Thursday 4 April 2019

Burning Harry Potter

Dzień dobry! It's a beautiful sunny day, and although work and illness have conspired to keep me away from my beloved Polish studies for weeks, I discovered that I was still able to discuss complex topics with my Polish tutor po polsku in a reasonably fluent fashion.

This makes me very happy. Literally. The endorphins only chatting away in non-English can bring are coursing through my veins.

Polish Tutor brought up the news that some priests in Poland have burned a pile of Harry Potter books and expressed shame that this is being reported throughout the world. My question was why this story was of such interest to the newspapers of the world. It's not like the priests burned the Koran. Teen wizards are not going to rise up and burn down their local Polish embassy.

When a colleague brought my attention to the priests-burn-Potter story a couple of days ago, I didn't  read it because I already know that Polish priests don't like the J.K. Rowlings organon. They also don't like New Age, pentagrams, Odin worship, Halloween and the goodly number of other things they warn about on posters tacked up near Polish church doors.

Poland is a wonderfully different place from Canada and the U.K., and although I sometimes find the differences challenging, I was brought up to respect differences. That includes solemn warnings against and fiery rejections of symbols of the occult.

I shiver at the idea of burning books because my generation of Canadians had it banged into our heads that the Nazis burned books by Jews because they were written by Jews and next they gassed and burned the Jews. However, I also have a friend--an Oxford grad with a PhD from elsewhere--who burns occult books when he finds them on friends' shelves. I learned from this that there is a very big difference between burning paper because of the ideas printed thereon and burning them because of who wrote them. As long as the Polish priests burn  Harry Potter books because they extol magic and not because they were written by a woman or a Briton, I don't care.

Meanwhile, Canadian author Michael O'Brien famously thinks Harry Potter books corrupt the imagination, so although they are popular and fun, they are not universally loved by people who are not Polish priests.

So my question stands. Why is it that a Harry Potter book-burning party by priests in Poland is considered newsworthy outside of Poland?

Is it because it adds to a narrative that the Poles hate books and learning?

I sincerely hope not, given that this is the narrative the Nazi-led Germans tried to establish in 1939.

Is it because it adds to a narrative that Poland is being "held back" by Catholicism?

Again, I sincerely hope not, since that was the narrative the Communists tried to push during their almost 50 year domination of the country.

Is it because it adds to a narrative that Catholics Poles were somehow complicit with the book-burning Nazis?

I sincerely hope not because that particular lying narrative spits on the bones and ashes of the three million non-Jewish Poles who died alongside the three million Jewish Poles who perished during the Nazi/Soviet occupation of Poland.

Anti-polonism annoys me very much, and although stories about priests burning children's books embarrass some young Polish ex-pats, what they mainly do is play into Polish fears that the world hates Poland and is out to get her. Although standing together against an outside enemy does stop Poles from quarrelling with each other for a few minutes, anti-polonism ultimately isn't good for anyone. It's both a form of lying and an example of virulent xenophobia.

Again, I don't like burning books. That's part of who I am as a Canadian born after the Second World War. It's a bit of a drag, really, as it makes disposing of unwanted books more difficult. Taking a lot of paperbacks to the charity shop is a pain, and just throwing them in the recycling makes me feel guilty. It's superstitious, really. I should burn an unwanted book or two in the garden occasionally on principle. One of my own books, written by me, has been pulped, incidentally: hundreds of copies (weep weep) robbed of their covers, shredded and boiled.

That, of course, was just a prudential decision by my publisher and signified nothing more than his loss of faith in his ability to sell the books. It had nothing to do with the content or me. If someone does want to burn her copy of Seraphic Singles (or Anielskie Single) because she dislikes it, though,  I think this well within her Freedom of Expression.

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