At a book discussion for Banned Books Week, a woman mentions Harry Potter was censored as “anti-family.” What does that mean? MacBeth offers no honeyed view of family. Should we not read Shakespeare? I walk home in the dark, the air balmy and the crickets singing, a crescent moon shining like yellow gold over our house’s metal roof, then listen to my daughters’ laughter floating on that oddly warm September air through the open screens in the living room.

I slip off my sandals and stand on grass, still wet from where I watered the cotoneaster bush I planted a few weeks ago. Every evening in this dry weather, I water this bush. I planted it because the house I grew up in had a cotoneaster outside my father’s study window. My brother, when he learned to ride a bike, plowed through that bush, numerous times. I picked the berries and strung them on thread for necklaces. My sister and I fed them to our dolls. My mother admired the sprawling bush’s resilience.

I think of Harry Potter, the boy who longed for his dead parents. Anti-family? As if family has ever been simple.

We raise children and tell them other things about who they can be and what they are worth: to us, everything. We love each other fiercely, while we live and after we die. We survive; we are savages.

– Jessmyn Ward, Men We Reaped




3 thoughts on “Anti-Complexity

  1. I think the argument for Harry Potter is that the nuclear family (the Dursleys) instead of being the hero is instead the sinking ship Harry Potter must escape from. I can see that argument because family should be any child’s ultimate source of protection and nourishment. The reality is that too often it is not, and people don’t like that reminder in their literature. I remember hating the play Buried Child when I read it only to years later realize it was a metaphor of my own family and what I hated was my own image reflected in the story. My assumption is that the Harry Potter books evoke something similar in their critics; who believe that by hiding the uncomfortable truth it will simply disappear which is kind of what Sam Shepard was getting at back in 1978. I may still dislike the play, but I have come to see it as a road map to a dark part of the soul and a warning against dismissing (or banning) art which makes us uncomfortable.

    My own memory of Harry Potter is quite the opposite. My oldest, now 22 was an indifferent reader and student. The year the first book came out he also had a pair of great teachers and between both of these serendipitous events turned my son around and now he is in college and a constant reader. So for me Harry Potter is that book, the one where your kid first loves to read, can’t put down, hides under the covers with a flashlight, magical in an entirely different way than described within the the pages. When a light comes on within your child the entire world seems brighter, and to me Harry Potter turned that light on for my son.

  2. All right, well said, Duncan. My quarrel with that designation – in part – is that one power of literature is its capability to take us precisely to that place we fear. Much as we might desire otherwise, our world is not a simplistic place. Yes, family is a place of refuge – yes, family can be a prison – but family can also be both those things at the same time.

    • Which is exactly why banning books is such a bad idea; it is a complex story. It could be argued it is the first story we keep retelling- remember the lists of names and families in The Iliad which is itself a story of the rise and fall of many families? It is too complex for one book or author or generation, so we keep telling it. Rather than quashing the facets we dislike isn’t it better to add to the whole?

      F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Despite my best efforts to improve on my family, and the work to make a perfect home my house is currently: The perfect country Idyll to the five year old, Home base to the 13 year old and the bucolic backwater she cannot wait to escape from to the 16 year old. It is all those things and more at once. It is the culmination of my life’s longings and the never ending list of broken items in need of repair. Family is both a prison and the diffinition of our humanity.

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