By Ella Peterson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, December 6, 2005
Go ahead, you can admit it. You're a Harry Potter fan. And if not you personally, there's certainly someone near and dear to you who knows the books by heart and has already seen the newest movie twice.
Beginning in 1998, Harry Potter led waves of children, teens and adults alike into a widespread literary delight that hadn't been seen in decades. The series, with its penultimate volume recently completed, has reached astronomical levels of popularity around the world.
But the debate over what children should be reading is a constant one, and Harry Potter can't magic his way out of the line of fire. What about the classics, some say, what about history and poetry and philosophy? It comes down to an old argument based on an old academic assumption: The wildly popular can hold little quality.
Popular fiction does not equate to "junk" fiction. Likewise, classic literature should not be assumed to be boring or irrelevant. Rather, both sides of the dividing line contain elements of the other; both possess vital parts of the experience of literature.
A second grader who would rather eat than read a book couldn't start at the top of the ladder. You would not attempt to shove him headfirst into the thick language of "The Odyssey," or plop him down in a corner with some Shakespeare.
The gateway literature for our generation was the "Goosebumps" books, Judy Blume and "The Baby-Sitter's Club." Today, it's Harry Potter and his posse of Hogwarts wizards.
Reading is reading, and within reasonable boundaries, the literary content of a book should not matter as much as the excitement it engenders, the imaginations it stirs. Reading promotes inspiration and creativity, nurturing and extending mental agility. It is a way to ingrain an initial awareness of the pursuit of knowledge, and encourages curiosity while simultaneously providing the intellectual tools to satiate it.
This whole 'literature' thing is supposed to be educational, right?
A problem arises when popular novels begin to be viewed as just another form of entertainment. This whole "literature" thing is supposed to be educational, right? Assuming that the two cannot coexist and support one another is an unfortunate and destructive falsehood. Entertainment value and educational merit are not mutually exclusive.
Glitzy advertising, fast-paced 3-D graphics, and that repeated jabbing of buttons have removed the connotation of education from the notion of entertainment. This creates at atmosphere for children in which learning and education are boring, and anything fun doesn't contain any worthy information or promote intellectual growth.
When it comes to reading, its enjoyment is not only possible but extremely beneficial and to be promoted. Cultivating a genuine appreciation for the activity early results in the reader retaining more, perhaps increasing interest and learning more in the process.
The objective should be to teach children to take pleasure in worthwhile activities, not simply to keep them occupied and quiet. Education without pleasure is a bane that will come later, but let children read for fun. It's a skill, it's a start and it's a lifelong habit of inquiry and imagination that serves children exceedingly well in their future endeavors.
Some may find it morally repugnant to "repackage the product" in such a way that allows literature to compete with such quick-satisfaction products as video games. But perhaps it is really just making a quality hobby accessible to a young generation of both continuing and recovering electronicaholics.
The first book a kid reads and loves provides a spark. From then on, it is the responsibility of the parents, teachers and librarians to guide the literary progression of a child once that interest is lit.
Ultimately, if even a few children are diverted from previously media-driven sensibilities to a genuine appreciation for reading books, a novel has served the art well, regardless of collective opinion.
And if a few (million) more have a sudden burning wish to be a wizard, a little imagination never hurt anyone.
Ella Peterson is a creative writing junior. She can be reached at email@example.com.