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39.Winters

39.Winters

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Published by: msureshkumar_ms on Dec 21, 2011
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Access Provided by University of Madras at 12/20/11 9:26AM GMT
 
Children’s Literature 
39, Hollins University © 2011.
213
Bubble-Wrapped Children and Safe Books for Boys: The Politics of Parenting in 
Harry Potter
Sarah Fiona Winters
The decade of 
Harry Potter 
’s publication, 1997–2007, was also the de-cade of an explosion of British and North American books and mediaarticles, addressed to a popular audience, denouncing both parentalneglect and parental overprotectiveness. The books include FrankFuredi’s
Culture of Fear Revisited 
(1997) and
Paranoid Parenting 
(2001);Richard Louv’s
Last Child in the Woods 
(2005); Silken Laumann’s
Child’s Play 
(2006); and Michael Ungar’s
Too Safe for Their Own Good 
(2007). At the same time, the media popularized the terms “helicopter parent-ing,” “free-range parenting,” and “bubble-wrapped children.”
1
For itsmany adult readers, the Harry Potter series may be read as a ctionaltext performing a cultural work similar to that of these works of nonc-tion that capitalize on parental anxiety about risk and the lack of it.
2
  Although, unlike them, the series claims that responsible parenthoodincludes accepting the death of children, nevertheless, like them it perpetuates the wish-fulllment fantasy that allowing children greaterfreedom (a freedom constructed largely through nostalgia) can beachieved without the sacrice of incurring debilitating injury and death.For although young people do die at Hogwarts, and their parentsmourn them, they only die in the service of a struggle against evil, not as the result of a bid for freedom, fun, or the pleasure of risk taking forits own sake. They are lost to murder, not accident. In reality, however,accidents are much more of a threat to children of Harry Potter’s ageand nationality than is murder: for example, British government statis-tics for 2006 cite 585 deaths in England and Wales from accidents forages ten to nineteen, versus twenty-nine from assault in the same agegroup (Ofce for National Statistics 202, 224). The series, unlike thecontemporary cultural discourse around parenting, asks its readers toaccept the necessity of sacrice, but presents them with a sacrice they are unlikely to be called upon to make. Thus the culture, agitated by contradictory and willfully blind critiques of parental protectiveness,soothes itself with the displaced truth-telling of J. K. Rowling’s best-selling story.
 
214
Sarah Fiona Winters
The Denial of Death 
Cultural anxiety about children’s safety in popular discourse is exceededonly by cultural anxiety about that anxiety. Parents are targeted by boththose who point out that they are worried about the wrong kind of harm(kidnap, rape, and murder by strangers) and those who contend that even parents worried about the right kind of harm (accidents) are do-ing a third kind of harm by making children both emotionally fragileand physically weak.
3
The solution offered by most commentators isto grant children the freedom to roam the outside world, engage inunstructured play with their peers, and take risks on their own initiative. What is not said to the parent anxiously reading the latest newspapereditorial or best-selling manual is the very strong likelihood that if thousands of children are granted this freedom, some few will die fromit—and that one of those few could be your own child. These texts dooffer statistics, such as the often repeated fact that “only” about twohundred to three hundred children a year are the victims of strangerabduction in the United States,
4
but they do not attempt to offer anumerical calculation of the acceptable sacrice in young lives for thesake of youthful freedom.
 
The same vagueness occurs in Rowling’s text during Dumbledore’sspeech to the Hogwarts students in
Goblet of Fire 
, in which he explainsthe history of the Triwizard Tournament: “The schools took it in turnsto host the Tournament once every ve years, and it was generally agreed to be a most excellent way of establishing ties between young witches and wizards of different nationalities—until, that is, the deathtoll mounted so high that the Tournament was discontinued” (165–66).Dumbledore implies that one death was not seen as too high a priceto pay for an event that “established ties” between different nationsand rewarded one competitor with “the Triwizard Cup, the glory of their school, and a thousand Galleons personal prize money” (166).Only when the death toll became, as Dumbledore vaguely and non-numerically puts it, “high” was the event cancelled.The absence of a number here characterizes the text’s treatment of risk as reecting the contemporary cultural discourse surrounding it. Although commentators on the issue of child safety are eager to point out that keeping children off the streets or away from rambunctiousphysical games might eventually result in a higher percentage of adult deaths from causes related to obesity, no one is willing to give even ahypothetical cost/benet analysis in numbers: to say, for example, “A 

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