I’ve always had a good eye for the truth. Sometimes it was knowing that I was never gonna be any good at magic or origami, and sometimes it came in the form of knowing that my parents’ relationship wasn’t in as tip-top shape as they pretended. But the clearest lesson that I ever got in the difference between fact and fiction was Harry Potter.
I was obsessed with Harry Potter. I mean, an absolute, foaming-at-the-mouth raving lunatic for it. I had my own political misgivings about Rufus Scrimgeour, and I needed Harry to be smarter than he was sometimes. I knew what house I was, and I sure as hell could tell you what a bezoar was. Which dragon Harry faced in the Triwizard Tournament was at the tip of my tongue.
But I quickly learned that Harry Potter held more than fantasies inside of it. A pivotal moment in the first movie, for instance, is whatever tear-wringing instrument decides to play when Hermione says, “You’re a great wizard, Harry, you really are.” Moments like that taught me the lovely friendship that could be built in only a year. I also rather connected with Harry’s understanding of grief in the wake of Cedric Diggory’s death, because I understood what it was like to be opposite a Cho Chang who “just wants to talk about it.”
I mean, an absolute, foaming-at-the-mouth raving lunatic.
In my opinion, one of the best things that fiction teaches children from very early on is simply not to believe everything that they read. Stories are exaggerated statements of existence, drawn to extremes to help us feel the contours of a fragile and misunderstood life, but they can’t be understood to be perfectly literal. Even a strictly literal understanding of history will stunt a person’s growth in that field.
This was readily apparent to me, even when I was a child. This is coming from someone who, while their father was waiting in front of their mother’s work, would say they were going to Mommy’s office when they were really going to the bookstore to read Harry Potter for the 10 minutes they knew it would take Mommy to get downstairs. I used to take HP books with me on car trips and still read them at night, anxiously awaiting the light of a lamppost to read a couple of sentences by. In the words of J.D. from Scrubs, “You have a problem, sir! Seek help.”
Stories are exaggerated statements of existence, drawn to extremes to help us feel the contours of a fragile and misunderstood life.
And despite this feverish and unseemly behavior, I didn’t think dragons were real. I can’t remember trying to cast a Sectumsempra curse on those who annoyed me. I didn’t think that tucking a broom between my legs would protect me from a two-story fall, either. And even though it was set in England, a real place, I wasn’t convinced butterbeer was real. Who knows, maybe I just wasn’t a dumb child, but it seemed quite easy to separate the “true” from the “factual” when I was a child.
‘Dad, I can do this!’ – Ill-timed Finding Nemo quote. *falls from the roof with a broom*
This said, I think most children can do this, and that if you have a child that puts his brother’s head underwater because he’s just fed him “gillyweed”, you might just have dumb child, or at best a very credulous one. Unfortunately, though, in the Christian religion, children are taught that stories as fantastical as the ones found in the pages of an HP novel as fact, no matter what damage it might do to their critical thinking.
One of the most glaring examples is Noah’s Ark. I’m not going to waste time talking about why that story’s ridiculous, but you need to know that I know a significant amount of people who take it seriously. People like Ken Ham and many other Christians take umbrage with the Noah movie because, as we all know, the book was better. The ludicrous stories of giants and witches and God making bowels fall out of anuses (right hand on the Bible, that’s in there; 2 Chronicles 21) are taught as geological, scientific, and historical fact. And because of that, many people believe in so many elements of them, despite their best intuitions.
Sifting through truth is harder, sure, but it’s the only way to go. I can’t think of many things that should be believed wholesale with no reservations. Harry Potter’s full of things that are true and factual, unbelievable and believable, and so’s the Bible, or any other piece of fiction worth reading. Christians seem to fear this, but they should embrace it, because it’s what good stories are all about.
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