Harry Potter & The Cursed Child: Why Are the Sins of the Parents Laid Upon the Children?

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My daughter needed someone she could talk to about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the play by Jack Thorne based on a story by J.K. Rowling, Thorne, and John Tiffany. So, I read it during my commute to and from work this week.

It took me a little while to get used to the script format, in which dialogue drives the plot and much of the setting is left to the imagination, but, soon enough, I found myself sucked into the story. It features Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, two boys limited by their fathers’ reputations. One cannot live up to his father’s heroism, while the other cannot escape his family’s association with Lord Voldemort, the most infamous wizard of all.

Scorpius’s plight reminds me of a line from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice: “The sins of the fathers are to be laid upon the children (Act 3, scene 5, line 1).” Justice Brennan of the U.S. Supreme Court (from 1956 until 1990) quoted this line in his dissenting opinion in Tison v. Arizona (1987), a case in which the court reviewed what punishment the state could constitutionally impose on the two sons of a murderer for their lesser roles in their father’s crimes. As Brennan noted in this opinion, “an intuition that sons and daughters must sometimes be punished for the sins of the father may be deeply rooted in our consciousness.”

I agree with Justice Brennan. The actions of parents often tarnish their children’s reputations, even when the children have done nothing wrong. This belief is so ingrained in the culture that we have numerous idioms to describe it: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree; like father, like son; a chip off the old block. Even Harry Potter and the Cursed Child revolves around this concept — that, spoiler, a part of Voldemort may have survived in an heir — despite encouraging sympathy for lonely outcasts like Scorpius, who is “guilty” by association.

Why do we impose expectations and limitations on children because of who their parents are? I suppose it relates to the assumption that parents have a strong and influential bond with their children. As Stephanie from The Eclectic Scribe aptly observed:

Raising a child is kind of like a love story in reverse, a rom com on rewind. It starts out with an intense bond so all-consuming, so dizzyingly intense that it’s simultaneously overwhelming and perfect in every way. Then there are all the ups and downs, the great moments and the many missteps. And it ends with someone who seems to view me as a stranger.

During “the ups and downs, the great moments and many missteps” in this process, we hope to impart enough wisdom to help our children lead their independent lives.

However, we’re not the only influence on our children during their formative years, contributing to why our children often end up viewing us as strangers. They also have other family members, friends, teachers, movies, television, the Internet, and, of course, books (among other influences) in their lives. These sources introduce children to concepts that may reinforce or counter the messages they receive at home, making it less likely that children will turn out to be just like their parents.

All children deserve a chance to forge their own way in life, including Scorpius, no matter who his father is or might be.

I am glad I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which fueled a healthy discussion with my daughter. She expressed her sympathy for Albus and Scorpius and her belief that children are not simply extensions of their parents. She added, “You’re a lawyer, and I definitely don’t want to be one too. I want to be a writer instead.” Ha. Maybe the apple hasn’t fallen so far from the tree after all?😉

An Eight-year-old Reflects on the Loneliness of Finishing Harry Potter

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In this post, one of my twins discusses how she feels now that she’s finished reading the Harry Potter series:

My name is Samira. I am in third grade. I read all the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling (including Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.) I was so glad that Voldemort died because I was having nightmares about him (I do not think that’s a spoiler. Who doesn’t know that already? Sorry for the ones that don’t.) Now I’m waiting for my sister and friends to finish. Then I can talk about it with them and not spoil it. They don’t know the truth about Professor Snape and I can’t tell them. I feel lonely that I can’t tell anyone.

In case you’re wondering, I’m the one with the glasses.

Her twin sister’s response: I will be done soon!

AMB’s Response: I reminded my daughter that her father and I have read the Harry Potter series, so she can talk about it with us. However, she pointed out that we haven’t yet read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (by Jack Thorne based on a story by JK Rowling, Thorne, and John Tiffany), and she doesn’t want to spoil it. I guess that’s what I’ll be reading during my commute to work this week.

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*I did not edit her reflection, except to suggest that she give an example of something she wants to be able to discuss with her friends (Snape was one of several examples she rattled off).

