Harry Potter and the War On Terror
Not too long ago, there was a lot of giggling on the right side of the blogosphere when it learned about a book called Why Mommy is a Democrat, which its publisher proudly boasts is "A Different Kind of Children's Book." The book's point is that, just as a child views Mommy in a saintly light, he should project that view onto Democrats because they share Mommy's values. For example, just as Mommies do, Democrats make sure people share. And so that no one misses this message, the well—dressed, silver—haired, obviously Republican white folk in the background walk by a homeless man with noses upturned. Likewise, just as Mommy does, Democrats make sure everyone can go to school, while those same pompous white Republicans allow in only the rich.
Probably because it is so rich in venom and stereotyping, Why Mommy is a Democrat has not made much of an impact the publishing world. It's self—published, and I wasn't even able to find it on Amazon.com. Conservatives are actually doing better in this area. Help! Mom! There are Liberals Under My Bed is actually sold through Amazon, although it places at a wan 5,700 in the Amazon rankings.
The push to get children to think in politically correct ways doesn't stop with books. Just recently, Hollywood released Hoot, a somewhat turgid movie about children learning lessons in eco—terrorism. (Even the New York Times, while it liked the message, admitted the movie had little to offer in the way of enjoyment.)
These books and movies remind us how boring polemics are. You have to appreciate these heavy—handed attempts at pop culture indoctrination, however, because those on the Left are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to our kids.
You think I'm kidding? I'm not. In the last five years, through a series of rousing movies and books, our children have been introduced to some of the best conservative thinking ever put to paper or put on film.
In 2001, Hollywood released The Lord of the Rings : The Fellowship of the Ring, based on the first part J.R.R. Tolkien's Ring trilogy. The movie was a blockbuster hit, and is currently the thirteenth most profitable movie ever made. It also wholeheartedly affirms traditional Victorian values: honor, loyalty, bravery and steadfastness. More than that, the movie's story acknowledges that evil exists and recognizes that the only thing to be done against evil is to attack it, root and branch. A war against evil is a total war, from which one cannot walk away.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, The Fellowship of the Ring has no talk about trying to understand Saruman's unhappy childhood as a way of exonerating his evil acts. Even Boromir's manifest unhappiness is not an excuse for the envy in his heart — something he himself recognizes at the end, when he sacrifices himself to save the Fellowship. The two subsequent movies in the Ring Trilogy ( The Two Towers and The Return of the King) keep up the same steady drumbeat: honor, loyalty, steadfastness, and the recognition that evil cannot be destroyed with half measures.
In 2003, the same year Hollywood released Return of the King (which is the second highest grossing movie ever made), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out. To date, this book has sold 13.7 million copies in the United States alone (including a one day sales record of 5 million books in 24 hours). This popularity, obviously, didn't arise in isolation. It was a logical result of the Harry Potter juggernaut that began in 1989, and that has been increasing ever since (helped by some very popular movies). I'm focusing in this article on the Order of the Phoenix, though, because it's very different from the Harry Potter books that preceded it.
As the reviewers noted when Order of the Phoenix first came out, this book is much darker than its predecessors . In the earlier Harry Potter books, there was always a rather giddy, "Boy's Life" adventure quality to the books. Voldemort was out there, but merely as "You Know Who." We got a glimpse of him in each book, but nothing really serious — that is, until the very end of the book immediately preceding the Order of the Phoenix. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Voldemort emerged, fully formed. The problem was that only Harry lived to see Voldemort and his Death Eaters resurgent.
In the wake of Voldemort's perverted resurrection, The Order of the Phoenix centers on Harry's desperate efforts to convince the Powers That Be that evil once again walks among them. What Harry discovers is that nobody wants to hear him. He is reviled as a liar, attention seeker, and trouble—maker. Dolores Umbridge, who is the ultimate smug bureaucrat, with grim smiles mires Harry in endless, aimless tasks, all intended to reduce his ability to focus on Voldemort's existence. Only with tremendous effort is he able to rally some believers to his side and prepare them for war.
