HP is coming: Think about the children

T.A. Barnhart

My early morning radio for the past few months has been the Stephanie Miller Show, via streaming (sorry Thom & Heidi). If you've never listened, you really need to give the show a try, especially to appreciate the running gags (and btw, her "voice deity" Jim Ward does a Pat Robertson that is amazing and hilarious).

Harry Potter and the Deathly HollowsOne of the bits of "borrowed" sound they use is "Won't somebody please think about the children?" from the Simpsons. Usually played to emphasize when wingnuts are pretending to care about children and family but are simply playing politics, I bring up the phrase in light of an important cultural event that has been long anticipated, feared and marketed. I refer, of course, to the release of the final book in the Harry Potter series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows."

I had a pretty sucky adolescence. We moved a bit too much, I wasn't good at making friends (still don't do that well), my parents' marriage was going to hell, it turned out I was good material for bullying, and then there was all the usual crap all kids have to suffer through (minus, thankfully, abuse, starvation, and poverty; I do have a sense of perspective). The pains that kids go through, from the most insignificant (to an adult) to the most traumatic still resonates in me. My political judgments are based on what the net effect on kids will be; I think that's a pretty solid standard to set for a society and for individuals. Because basically I hate when kids get hurt or even disappointed.

Disappointment is a strange thing. It's entirely psychological. Being deprived of food is not disappointing; dropping your ice cream on the second lick is. And for a 4-year-old, as the scoop of yumminess plummets, splats and you are forced to leave it there by your mommy, it's the end of the world. Fifteen minutes later, of course, joy has returned (or you've cried yourself asleep). And as an adult, and especially as a parent, watching that drama, it breaks my heart for the little kid.

It just isn't fair.

It's not fair when you get a brand new toy and it busts almost immediately. It's not fair when you eat three boxes of cereal (and that takes nearly two weeks), spend your entire allowance and then have to wait 6-8 weeks to get that incredible flying helicopter on the back of the box — and the stupid thing turns out to fly as well as your shoe. There are so many things throughout childhool like this, disappointments and traumas that are so unfair, little things perhaps, but at the moment each occurs, just awful to experience and gut-wrenching to watch.

Which brings me back to the new Harry Potter book.

If you've read the previous six books, you know what's coming: answers. Why did the things that happened, happen? How will they resolve? Is he? Will he? And who will survive? Fans know what these questions mean, and they know the impending danger, not to Harry or Ron or Hermione, but themselves — or their kids. I refer, of course, to spoilers.

Spoilers are one of the great cultural evils of our times. Earlier this year, right before the Oscars, Willamette Week decided to publish a little side-by-side comparison of the best picture nominees. It was very cutesy-cool as is WW's wont, and each synopsis contained a big, fat spoiler. I hadn't seen "Little Miss Sunshine" yet but I got to know what happened to one of the characters. It didn't spoil the movie, but it sure took a big chunk out of the drama. Thanks, WW, I'm glad I didn't have to suffer undue pain and surprise.

HPa&tDH is nearly 800 pages long. To finish the book quickly will take probably two days of reading, mostly skimming, knowing you'll come back the second (and third and fourteenth) time to get the details. That is, if you can set aside the entire weekend to get the book done before Monday morning and school or work. If you don't, what then? How does a 5th grader who has just three more chapters avoid his friends who got to the end blabbing about that ending? How does a kid avoid walking into the room when the evening news, in their usual imbecilic way, reveals just enough so she gets dumped on her what she's still pages away from reading?

This book will consume much of the cultural universe in the coming weeks (and unlike Paris Hilton, with some good cause). By the middle of next week, people will be discussing the ending, debating if J.K. Rowling, the author, got it right (I think she got a lot wrong in book 5, "The Order of the Phoenix"), and what is going to happen in the books she's said she's not going to write. If you don't finish the book by Monday orTuesday, ferget it, skippy. You'll either have to become a hermit or resolve yourself to the inevitable spoiler bomb.

