Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Educator, Author

Harry Potter Proves It: Kids Want Quality Entertainment

Harry Potter (character)

Image via Wikipedia

Along with just about everyone else, my older daughters and I recently saw the last Harry Potter film. We’ve enjoyed reading these books and seeing the films over the past several years. Besides the magical, wondrous world that J.K. Rowling created, one of the things that has made it special to us is the complex characters that people the series. As a mother of daughters, it’s sometimes difficult to find books and films that have strong, multifaceted female characters. Even though the main character is a boy, the series is populated with a range of older and younger females that we fell in love with. A lot has been written about the female characters in this series, and I agree that Rowling, more than just about any other author, has developed powerful female characters that are not just about being the mother or the friend. Instead, her female characters, both good and evil, resonate with us because they are interesting people that we would love to get to know. My oldest daughter loves Hermione’s bravery, intelligence, and loyalty while also being fascinated with Bellatrix and her power hungry devotion. My middle daughter finds Luna Lovegood appealing because of her commitment to being herself. She loves that Luna doesn’t let other people tell her who to be, but embraces her own unique way of looking at the world. And me, well, Molly Weasley is one of my favorite characters. She’s devoted to her family and stands up for what she believes in, even to the point of risking her own life.

Rowling’s male characters aren’t any less developed than the females. None of them are painted with a broad brush as good or evil. Harry, Dumbledore, Ron, they are all major characters that are brave and good, but flawed. All have points when they wonder which path they should take, the one of good and right or the one of power. Draco Malfoy is a beautifully intricate character who in the first books and films seems purely arrogant and blindly accepting of evil. By the last book, the reader sees that Draco is struggling with which path he should take, and hopes that he’ll choose the path of right and good. And who doesn’t love Severus Snape by the end of the series? The man we loved to hate becomes something else entirely. He becomes someone who loved so fiercely and purely, that he lived a double life and sacrificed himself and his reputation in order to do what he thought was right. Even Voldemort is given the chance at the end to make a choice of good over evil in the final book of the series. The theme of redemption that runs through this series is powerful, with each character facing challenges and having opportunities to choose might and power or love.

What I love about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books and the films is that they are quality, powerful literature and media that offer important and challenging messages to children and adolescents. Too many people creating products for children and adolescents today seem to think that they want mindless, sexy action over substance. The runaway success of the Harry Potter series proves them wrong. The same could be said of the Hunger Games, another book series with a thought-provoking and powerful message about right and wrong, love and power. Kids do respond to high quality, authentic messages when they’re given the opportunity to do so. They want to dream, they want to be challenged. It’s just plain lazy marketing and lack of creativity that has companies continuing to put gender stereotyped, sexist nonsense in front of them. I issue a challenge to the large companies such as Disney and Mattel who are producing products and media for children: Make it count! Provide kids with authentic, quality products and programming, and they will buy it. If Harry Potter has done nothing else, it’s proven that.

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