I don't pretend to know what J.K. Rowling was thinking when she wrote Order of the Phoenix, but I can't help but see in this post—9/11 book a perfect analogy to the situation the West faces today, in the real world, in its War against Islamofascism. Some of us, like Harry, know that we have seen evil, acknowledge its existence, and are prepared to fight it. But just as Harry must deal with a government Ministry bound and determined to explain away or ignore the evil in its midst, we too face an anti—War movement that endlessly ignores, explains away, and excuses the most vile acts of terror and human degradation. I have to believe, however, that there are at least some young people who experienced the Twin Towers falling as the formative event of their youth, and who will find guidance and inspiration in Harry's struggle to wage overcome both evil itself and a cultural indifference to that same evil.
Rowling's dark tone continues unabated — indeed, it deepens — in Harry Potter and the Half—Blood Prince (which has sold a breathtaking 20 million copies just in the United States). As Half—Blood Prince begins, the denouement in Order of the Phoenix, which saw Harry and his allies at the Ministry of Magic engaged in a pitched battle against Voldemort and his Death Eaters, has finally convinced the governing forces in the Wizard world that there is a real problem.
There's an awful lot of plot in Half—Blood Prince that simply moves the characters forward, but the book also contains a powerful defense of a just war. Near the book's end, Harry questions whether it's worthwhile engaging in a fight so destructive to the Wizarding community. Dumbledore will have none of this. Essentially, he tells Harry that, in the battle between Good and Evil, those on the side of Good cannot give up, but must press ahead, knowing that they are doing the right thing. Again, I can't think of any better message for countless young people throughout the Western world to read. Some, at least, will figure out that, despite the worldwide media's negative drumbeat regarding America and her military, true evil resides in those who gleefully torture and murder in the name of their God.
The last of the big pop culture hits that I hope will infuse our children with conservative values is, of course, The Chronicles of Narnia : The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Although this movie doesn't quite rank with the revenue numbers for the Ring trilogy or the Harry Potter movies, it has already earned a respectable $291,706,092 in the United States. Indeed, for 2005 releases, it placed second only to the most recent Star Wars movie.
When it came out, the Narnia movie was much praised for its allegorical retelling of Christ's death and resurrection. I have also noted its reaffirmation of traditional masculine values. What no one has yet addressed is that, as with the Ring movies and the Harry Potter series, this movie not only emphasizes those old—fashioned virtues of loyalty, bravery, steadfastness, it also does away with moral relativism, recognizes evil, and honors the fight against it.
The Narnia movie has one other virtue: its has spurred a new generation to read the entire series of C.S. Lewis' Narnia books. The books are wonderful adventure stories, but they also have one peculiar twist. The last book — The Last Battle — imagines the end of the world, complete with an Armageddon type battle; a Judgment Day; the destruction of the world as we (or, rather, the Narnians) know it; and a glorious eternal Paradise. I've always found it a very satisfying book.
In recent years, though, I've also found The Last Battle rather surprisingly relevant to modern times. This is because the adversaries whose invasion of Narnia triggers the Apocalypse are essentially Muslims. Lewis calls them Calormen, but it is clear that he's pulled their manners and values right out of A Thousand and One Nights. This means that, back in 1956 when Lewis wrote this book, his imagination carried him to a place in which Muslim—like people attack the West and usher in the end of the world. This is an especially eerie premise given President Ahmadinejad's outspoken Messianic delusions and apocaplyptic visions, most of which center on immolating Israel, but many of which include America in the flames.
As both a parent and a former child, I've discovered that you can feed children a tremendous amount of pap, in the form of silly rock songs, vapid movies, and endless American Idol contests without affecting their core inner values. That is, while these products won't enrich our children, they won't harm them either. Some things, though, do matter. It is therefore a great comfort to me that the most popular and compelling products our children devour affirm values that will aid America in the fight against the Islamist forces arrayed against us.