I agree with those who say the Harry Potter books are dangerous. Not because I believe they promote the occult and will lead children into the wiles of witchcraft, as many claim. Not because if one of the larger ones ever fell off a shelf and struck you at the wrong angle, permanent neurological damage could result. And certainly not because I place much credence in reports of people storing their stash in a hollowed out Harry, putting the "hairy pot" in the Harry Potter, as it were. My serious concern is for those whose trip on Harry Potter sends them in a much more dangerous direction. I am, of course, referring to the sinister seduction of young minds into what can only be called "habitual reading." If you balk at this analogy between books and drugs, consider J. K. Rowling's modus operandi. She hasn't just seduced children into reading one book, or even a series of books; she's seduced them into reading a series in which the books get longer and longer, with no end in sight! It's like a textual version of those ever-smaller Russian dolls inside Russian dolls - only in reverse. Inside the small book there's an even larger book, and inside that is... the endless hell of addiction!
Children who might have had joyful childhoods playing computer games or watching television are now compulsive marathon readers lost to the world. They've no sooner finished consuming one text than they're jonesing for the next and the next. And all the while it takes larger and larger books to do the trick. And don't think it will end with Harry Potter. These are proven "gateway' books that lead to harder and harder texts.
Before we know it, little Potter heads will be transferring their insatiable craving for sorcery onto other like genres: magic realism, for instance, with its dry combination of the mundane and the supernatural, its nightmarish enchantments, telepathy and disobedient physics.
I know because it happened to me. In 1950s Scarborough, Mom got me started on the E. Nesbit classic Five Children. And I became a pasty creature from the underground, unseen by others except for quick jaunts to the pushers at the local bookmobile. I inhaled all of Nesbit and Edward Eager, graduated to C. S. Lewis's Narnia series and gobbled up J. R. R. Tolkien and George MacDonald's At The Back Of The North Wind. I combed the library shelves, obsessively sure that some further secret volume must have been hidden or misplaced.
Then that luscious streak of surrealism in 60s rock came along just in time, and magic was alive and magic was afoot. I Am The Walrus and Steppenwolf slid me through to the arid 70s, and from there the French surrealist poets transported my craving far enough for me to get hooked on Grass. Günter Grass, via his classic novel The Tin Drum, is, of course, the gateway to Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Márquez and Salman Rushdie and a whole wildfire of new young and dangerous shamans.
But there can never be enough of them. The text addict often winds up as I have - so in need of a fix that he must write his own. Can we afford to lose an entire generation to disturbing and subversive philosophies? Do we really want a compulsively literate populace in this country, sprawled on park benches reading Isabel Allende and Yann Martel? The next time your child gets all jumpy and glassy-eyed outside a bookstore, perhaps it will be time to give a new answer to the request "Can I buy a book?" Just say "Yes."
Robert Priest's latest book for children,The Secret Invasion Of Bananas, is not part of a series and is only 159 pages long.