**My daughter gave me permission to share her thoughts on my blog.

 

Silence Isn’t A Solution

In the days leading up to and during Eid Al Adha:

This is not an exhaustive list of the deplorable actions Muslims have experienced recently in my country. Most incidents are too subtle or common to make the news. They are drops in the daily bucket of bigotry dumped on minorities because of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, or other characteristics. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Speak Up (2015) includes many instances of everyday bigotry drawn from real-life experiences. Here are just a few (quoted from SPLC’s publication):

  • On the sidewalk, [a gay man] passes a man who tells a female companion, loudly, “There were fags all over the place. I felt like killing them.”
  • A Colorado woman uses a wheelchair. She is boarding a plane with her husband when the flight attendant says, to the husband, “Will she need help being seated?” The husband told the flight attendant to ask his wife.
  • A white woman is in a doctor’s waiting room when she notices a Muslim woman wearing a hijab being ignored by the receptionist at the front counter.
  • [A child] wrapped a towel around her head and said she wanted to be a terrorist for Halloween — “like that man down the street.” [A Sikh].
  • An African American minister is pulled over while driving home from Sunday service, in full view of many of his parishioners. He is forced to complete a field sobriety test. When he asks why he has been pulled over, he is told simply, “You swerved.”

It’s the 21st Century. Why are people still treated differently based on their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical abilities, or other characteristics associated with their identity? What can we do about it?

In Another Shift? We’ll Know For Sure in November, I noted research suggesting that higher levels of familiarity with Islam are associated with a reduction in a person’s susceptibility to fear-mongering about Muslims. However, higher levels of familiarity with racial, ethnic, and religious minorities isn’t easy to achieve in a country as segregated as mine is.

That’s where books that feature the authentic experiences of people from diverse backgrounds could help. Literature cannot take the place of real-life interactions, but books that feature people of color and other minorities break down stereotypes and build empathy. While the people who commit the most egregious acts of bigotry probably don’t read much, these books could encourage silent witnesses to finally take a stand.

For example, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged is a funny and heartwarming novel that gives readers an opportunity to see the world through a British Muslim woman’s eyes. For those who don’t know what it’s like to be targeted because of their race or religion or other characteristic, it might help to see what Sofia contends with on her commute to work:

Before the doors [of the train] closed I made a run for it, accidentally bumping into a man who was walking towards me. Accidentally. I heard him mumble something… As I stepped into the (non-air-conditioned) crammed carriage, the word finally penetrated my commute-fogged brain. I turned around, mouth open in delayed realisation. Terrorist? Me? What the actual fuck!… No one heard him. Everyone just carried on reading their papers, listening to their iPods as if someone hadn’t just pulled normality from under my feet and smacked my head against some bizarre reality.

Maybe no one heard him or maybe they pretended not to hear, which is especially likely if the bystanders didn’t know what to do when someone utters such hateful speech in public. I’m not entirely sure how I would have responded either, but I’m thinking about it.

For ideas on how to counter daily acts of bigotry, take a look at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s publication (here’s the abridged version; the full version is linked above). More people need to be prepared to speak up.

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*The police have not labeled this act of violence a hate crime, saying that men matching the description of the suspects threatened other women who were not Muslim.

**Thank you to Eclectic Scribe for discussing these issues with me.

Whistle Pigs, Nostalgia, & the Evolution of Language

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In Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, “the husband sees a woodchuck looking through the window at them. It is with great joy that they discover that another name for this creature is ‘the whistle pig.’”

I wonder if they would be disappointed to learn that this colloquial name for Marmota monax is disappearing from the dialect it calls home, which is primarily in the Appalachian mountains. It’s among 50 regional words that the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) has identified as endangered.

Does the impending loss of “whistle pig” make you sad? Should it?**

Colloquialisms add to the unique character of a community. However, communities change. Demographic, cultural, and technological shifts result in the creation of new words and the retirement of others.

How many regionally-based synonyms of words do we need in our global world these days? For example, DARE’s list of 50 regional words on the “cusp of extinction” includes three alternatives for “pine needle”: Shat, Spill, and Tag. In my neck of the woods, “shat” has nothing to do with trees. It’s the past and past participle of “shit.” Obviously.

It’s natural for word lovers to feel a pang of nostalgia when a word they grew up with disappears from common usage. According to Electric Lit (where you can find the full list of endangered American slang):

If you’re from Delaware, Maryland, or Virginia and think having shat fall from your pinetrees is abnormal, then we have news for you: you are among the many Americans losing touch with your historical regional dialect.

However, what one person laments as “losing touch with [a] historical regional dialect,” another person sees as progress. I tend to be in the latter category, often finding the nostalgia associated with language preservation and purity disturbing. Underneath the sadness associated with the loss of archaic words may lurk resentment for the newcomers who have contributed to the linguistic changes.

