August 20, 2014

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Is Merlin as "Bad" as Harry Potter?

Does entertainment with magical themes put us at risk?

It's been several weeks since NBC premiered a new family time viewing series called "Merlin".  This young wizard must hide his ability to perform magic to aid young Prince Arthur and aid the kingdom from various magical threats.

Take one part "Bewitched", one part Robin Hood, and one part Harry Potter and stir well.

It is no accident that this series has started just prior to the release of the sixth Harry Potter movie. (How many HP movies will there be, you ask? Latest rumor says the last book will be split into two movies, due to the complexity of the story.)

Some parents and churches have condemned Harry Potter over the last ten years for various reasons.  They think they are protecting their young charges by banning the topic from consideration. I think they are denying their children one of the great common events and themes of their generation.*  (They may be doing more harm by making Harry "forbidden", than watching together and sharing ideas.)

Some say we shouldn't focus on magic, witches or spells.  But if this is done, we have to throw out half of our literature, from Jason and the Argonauts to Shakespeare.  Mankind has ALWAYS been fascinated with the fantasy of magic.  This is no different.

Some say Harry, Ron and Hermione break the rules all the time.  But didn't Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn do the same thing and get away with it sometimes?  There is a price to be paid if you break the rules. Is the risk or the reward worth it? Perhaps sometimes...

Some say the Harry Potter books and movies have taken a darker turn.  Yes, they have, and in most sweeping stories of Good vs. Evil, it is always darkest just before the dawn.  The bad guys appear to be winning before the cavalry charges in to save the day.

This is called basic dramatic construction, where the characters are introduced, they are posed with a problem, the problem gets worse, the dramatic tension comes to a climax, and then the story is resolved.

It IS true that the Harry Potter books got thicker, more complex and darker, especially in the final four books.  But there is a reason.

Remember that the books were published by Scholastic Books, and were intended to encourage young readers to expand their vocabulary and develop a love of reading... not necessarily magic.  Everyone knows there is no magic!

When it became apparent that they had a major hit on their hands, and that parents were reading, enjoying and approving of the books,  author J.K. Rowling expanded the story, covering more than just the school year at Hogwarts.

But just as Harry is getting older and maturing, so is his world view.  The world is not black and white, good and evil, and easily resolved in just 200 pages.

As Harry becomes a young adult, so does the complexity of his problems and the relationships around him. It's not about being right or wrong, good or bad. It's about the choices that you make along the way and the prices that you pay for making them.

As the sixth movie is about to be released, I am bracing for a round of criticism that the story has gone "too far". A MAJOR character is going to die, as one has died in each of the last two books and movies.  Each time, death strikes closer and closer to Harry and hurts him more and more deeply.

Part of the story is how Harry comes to cope (or not!) with each loss.  Will he go over to "the dark side"?, (to borrow from another popular movie series of the last generation. You know what I mean precisely because of a "shared cultural event"* called "Star Wars".)  How firmly rooted is Harry in family, love and loyalty?  Can he remain loyal, even after death removes his supporting "family"?  Remember, one of the great themes of the books is that the love of a mother for her child is the most powerful magic of all... that love of family is most important... and is at the core of the story.  How can you go wrong with a core value like that?

I won't give away the shocks and cliffhangers that will be revealed in the sixth movie... except to remind you that  the story is not over. Not everything is as it seems.... especially in Harry Potter, as we have seen.

The dramatic tension is reaching a climax.   And just as the Allies had to get organized to resist and then destroy the Nazis in World War II, the redressing of evil is not without a terrible cost.  That also is part of the lesson.

Be prepared to pay the cost, cause the story is reaching it's dark climax.  Lots of young fans are going to be shocked.  But...

If you want a watered down version of "Harry Potter"  that the whole family can watch together, enjoy and discuss and finish in one setting, try "Merlin" on Sunday nights.  It really is the popular version of Juvenile magic and family drama that has caught on.

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