This post first appeared in the Somerset County Gazette on October 30th 2014.
My kids love Harry Potter.
Perhaps I should be a little clearer: my kids love Harry Potter with a passion and commitment that would shame the most devoted ascetic, the most pious monk and the most die hard West Ham fan. They adore, revere, obsess about and utterly devote themselves to the strange boy with the pudding bowl haircut and glasses that are just a little bit too big.
My 12 year old has devoured the books so comprehensively and repeatedly over the last few years that she no longer reads but recites them. And her 9 year old sister is working her way through the series with the appetite and ambition of a wannabe X Factor finalist, impressively never confusing her Sirius from her Snape, her Bartemius Crouch with her Bathilda Bagshot. Any car journey is now full of the mellifluous tones of Stephen Fry, coaxing us through the complex narrative with an assurance that is strangely bewildering, and certainly absent from the shrill voice of my sat nav.
This has never bothered me. I am not concerned that they will start putting spells on their friends, or concocting potions to ward off, or attract I suppose, potential suitors. I have never been worried that they will run head long into the wall at Kings Cross station, or want to own an owl.
But I was hugely encouraged recently to see a report showing that readers of Harry Potter were more likely to be political active and liberally minded. The Professor of Political Science at the University of Vermont, Anthony Gierzynski, researched almost 1200 graduate students. He found that across the board and regardless of other influences, Potter fans were more tolerant of diversity, less supportive of tactics such as torture, more sceptical about ruling powers and more eager to participate in the political process.
It is not a new idea that literature influences our thinking, but this is surely a step forward. With Halloween this week there is a danger that we can adopt the dark arts as an excuse for tricking, scaring, hiding away and even despairing of our world. In fact, as the great Dumbledore himself says: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light!”
Happy All Saints Eve!