Still, there are a few words I’ve wanted to resurrect over a cup of chatter-broth, but what’s the point if no one would understand me?

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*For my thoughts on Dept. of Speculation, see Dept. of Speculation: A Short, Unusual, Wonderful Puzzle; for Mr. AMB’s take on it, see Dept. of Speculation: Being Thirty-Something Sucks.

**Mr. A.M.B. adds, “I doubt ‘whistle pig’ is going anywhere, considering WhistlePig is arguably ‘the best rye whiskey in the world.’ Similarly, ‘barn burner’ is on the list, but, checking my email, I’ve used it twice in the past year (and received an email from someone else using it), albeit for a different meaning than ‘a wooden match that can be struck on any surface.’ That’s a ‘strike anywhere match.’”

***A.M.B’s response to Mr. A.M.B: Clearly, I don’t go camping enough because I don’t think I’ve never used “strike anywhere match” or “barn burner” in a sentence before. I’m the one who hails from the same region as “barn burner.” Mr. A.M.B. is the transplant.

 

Sexual Harassment: A “Way of Life” Kids Keep To Themselves

hundred-percentI don’t remember the first time someone cat-called me or grabbed me somewhere they shouldn’t have. It’s happened too many times in my life to isolate the experiences; however, if I had to guess, the first time it happened was probably at school.

I recently came across the subject of school-based, peer-perpetrated sexual harassment in Karen Romano Young’s Hundred Percent, a realistic middle grade novel about a 12-year-old girl trying to navigate the awkwardness of 6th grade. It’s a time when some kids are reaching puberty faster than others, friendships change, cliques develop, and “crushes” feel like they’re literally crushing you. It’s also a time when children start experiencing more sexual harassment perpetrated by their peers.

The novel touches on this issue briefly a few times (without dwelling on it), including in the first chapter:

It happened last week, the first week of school, when [Christine, AKA Tink] was riding her bike home up the hill, sweaty and wobbling. Keith Kallinka was riding by smooth and cool on the bus.

“Woof!” He barked out the window at her, and somebody else laughed, and barked along. She couldn’t see the other person who barked. “Woof!” One known barker. One unknown barker.

Then the bus passed Jackie, who had already reached the top of the hill. They didn’t bark at Jackie. They whistled.

Are there any women out there who haven’t experienced a similar form of objectification at some point in their lives? It’s sad to know how early in starts, how severe it can get, and how serious its consequences can be.

Surveys have repeatedly shown that many children (of all genders) experience sexual harassment — including comments, name calling, and unwelcomed touching** — for the first time in middle school. Some children experience it at even younger ages.

Sexual harassment is so common that students see it as a “way of life,” an unrelenting experience that can result in a range of negative consequences from feeling worthless and afraid to having difficulty paying attention in class, skipping school, and worse. Despite its ubiquity, parents and school officials (who have a Title IX obligation to remedy it) often don’t know it’s happening to a child until the consequences become severe, if they learn about it at all.

One 2011 survey of middle school students found:

Among students who were sexually harassed, about 9 percent reported the incident to a teacher, guidance counselor, or other adult at school (12 percent of girls and 5 percent of boys). Just one-quarter (27 percent) of students said they talked about it with parents or family members (including siblings), and only about one-quarter (23 percent) spoke with friends… [O]ne-half of students who were sexually harassed in the 2010-11 school year said they did nothing afterward in response to sexual harassment.

It’s a subject I want my children to feel comfortable raising with me, and I plan on using books like Hundred Percent to broach the subject. We can’t eradicate sexual harassment in our schools and in our children’s lives without talking about it.***

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**Under Title IX, the civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funds, “sexual harassment” is conduct that “(1) is sexual in nature; (2) is unwelcome; and (3) denies or limits a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from a school’s education program.” It includes a range of misconduct. (See U.S. Dep’t of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Sexual Harassment: It’s Not Academic (2008) (PDF)).

***Edited to add: In case it isn’t clear, I don’t blame victims of sexual harassment for staying silent. There are many reasons why a child (or an adult) wouldn’t want to report it. I never reported the sexual harassment I experienced until I was in law school (and I was reluctant about doing it even then). All I’m trying to say in this post is that I hope my own children will feel comfortable talking to me about it (reporting it to school officials is a separate issue). It isn’t easy to raise the subject with them, though. Books that include incidences of sexual harassment might help start the conversation.

