Thursday, November 17, 2016

Using Harry Potter to Talk to Your Kids About Being "Under the Influence"

One of the reasons I love working with is that they give me the coolest writing prompts. They know that I love Harry Potter and with the new movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opening tomorrow, they asked me to write about lessons from the wizarding world that I use to talk to my kids about all kinds of character issues. Today, I want to look at some examples from the text that underscore the dangers of being "under the influence". 

Let’s get nerdy, you guys.

Alcohol and drinking are present in Harry Potter, but are not an important theme. There’s butter beer (which really only gets house elves intoxicated), fire whiskey (which is decidedly reserved for adult characters in the books), and mulled mead (Professor Slughorn’s favorite, though he’s hardly someone most readers relate to or want to emulate). In fact, when Slughorn drinks too much, he loses his inhibitions and shares his shameful memories with Harry in The Order of the Phoenix. 

Hagrid is the only real drinker of the primary characters in the series, and it's seen as a weakness that gets him into trouble. There was that time he bought Fluffy from some random "Greek chappie down the pub". Given that Fluffy is a cerberus, the Greek chappie in question could potentially have been Hades. Or the time when Hagrid had too much to drink and let it slip how to get past Fluffy to Nicholas Flamel's stone. Or when he illegally acquired Norbert, the baby dragon. Oh Hagrid.

I do find it interesting that aside from that one character, drinking isn’t a theme throughout the books, yet is present. Ideally, that’s the role alcohol has in our lives. It’s there, part of how we live, but doesn’t define us. 

Though drinking isn’t a theme, JK Rowling does address being under the influence. In almost every book, there is a time when a beloved character falls under the influence of an object. In the first book, the Mirror of Erised tempts Harry with images of that which he most desires - his family. Dumbledore gently reminds Harry that spending too much time in this altered reality means he’s turning away from his life in the real world. 

“ “  requested by lordseverus
It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.

In the second book, Tom Riddle’s diary (a horcrux) places Ginny Weasley under its influence, causing her to do terrible things, petrifying people, and terrifying the Hogwarts community (even the ghosts). She recalls to Harry four years later in The Half Blood Prince, that she can relate to his infatuation with using Snape’s annotated potions book - but that he must be cautious. 

Maybe my favorite quote from the whole series. This or the one where
Dumbledore eats a Bertie Botts bean and says "Alas, earwax!"
She knows first hand that the consequences of walking that path, of allowing yourself to fall under the influence of something, to let it control you or take over your life. This message is reinforced by Dumbledore in the Goblet of Fire, when discussing the power of the Pensive with Harry. 

There are so many other examples in the series demonstrating the destructive power of allowing yourself to become dependent or influenced by external objects. For example, each of the horcruxes (particularly the diary, the locket and the ring), the good luck serum Felix Felicis in Order of the Pheonix, even Hermione’s time turner from The Prisoner of Azkaban. 

This is, of course, in addition to the over-arching allegory relating to the fear of, and the inclination to submit to power. Voldemort’s death eaters are cast as frightening. The more devoted to him they become, the more they seem to lose their humanity. Those who have given themselves entirely over to his influence have lost their agency as people, unless it is utilized in service to his direction (Bellatrix Lestrange). In every case, this influence leads to a bad outcomes, even for those who attempt to redeem themselves (Snape, Draco Malfoy).

In contrast to these examples, the books are filled with lessons about thinking for yourself, taking responsibility, using power and resources wisely, being brave, and making good choices - even if they’re the hard ones. 

Image result for neville longbottom stand up to friends
Can we all agree that (1) he deserved more than 40 house points for this and (2) that Neville is the best?
The overarching message to me, seems to be one of hope and resiliency of the human spirit. That we’ll make mistakes and still keep fighting. That we’ll stand up for what’s right, no matter what it costs us. That we’ll think for ourselves, no matter what changes around us. Even when Professor Umbridge takes over Hogwarts, and the Daily Prophet vilifies us, and the Minister of Magic is some stooge like Pius Thicknesse, we remain constant and steadfast. As Snape says, always.

"We must all face the choice between what is right, and what is easy." — Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

All these lessons are applicable to discussions about drinking, standing up to peer pressure, knowing yourself, and doing what’s right. As usual, everything we need to know can be found in Harry Potter.

This post is sponsored by as part of their #StartsWithMe campaign, encouraging families to talk early, talk often, and be healthy. All the opinions are my own because no one is the boss of me. I'm very proud to be part of the #TalkEarly blogger team this year. 

(c) Mommyland Blogs 2013-2016

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