairy tales, I recommend them.
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