The Author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Did He Rip Off a Classic In A Subsequent Manuscript?

Zombified Hachette Complaint Caption

On August 26th, Hachette Book Group sued Seth Grahame-Smith, known for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, for breach of a publishing contract for two new books, a sequel to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and another book “on a subject to be determined by [Grahame-Smith & his company, Baby Gorilla, Inc.] with Publisher’s written approval.” He received an initial installment of half-a-million for each book in a four-million-dollar deal.

Apparently, Grahame-Smith delivered on the first book, The Last American Vampire, which Hachette published in January 2015. The manuscript for the second book, however, is a different story, at least according to Hachette.

In its bare-bones complaint, available here via Publisher’s Marketplace (PDF), Hachette alleges that the manuscript Grahame-Smith delivered (after a lengthy extension on the deadline):

  1.    Is not original to Smith, but instead is in large part an appropriation of a 120-year-old public-domain work;
  2.    Materially varies from the 80,000-100,000 word limit fixed in the Agreement;
  3.    Is on a subject that was never approved by Hachette in writing, as required by Paragraph 1(b) of the Agreement; and
  4.    Is not comparable in style and quality to Smith’s wholly original bestseller Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, as also required by Paragraph 1(b) of the Agreement.

Basically, the manuscript Grahame-Smith delivered was allegedly unsatisfactory because, according to Hachette, it “varied so materially and substantially from that described in the Agreement.” As a result, they want the $500,000 advance back.

I’m dying to know what public domain work Grahame-Smith allegedly ripped-off. In Covering the Classics: An Homage or a Rip-off?, I expressed ambivalence about the merits of adaptations of classics, explaining:

Part of the writing process is building a story from scratch, scene by scene, and it feels like cheating when a writer simply borrows a blueprint for a story that someone else developed 150 years ago.

To be sure, literary references are part of the creative process, and even Shakespeare borrowed plots from the earlier works of others. But should unoriginal derivatives be billed as stand-alone novels when there is little novel about them?

Needless to say, I’ve changed my tune since writing Amelia Elkins Elkins, a courtroom drama retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, but that doesn’t mean I’d be okay with an adaptation that adds little to the original work. That’s essentially what Hachette alleges Grahame-Smith did.

We’ll see whether a jury, if it comes to that, agrees with Hachette. I wonder whether the lawyers will check out potential jurors’ Goodreads profiles before empaneling them.

Scaring Children (A Benefit of Books)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? How about the evil queen?

I was afraid of both. As a kid, I stood up during the movie version of Snow White and, at the top of my lungs, begged the title character not to eat the poisoned apple. I was devastated when she didn’t listen to me.

Two of my three children are just like I was. They do not enjoy Grimm’s fairy tales, and they’re having a hard time finishing the Harry Potter series. Voldemort’s tricks are far worse than anything the evil queen ever did.

Normally, I wouldn’t strongly encourage my girls to read a novel that scares them, but Harry Potter is an exception. How are they going to communicate with their peers if they don’t know what Hogwarts is? They need to read the series for cultural literacy. They also need to read it to face their fears.

According to psychologist Emma Kenny, as quoted in a recent Guardian article, being frightened by fictional experiences helps children “forge resilience”:

When you are reading a scary story to a child, or they’re reading to themselves, the child has got a level of control – they can put it down, or ask you to stop. And the story can raise a discussion, in which they can explore and explain the way they feel about a situation.

I read the first book in the series, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, to my twins two years ago. Now, reading on their own, one is in the middle of the fourth book, The Goblet of Fire, while the other is in the middle of the second, The Chamber of Secrets.

So far, most of their conversations have focused on how scary the books are, but they’re definitely mesmerized by the wizarding world. Last weekend, I overheard the following conversation:

S: “I want to be in Ravenclaw. How about you?”

M: “Ravenclaw too, but do you think mom will tell the sorting hat to separate us?”*

S: “I don’t think the sorting hat cares what she thinks.”

Ha. Well, Ravenclaw is probably a good option for them. They don’t have the courage required for Gryffindor. Not yet.

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My Four Kids (including my adorable nephew) watching the first Harry Potter movie
My four kids (including my adorable nephew) watching the first Harry Potter movie

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*We’ve separated our twins into different classrooms since they were two. We agonized over the decision. For more on this topic, see A Controversial Parenting Decision: Separating Twins in School and Boo: The Things Parents Don’t Know Are Often The Most Important.