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Customer Review

on June 14, 2001
In my judgment, this book is poorly organized in that the author gets confusingly sidetracked into tangents that have no bearing on the discussion at hand. The narrative includes repetitive phrasing, making the same basic points in numerous places. Most all of the favorable reviews of this book cite its extensive documentation, even to the point of emphasizing that the book includes hundreds of footnotes. Perhaps these reviewers are more impressed by quantity than quality as even cursory examination of the author's sources should raise some reasonable doubts about the nature of the underlying research. Abanes relies heavily on sources of questionable authority for the propositions he sets forth. A 6th grader doing his/her first research report uses encyclopedias and dictionaries as sources; a scholarly "expert" in a field should be using more credible sources. He quotes the Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology over and over. He also relies heavily on websites as sources. He doesn't cite sources for some of his less credible claims (such as his assertion that numerous Christian experts on occultism object to the HP books - if this is true, why no source?).
Abanes has asserted (and at least one review notes) that Rowling said that one-third of the material in the HP books is based on "actual occultism." Perhaps I don't understand Mr. Abanes' definition of "occultism," but Rowling's actual words in the interview he cites were that approximately one-third of the material in the books is based on British folklore and legends. Myths, legends and folk tales hardly constitute "occultism," in the mind of the average person; they are rather part of our rich cultural and literary heritage. He also stretches logic beyond credulity with his statement that Rowling has failed to disavow all forms of magick in her interviews. Abanes chooses to put a very strained interpretation on her exact wording to sow seeds of doubt among less-informed readers. Reading the actual interviews that Abanes cites is advisable before jumping to conclusions. He also states that Rowling has refused to divulge her religious beliefs (although he acknowledges several chapters later that she has said she believes in God). Abanes is misstaken in this research however, as she has stated clearly in one interview that she attends the Church of Scotland.
The summaries of each book are hardly objective. Abanes omits or glosses over scenes and dialogue that detract from his basic points about the moral relativism and questionable ethics the books promote. While he should be commended for reading the books since so many of the books' critics have never read them, it appears to me that he read them with an eye to finding critical points that could in turn be worked into this book. In each of the chapter summaries, Abanes includes a Heading that reads: "Age 6 and Up?" I was baffled by this heading, since he doesn't elaborate as to who promotes the books for 6 year olds. The publishers market them to 9-12 year olds, and Rowling herself has said she wrote the books as something she herself (and presumably other adults) would enjoy.
Abanes' primary problem with the books, and with Harry in particular, seems to center around rule-breaking and lying. Abanes makes frequent reference to the fact that the characters don't adhere to the Biblical definitions of "good" and "evil." Funny, I must have missed it if the Bible has a definitions section. He charges that Harry doesn't suffer consequences for his actions and that he acts only out of self-interest. I can't help wondering if Abanes read the same books the rest of us have if he believes that Harry suffers no consequences for misdeeds and acts only out of self-interest! For example, when he sneaks into Hogsmeade in the third book, Harry doesn't get expelled or detention, but the harsh reprimand about his parents' sacrifice from Professor Lupin was no doubt a heavier punishment by far than receiving detention. How Harry's quest to stop the sorcerer's stone from falling into the hands of the evil Lord Voldemort, his rescue of a fellow student in the second book, his rescue of his godfather (and Buckbeak) and his show of mercy to the man responsible for the murder of his parents in Book 3 and his escape from a resurrected Lord Voldemort in the fourth book constitutes a "selfish agenda" is a mystery to me. Abanes also argues that the books include gratuitous violence, but he never elaborates on which scenes might be considered gratuitous.
Since he charges the books with humor that borders on perversity, it should be no surprise that Abanes has completely missed Rowling's points about divination, which is conveyed through humor. Much of the authors' arguments against the book center around their promotion of what he terms "magick" (occultism, including astrology, divination, fortune-telling, etc.). He must have been so bent on finding some element of "occultism" to seize on as evidence of the problems with these books that he missed Rowling's sarcastic jibes at divination. At one point in the third book, Professor McGonagall remarks that "True Seers are very rare," which is a pointed but diplomatic criticism of Divination instructor Sibyll Trelawney, yet Abanes asserts that her remark implies that McGonagall is endorsing divination. He misses the point entirely. He states that astrology is blatantly practiced at Hogwarts, but fails to notice that it is used as comic relief. Rowling is clearly making fun of it!
Abanes compares and contrasts the HP series with the Chronicles of Narnia and the works of Tolkien. I found this section to be alarmingly conclusory given that the HP series is only half-way finished. Abanes makes several judgments about the HP series and its ultimate resolution that simply cannot be supported given current information.
In conclusion, I obviously don't recommend this book.
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