So think about the kids. If your kids are Harry Potter fans, go down to Powell's or Annie Blooms or even (god forbid) B.Dalton's and get the damn book at midnight. Pre-order today so they'll have it Saturday. Send them to their room, bring them meals, and let them read without ceasing. No bedtime, just reading. Let your kids blast their way all the way through so they can return to their normal lives on Monday free of the danger of spoilage.

And do the same for yourself. Make this a weekend for the Deathly Hollows. The lawn can wait, you'll stock the pantry on Friday, no computer, no tv, just lots of coffee, snacks and the book.

But most of all, once you've finished, shut the hell up. Give the rest of the world time to get there. If you're going to post anything, no hints. Nothing. If you want to discuss, keep it private; don't go to your favorite discussion list and start blabbing as if everyone has finished. Show a little respect; not everyone will be able to get the book Saturday; not everyone will have the time to blow through 800 pages by Monday, or even Tuesday, morning.

It's no just little kids who'll be hurt by spoilers. It's anyone who loves these books and has waited literally years for what's coming on Saturday. Maybe you don't get it; you tried to read them but just couldn't. That's irrelevant. Fans love these books. Saturday is a day that will come but once in our lives. There is no way to undo the damage done by spoilers about this book. Just think back to the anticipated toy that broke when you were five, or the friends who didn't invite you to the party when you were fifteen. Is this the same? Not exactly, but the thing about disappointments: If other people were a little more caring towards you, a little more respectful, a lot of them could be avoided. Not all, but some of the unnecessary ones. Some of the ones that have stuck with you the longest.

This could be a great event for millions of readers. It can also be a nasty, Snapish disappointment for others. Don't be the one who inflicts that on others. Don't be one of the jerks who doesn't care if others have finished the book and decides to shoot off their mouths.

Think about the kids. And me.

  • Bob R. (unverified)

    I think the "Won't somebody please think about the children?" is from the Simpsons. (Hardly relevant, I know, but it does give it more of an Oregon connection.)

    • Bob R.
  • I am so stupid (unverified)

    I a so stupid I reed this entire post thinking so many words had so say something more substantive than "don't spoil the ending."

    I wish you would have spoiled the ending of your incrediby self indulgent post so that it could have spared me the drudgery of reading the whole thing.

    Never again!

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    any day i can help a stupid person is a good day. glad to be of service.

    (but i am grateful to people who can help me get my pop cult references right. coulda sworn it was South Park....)

  • spicey (unverified)

    I just have to giggle. these books don't seem to be about endings at all. it's the journey, isn't it? I've read four of the books and what stays with me is moments within each. not the outcome. and, since I haven't read 5 yet, I'm no threat :)

    btw, how does the war in Iraq end? That's an ending I'd love to see soon. Perhaps if we were to spend time predicting, pontificating on how it will come to pass, then that will bring us to the conclusion quicker. thinking out loud.

  • East Bank Thom (unverified)

    Thanks t.a. for this post, specifically the personal aspect.

    I vowed to myself (and online i think?) when i started posting to BlueOregon that i would keep things civil (at least when dealing with fellow progressives. Righties and trolls, beware. My poison typepad still has your collective name on it!) Then cam that dust-up over your last editorial on impeachment. I felt you took the low road in some of your responses, and that pissed me off. I returned the favor. I'm sorry about that.

  • James X. (unverified)

    Just FYI, Stephanie Miller can be heard on AM 970 at 6am, in case the streaming isn't convenient for you.

  • randy2 (unverified)

    TA --I read all your posts. Sometimes I think you are seized by optimism that probably won't play out the way you (and 99% of the time I) would like.

    But I like your writing. Thanks.

    I stopped after HP2. I had no children close to me who were into it and while I admired the story, I chose not to invest my time in it.

    I grimace sometimes at the commercial tie-ins to what seems to be a great kids' adventure over the last 7+ years. But I think you nailed it. Let kids dream. Let them escape into the fantasy. Lord knows they will smack up against the current reality of the world soon enough.


