Harry Potter joins ranks of dangerous books
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
We spend much of our lives avoiding certain dangers. Wear your seatbelt. Quit smoking. Watch your diet. Good advice. But sometimes we need to live dangerously, in the right ways, or life is not worth living.
We as a nation are infantilizing our boys and girls, and we are creating a nation of "adults" who behave like children. We're reminded of the adults of Rome who stood in line for their welfare and then went to the Colosseum as their country disintegrated around them.
It is time to buy your boys and girls some dangerous books (and read them yourselves). There is nothing more dangerous -- to tyrants, to abusive politicians and bureaucrats, to intellectual charlatans, to seductive Sirens -- than a good book read by a critical mind. Properly dangerous boys and girls learn to think for themselves, take responsibility for their own actions and lives, and tell the difference between appropriate danger and stupid risks.
The first book you'll need is The Dangerous Book for Boys. Don't let the title fool you: it's perfect for girls, too. (When dangerous boys get a little older, they learn the boundless value of dangerous girls.) We were hooked when we saw that the first item of "Essential Gear" listed on the first page is a Swiss Army Knife. No boy or girl can be properly dangerous without such a tool.
The Dangerous Book is filled with other important lessons: how to build a paper airplane, use correct grammar, recognize an image of the Colossus of Rhodes, send a message in code, construct a bow and arrow, and play poker.
Next, we salute the gloriously dangerous J.K. Rowling, who has now completed her series of novels about Harry Potter. Perhaps more than any other person, Rowling has ensured that the youngest generation is exposed to dangerously crucial ideas.
We don't have to tell any dangerous boy or girl that Rowling's fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, has also been produced for cinema. Harry and his friends continue to carry their dangerous wands with them wherever they go. They challenge the foolish policies of the Ministry of Magic. They break any rule that gets in the way of doing what they know is right.
They defy the school's new horrible headmistress through vandalism, sabotage, and underground self-defense meetings. Finally the young magicians risk their lives to take on the evil Lord Voldemort. This is not a book for children who wish to grow up to be bootlickers, butt kissers, or bureaucratic bunglers. Only dangerous boys and girls may remain in Dumbledore's Army.
We also recommend dangerous classics such as The Lord of the Rings, The Prydain Chronicles, and Anthem. Another of our favorites is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein. The hero describes what happens when too many people lose their sense of danger: "Do this. Don't do that. Stay back of line. Where's tax receipt? Fill out form. Let's see license. Submit six copies... Queue up to pay fine. Take back and get stamped. Drop dead -- but first get permit."
In Heinlein's story, the moon's rebels, joined by a clever and self-aware computer, decide the time is right to challenge the lunar authorities, throw off the yokes of Earth, and establish a Free Luna.
This reminds us of perhaps the most dangerous book in our nation's history: Thomas Paine's Common Sense. Paine writes, "O! ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been haunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind."
Paine's pamphlet inspired Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence and other great moments of America's dangerous revolution. No doubt one of the young men who found inspiration in Paine's work was Nathan Hale.
Hale's story is reviewed by Dianne Durante's Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan. (Even seemingly innocuous books can contain dangerous passages.) In describing a statue of Hale, Durante writes that, in September, 1776, "The British captured him in civilian clothes, posing as a Loyalist schoolteacher, with incriminating notes (in Latin!) on troop movements and fortifications. General Howe had no compunctions about ordering him hanged the following day. Hale's famous last words: 'I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country'."
Durante notes that Hale's sculptor, Frederick MacMonnies, said that he wanted to offer an artwork that would make the person who saw it "want to be somebody and find life worth living." Boys and girls, and their parents, may find the same value in any truly dangerous book.