Steve Bogart,

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Harry Did WHAT?

July 4, 2000

I read Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age recently (as with Snow Crash, it has an exciting plot with enough fascinating concepts to keep your head spinning for days, but then you hit the abrupt, unsatisfying, incomplete ending). It tells of a special, high-tech book for young girls that's meant not only to educate but to instill a sense of possibility, a hunger to change things -- a subversive streak. The goal was to systematically combat the stagnation, the complacency, the inertia and lack of serious ambition that can typify people of privilege who didn't have to actually do anything to achieve the comfort they've had all their lives.

The (interactive, child-specific) book would encourage independent thought and accomplishment when everything else around them encourages or enforces the wasting of lives on trivia. Get 'em while they're young, and all that.

Reading about the secrecy surrounding the already-best-selling new Harry Potter book (due out Saturday) got me to thinking: what if there's something in this new book that's... subversive? Something parents won't want their children to read? Something that opens kids' minds in some way that their parents would rather it didn't?

I'm assuming all the secrecy and hype is just to increase anticipation (and pump up opening-day sales), but what if it's also so the book is already in millions of homes (first printing: 3.8 million!) before it's possible to warn parents that it's ... I don't know, it could be anything, good or bad: anti-capitalism, propaganda for a religious cult, encouraging kids to start multi-level marketing schemes, whatever.

I'm sure there are some parents who wouldn't want it in their house if suddenly (and I have yet to read any of the books, so I'm stabbing in the dark) Harry tries marijuana, or Harry announces that he's gay, or Harry advocates choosing music over sports, or Harry converts to Islam, or Harry buys a gun, or Harry spends half the book playing violent video games, or... who knows. With the plot secret until it's delivered to millions of homes, it could be a vehicle for anything.

J. K. Rowling is being given a lot of power by the parents who are ordering the book with no previews. It's likely well-placed trust, and the secrecy is likely just manipulative marketing instead of the concealment of something controversial from the purchasers, but still, if she wanted to be subversive, she certainly could. There aren't many folks who have that much power.

I wonder what subversive ideas I would try to expose children to if I had such a chance.

And I'll be curious to hear if there is anything surprising about the contents of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

-- Steve Bogart,

Last modified on 7/4/2000; 8:41:09 PM Eastern 
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