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    gosh, Randys, thanks. you made my day.

    when i was in 5th grade, Mrs Voyta read us "The Hobbit." the next year, the summer following 6th grade, i was babysitting the kids across the street (my mother's unintentional feminism went all kinds of places), they had these other books by the same writer -- The Lord of the Rings. well, that began what's been about 30 reads of the books over the past 40 years.

    i read HP to see what the fuss was about. my younger son was a total HP fan, just the right age group. he's read each of them about a thousand times i think. they were cute, fun reads, not great. but with book 3, the writing began to improve. details filled in the story, and there was emotional depth. book 5 (Order of the Phoenix) was a bit much in the emotionality, but #6 was excellent. i really want to see how Rowling ends this one.

    but event better, by far, is the "Dark Materials" trilogy by Philip Pullman. oh.my.god. this has it all: fantasy, adventure, danger, an attack on western organized religion, pathos. and excellent writing. first-rate writing. the first book, The Golden Compass, is about to hit the big screen (with Nicole Kidman, a great casting). god i hope they do it justice. the movie should lead people to read the books, but they aren't the nice happy ending books most parents want. this is hard stuff, but wonderfully written. anyone over the age of 15 should read this trilogy. i've read it 3 times, and each time i feel the longing -- to be there. and that's what great fantasy is about.

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    I dread the release of The Golden Compass as a film, having sat through (on DVD) the truly horrific film of The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe. They're going to screw it up in awful ways, mark my words.

    Hollywood never gets fantasy right. Ever see the adaptation of Wizard of Earthsea? Le Guin must have put out her eyes after that was released.

    And, no, I don't consider Peter Jackson "hollywood".

  • Trollbot9000 (unverified)

    Two things:

    1) The media (and you apparently) like to point out those who object to the Harry Potter franchise on religious grounds (or "wingnuts"). Based on sales alone, I'd say that's pretty overblown. Based on personal experience, I know it it represents a very small segment of the population. I know more than a few devout, practicing evangelical Christian-types who's kids are totally into Harry Potter. Then there are those few crackpots who seem to abhor anything other than god-awful "Christian" films or the worst family fare the cinema has to offer.

    2) Harry Potter is for kids. Nothing wrong with it, but what's with all these grown dorks and assorted maladjusted misfits fawning over these children's books & films? Sure, I'd probably be all over it if I were 12, but so-called adults who follow this stuff strike me as some kind of new race of lower evolved Trekkie's. I mean, if you're standing in line to pick up the new Harry Potter book at midnight or seeing these movies without a child in tow, you got some issues.

    BTW Jeffrane, The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe movie exceeded my low expectations, but I know what you mean. I loved those books as a child, almost as much as The Hobbit & Lord of The Rings. That's the thing about books. No directors vision, no matter how well done can compare to the human imagination or the personal imprint the book marks on the brain.

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    I've enjoyed the Harry Potter franchise. There's absolutely nothing wrong with liking them if you're an adult. The writing in the most recent ones are pretty good. You find yourself involved with the characters, and you can't wait to see what happens.

    The movies are pretty good, too. I've seen every one (except the new one) multiple times. We own a few of the movies, and my sister has the rest.

    And no, I won't ruin the book for you, other than to say that what we've read thus far is good. I just hope that DeepDiscount doesn't get in so much trouble that it shuts down. I buy a lot of DVDs from them.

  • East Bank Thom (unverified)

    We got the first 4 DVD's from Holland with the HP movies dubbed in Dutch (one dubbed in Flemish too!) We watched them over and over to learn the language, and it actually worked. Though not all of it came in handy. "You're a wizard, Harry."

  • Courtney (unverified)
    <h2>Wow. I just finished the book. It was incredible. I won't spoil the ending. And you're right about the His Dark Materials trilogy. I love Panserbjorn. Enjoy Book 7!</h2>

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