Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Lessons from Harry Potter

Posted by Jerry on October 21, 2007

Ari Armstrong writes a brief post on the success of Harry Potter books. He identifies the reason behind the book’s phenomenal success, and I agree.

The main reason that Rowling has had and will continue to have such profound cultural influence is that she is reaching millions of children when they are first exploring ideas and first thinking about moral choices. Harry and his best friends belong to the school house of Gryffindor, the house of the brave, and Rowling presents an inspiring image of moral courage.

But perhaps the best thing about Rowling’s books is that they have encouraged children to grapple with a complex story and difficult themes. The children who have graduated from those books will be prepared to read — and eager to find — other great and inspiring works of literature, such as Rand’s novels.

My own post on how ideas can be spread among little children offers the same suggestion: engage children at the sense-of-life level; offer them an emotional experience of the ideas you wish them to understand; present those ideas in the form of art–literary, dramatic, visual, and musical; over time, prod them to think critically, explore the reasons behind their emotional experiences, and encourage them to ask many “why” questions.

However, remember that all of these efforts require an adult mentor: therefore, the adult has to be convinced of these ideas–explicitly and in philosophical form–before they can choose to impart those ideas in emotional or dramatic form to the children in their care. Properly, children should never be converted to or cultivated into a philosophy; that works only with religion and doctrines. Children can be given an experience of possibilities, a moral lesson in dramatic form, a show of principle in practice, of how the world can be to a person who makes certain choices. Children can be taught how to think well and the consequences of thoughts, but should not be taught what to think. Only adults can be converted to a philosophy–insofar as the conversion is the result of intellectual persuasion and rational understanding.

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