Books, to many, are a wonderful escape from the reality of the moment. They can take you to new worlds, whether in the past or the future—or even those places that have not been explored yet. You can experience a whirlwind of emotion, and go through happiness to sadness to confusion within just a few pages. Thus, if books have so much power and offer an experience like no other, then is it right to mark certain books as inappropriate, and slam a red tag on them?
A well known series that deals with the tag is the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Essentially, it’s the story of a boy who lives with his uncaring relatives, and at the age of 11, finds out the truth about himself; he’s a wizard. When he was a baby his parents were murdered in order to protect him from Voldemort—a Dark Lord trying to rule over the magic and Muggle [non-magic people] world. Within seven books, the story talks about Harry’s trials and tortures as he tries to protect everybody, as well as deal with normal issues—wizards have homework too!
Although the books develop a darker tone as Harry grows up, the backstory shows the essence of friendship, loyalty, kindness, sacrifice, and primarily love. He suffers through struggles such as losing family, friends, and trust. So despite this story taking place in a wizardly setting, it still has morals and issues people can relate with. Thus, what puts people off the series? Is it the fact that it is associated with magic? That it mentions witches and wizards? The wands, the spells, and the potions?
In the following interview with Mrs. Kranik, the middle school and high school librarian here at Rosslyn Academy, questions concerning Harry Potter and the red tag were asked:
Eagle Watch: What do the books that you red tag normally consist of?
Kranik: A few things–sex, too much blood, being overly grotesque. This is a middle school library, so we have kids as young as 6th graders coming in. Also books that are controversial, like that Harry Potter series. It’s very controversial, especially with parents. Some parents are okay with it, some aren’t.
EW: Who is in charge of red tagging the books?
K: Ultimately, it’s me. I know people will read every book… All of our fiction gets read by somebody to make sure the book is appropriate. If there are concerns, whoever is reading it will tell me. The reason Harry Potter was red labeled was that when I came to Rosslyn, they were put in the back room and people didn’t have any access to them whatsoever. So I decided that at least if they were red labeled, people could read them.
EW: What do you personally think about the books?
K: I think I’m more comfortable with high schoolers reading them. As they go on, they get more darkly spiritual. That’s just me–I know parents that are comfortable with their upper elementary kids reading them but because they were so controversial… Red label means the parents ultimately decides; because unless you’re a junior or a senior, you have to have a written permission.
EW: Do you think it has anything against Christianity?
K: I think once you start getting darkly spiritual, by definition, yes. When it starts bordering on so much magic, it’s dark magic, then by definition it’s anti Christian.
EW: Would you consider ever banning the red tags off the books?
K: I have, but because of the younger people who do come to the library, it’s not something they should be able to check out without the approval of their parents.
As an avid reader, and a huge Harry Potter fan, the red tag rule still comes across as somewhat ridiculous. Although Mrs. Kranik did explain her case, it’s still a strange phenomenon–to block people out of a world that can take them on adventures with Harry. The story only needs magic to enhance it, if this was an ordinary boy with no powers, surely the series wouldn’t be too interesting. If kids are allowed to read Lord of the Rings, and the Chronicles of Narnia, why are they restricted from this?
What do you think? Should the red tag exist at all? Should it remain on the spine of the Harry Potter books?
– Silmi Jariwalla