VOLDEMORT & ICONIC EVIL
I was first introduced to Harry Potter in 1999 through a parent of a 2nd-grade student. While I graciously accepted the rather thick Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone, I had already resolved not to read the entire thing. The same parent had previously insisted I read LaHaye & Jenkin's Left Behind. I did. I have often wondered how different my life would be had I those five, excruciating hours back.
My wife (aka, The Book Fairy), however, read the book and loved it. She routinely prepped me on its contents, inisisting that I read it for myself until I finally did some years later around the airing of the first movie. Since then, I have been hooked. Harry Potter was the first dynamic child-character in a long time with whom I could wholeheartedly empathize since Enid Blyton's George in the Famous Five series which I read over and over again while living in England as a child.
After having founded my school, Stone Table, in 2000 I learned that controversy surrounded the Harry Potter series, particularly in the evangelical community. Certain of my students were strictly forbidden to read the books, a malinformed and misguided decision of their parents. As I understood it, Harry Potter was supposed to be a portal into witchcraft and eventual demonic possession, the bane of most conscientiously charismatic Christians. Many of those students could have used a little Harry Potter in their lives (Quite a few of them have been successful finding the Dark Side on their own without the help of J.K. Rowling).
The same children were forbidden from the general fairytale or whimsical story. After all, those stories were inspired by witches and warlocks who posed as any variety of innocent authors whose chief aim was to destroy children's faith in God (or "a" god) with evangelical zeal. Didn't I as a teacher know that?
While I do not know many things about the devil, and while what I do know would probably not hold a candle to the seemingly vast knowledge of people keenly fascinated with him (or her), I do know a few, simple things about human nature that seem to become irrelevant when discussing such topics with such people.
Like G.K. Chesterton, I find it unnatural for a parent to withhold the fairytale and relevant "myths" from their children. Evil does not present itself to a child the way it does to an adult. They have to be appropriately taught to discern it. Children are not taught which is why pedophiles are highly successful at luring kids into their confidence with simple things like candy. That's what Hansel and Gretel is about: there are disturbed people who want to consume children and will use any innocent-looking means available. Without stealing their innocence, Hansel and Gretel suggests to children that discretion is paramount in the presence of people you do not know or do not really know. How bad is that? Fairytales are often a child's first realization that no matter how bad evil gets, "the dragon" eventually gets defeated.
The more-than-decade-long Harry Potter mania found Rowling maturing Harry from a childlike ignorance of "bad" into a deeper, more intimate awareness of evil. As a first-year, Harry knows enough about Voldemort to simply want to avoid him. Each successive year Harry is progressively brought into a deeper familiarity with Voldemort and his history until by the last book Harry understands that the only way to defeat Voldemort is to pass through the Valley off the Shadow of Death himself.
While it was true all along, Harry did not need to fully understand all of it as a first-year. Rowling let him develop close friendships, learn fascinating subjects, and enjoy childish pleasures while Voldemort grew from a shadowy backdrop in Harry's conscience to an all-encompassing menace who plagued him in his dreams.
As a child, I learned to get good at catching lizards. I found a successful way to catch them, say, 65% of the time. As the lizard would fully emerge from its hole to soak up the sun, I simply blocked its hole with one hand and grabbed for it with the other. Closing up the hole caused the slightest delay in the lizard's reaction, giving me enough time to grab for it.
I imagine that to be the strategy Harry Potter had in mind. As each horcrux is destroyed, Voldemort manifests deeper reprobation and such a heightened level of instability until he realizes that Harry has completely blocked any escape route. So the serpent has completely come out of his hole.
I have wondered about this relationship between evil's fear of annihilation and its emergence from shadow and how each successive encounter with evil reveals more and more of the snake. I found this correlation between Voldemort and other popular, literary villains to be true.
Narnia's Great Pretender, The White Witch, first enters the scene through the harried whispers of Mr. Tumnus who complains that she makes it winter but never Christmas in Narnia. Lucy is initially confused at the faun's cryptic speech. Each encounter with a Narnian teaches the children more and more about her until her audacious negotiation with Aslan. While she possesses a kind of beauty, it is frigid one. She tortures her closest associates, lives in arctic, lifeless surroundings, and publicly executes Aslan at the Stone Table amongst the jeers of her minions.
In the epic Lord of the Rings series, Soron is only first heard about before he is seen. His influence is acutely felt in the odd behavior of Bilbo, owner of the ring, who has not aged for some time and who possesses the strange ability to disappear. Ignorant Bilbo is the entry point for Hobbiton to be dragged into the drama of Middle-earth. Frodo learns from Gandalf that he must undertake the long trek to Mount Doom in order to destroy the ring. The closer Frodo and friends reach Mount Doom, the more exhaustion, treachery, and terror they experience
A Series of Unfortunate Events surrounds the three, orphaned Baudelaire children who are sent to live with a distant relative, Count Olaf. At first, Olaf impresses them as a very odd character, but over the course of the series he manifests as a maniac intent to steal their inheritance at the cost of lives. The Baudelaires learn to keep their guard up throughout the series, primarily because Count Olaf uses an incessant array of disguises to get at the children, his ultimate deception being his framing the children for his "murder" so that they are now on the run.
Many more examples abound. As an educator for fourteen years I have learned that children who are not trained to discern age-appropriate gradations of evil tend to remain stupidly oblivious to evil's many faces and to fall victim to those lures time and again. From the boy who rationalizes that the shrooms he is offered as a part of a group activity can produce a spiritually deep enlightenment to the girl who rationalizes that the hottie is not technically raping her. These are kids who were never taught that sometimes evil looks like inclusion or smells like AXE.