Edmund M. Kern,
The Wisdom of Harry Potter:
What Our Favorite Hero Teaches
Us about Moral Choices

(Prometheus, 2003)

In Edmund M. Kern's book, The Wisdom of Harry Potter, the author attempts to present the first four of the Harry Potter novels as a neo-stoic morality tale. With the last of the Potter books coming out later this year, I looked forward to jumping into Kern's discussion of the tales. I've read several articles on the magical teenaged hero, I've seen many an academic figure discuss his stories, I've offered up a theory or two of my own, but Kern's portrayal of Harry as a stoic hero is one of the most thorough and well-researched I've ever seen.

Let me just say, I liked this book. Kern's style is fluid and easily readable, and his explanation of the way the stoic philosophy has worked throughout history and in the Potter books is practically undeniable given his evidence. Kern has done careful research, not only of his own points of view concerning the Potter books, but also in the points of view that are counter to his. Kern tirelessly presents counter-evidence to his claims and then presents a refutation that is clear, to the point and concise so that at the end of the text, the reader can't help but see things the way Kern sees them.

One of the best parts of the book, in my opinion, is that there is an entire chapter addressing some of the biggest complaints laid toward the Harry Potter books that we've seen since their publication. From the fanatical religious who view the books as a corruption of souls, to the bizarre progressive critics who see Harry Potter as misogynist and elitist, to the equally strange conservative critics who see the books as overly questioning the status quo, Kern is able to again and again show how Harry Potter is best at demonstrating healthy, stoic moral values to its readers -- moral values such as determination, honesty and responsibility.

There is one downfall of the book: Only readers who are already Harry Potter fans are going to want to sit down and read it. This is a shame because there are some great logical arguments to the dissenters out there. But let's face it -- folks do not want to read that they are wrong, so the very people who need to read this book won't. But for the rest of us Potter fans who enjoy talking about the boy wizard and the different interpretations his adventures can generate, I think they'll enjoy this book as much as I have. It's very thought-provoking, very easily accessible and very fair in its presentation of its claims. As far as I'm concerned, Kern has caught the golden snitch with this one.

by Gregg Winkler
12 May 2007

Buy it from Amazon.com.