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Education Reporter

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J. K. Rowling, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005, 652 pps., $29.99.

The publication of the sixth Harry Potter novel presents an opportunity to reflect on the series' phenomenal success as well as its detractors. From the beginning, J. K. Rowling's books have taken arrows from some conservative Christian groups. The most common accusations are that the books promote witchcraft and that they do not clearly define good and evil.

The main characters in the Harry Potter series are indeed wizards and witches. Yes, spells are used; yes, the author probably researched occult materials to give her work more credibility.

But before condemning these aspects out of hand, critics would do well to recall why witchcraft is forbidden to Christians. The reason is that humans, who lack the natural ability to fly unaided or foretell the future or change into animals, would be able to do so only if they were assisted by evil spirits. If, however, the book takes as a premise the idea that some humans are gifted with supernatural powers, surely there is nothing intrinsically wrong with using those powers. If one argues that writers shouldn't attribute such powers to humans, then most other fairy tales and fantasy stories would have to be thrown out too. Nowhere in the series do we find invocations to evil spirits, and divination is treated as a fraud for the most part.

The argument that the books do not clearly define good and evil can only be made by people who have not actually read the books. The whole point of the story is that the innocent Harry Potter is pitted against the evil wizard Voldemort. The virtues of friendship, loyalty, courage and kindness are continually praised, while cruelty, pride and greed are condemned. It's true that Harry and his friends do some low-level schoolboy lying and cheating, but perfect heroes are rare in real life.

The sixth book continues the trend, beginning with the fourth book, of darker themes and more deaths. The quality of writing and the storytelling have consistently improved throughout the series, and the sixth installment is no exception. Its popularity is a well-deserved testament to the author's creative powers and dedication to her work amid the distractions of celebrity and fortune.

We all owe Rowling thanks for making a whole generation of children want to read long books. At a time when the California Assembly thinks school books should be limited to 200 pages, that is a real accomplishment.

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