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View Full Version : I Promised to Read Aloud a Book That's Triggering My Own Personal Child Abuse Issues



Crabby Lioness
01-04-2012, 01:06 PM
I promised my daughters I would read aloud Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, as I think it's a bit dark for them to read by themselves. I got the book out this weekend, sat it down in wait -- and I haven't been able to sleep at night since then.

Now, I'm no beginner at this sort of thing. I'm 45 and while I was an abused child I worked through most of those issues ages ago. In the past I've been able to talk about really loaded issues with my children in a calm, neutral, and age-appropriate manner. I've also discussed the things I think Rowling does wrong and the things I think she does right with them previously. And Goblet is one of my favorite books, as opposed to Phoenix which I threw across the room halfway though and never finished because I wanted to give Harry a sound thrashing for being such an idiot.

But the way Rowling handles child abuse issues in the Harry Potter series is shocking. I'm not talking about the Dursleys, they're a standard-issue set of wretched step-parents that plague most plucky orphans at the beginning of stories. In fact they're so stereotypical they can almost be dismissed as comic, were it not for their level of low-grade but constant menace. But plucky storybook orphans typically get away from their Dursleys and end up somewhere better, you expect that. It's the much more dangerous, sophisticated, and downright evil child abuse at Hogwarts that bothers me so much.

Hogwarts, where most adults regard children as either nuisances or means to an end; and the few adults who don't are relatively powerless to protect them. More disturbing, Hogwarts where all the self-centered children are locked in the same chamber at night. My God, who was able to read that statement (in the second book) and still sleep at night afterwards?

I was an extremely self-centered child with bloody good reason. I was also an extremely abused child. That system puts all the severely abused children and all the young abusers in the same House and locks the door.

Every night.

I was badly enough abused as a child that when I was the age of the Hogwarts students (10-17) I seriously considered suicide every single night. Every night I lay in my bed and had to come up with a reason not to jump out of the window. Most nights it came down to I couldn't be sure I would die from the fall. If I'd been at Hogwarts as a child I would have been put in Slytherin House and I would have been 100% guaranteed street pizza. That sort of system breeds suicides.

And don't try to tell me, "Oh, they would have never done something that stupid. They would have intervened", because I've read the books. The Hogwarts faculty and staff did even stupider things than that all the time.

I don't know what I'm going to do. It bothers me that amongst all the praise for Rowling I see this aspect of her books -- how badly she understands both the effects of severe child abuse and the self-centered mind -- so seldom discussed.

baker
01-04-2012, 02:09 PM
Well, I have not read HP books (just not a genre I like) but I have heard all the praise for the books and the author. IMHO, if it disturbs you that much, you can certainly find other books that will be delightful to you and your children. Your personal situation sounds horrible, I would not want to relive it any way, shape or form.

Jeni
01-04-2012, 02:36 PM
I think we all put our own feelings and experiences into books we read or shows we watch. I personally find HP delightful for the most part. As it gets further and further along I get more and more frustrated at the crap that Harry has to deal with. I might stay away from the books in the future if I were you.

Accidental Homeschooler
01-04-2012, 02:46 PM
More disturbing, Hogwarts where all the self-centered children are locked in the same chamber at night. My God, who was able to read that statement (in the second book) and still sleep at night afterwards?

That system puts all the severely abused children and all the young abusers in the same House and locks the door. Every night.

I seriously have no memory of either of these from reading/listening to HP books multiple times.

Crabby Lioness
01-04-2012, 02:51 PM
I seriously have no memory of either of these from reading/listening to HP books multiple times.

It's in the second book, where they are reassuring Harry that he doesn't belong in Slytherin because only the self-centered kids are sent there.

God Almighty, what long-term traumatized child is not self-centered?

Accidental Homeschooler
01-04-2012, 03:03 PM
It's in the second book, where they are reassuring Harry that he doesn't belong in Slytherin because only the self-centered kids are sent there.

Maybe I have some reading comprehension problems or else my memory is not what it should be. Where is the link made between self-centered and abuse victim?

dragonfly
01-04-2012, 03:05 PM
That's terrible, what happened to you, and that the book is bringing back bad memories.

I don't mean to make light of your issues, and I understand that everyone may interpret stories differently. I'm not saying yours are wrong, but maybe mine will help you see it differently...?

Anyway...here's how I took it: The kids at Hogwarts are not normal kids, they are magical, and potentially have the power to do a lot of damage, if not controlled. Think about that Twilight Zone episode with the young boy who could magically do anything he wanted. The adults had zero control over him, being normal themselves, and he wreaked havoc, making things and people he didn't like disappear.

Also, the locking in business must not have been very well done, because Harry and his friends seemed to be able to roam the halls pretty much freely every night they wanted to, as long as they avoided the "hall monitors." Additionally, they way I read it, it was the entire "house" that was locked, not the individual dorm rooms. They still had access to the common room all night. To me, this was like being in a regular house that was locked for the night, not being locked into their own bedrooms. Also, most of the bad blood existed between Houses, each of which was separate from the others within Hogwarts. I don't remember any members of Griffindor who abused each other...sometimes they didn't get along, but it wasn't as if Malfoy was in the bed next to Harry.

Harry, of course, did take a lot more grief than anyone else. In his specific case, I think it was important for the development of his character. I can see how someone with an abusive background could be much more sensitive to many of the things that happened in the books, though. Perhaps the lesson to take from it is that someone can have a fairly miserable childhood, and still be a hero and happy in the end.

That's how I saw it. I don't know if this helps you, though. I hope you can either work through it, or perhaps you need to find something else to read, for your own peace of mind.

AddlepatedMonkeyMama
01-04-2012, 03:09 PM
I think J.K. Rowling based Hogwarts on the typical English public school, including her own experiences at one. Kids were divided into "houses" which competed against each other. Just like at any school, the teachers don't see everything that goes on and some may even be inclined to turn a blind eye to bullying. I don't have the same childhood experiences as you, Crabby, but I never felt that the environment of the school or dormitories was scary or miserable for the characters. Harry clearly loves it there, the food is abundant and delicious, there are secret passages and friendly ghosts. They are free to contact their families at any time and have access to good medical care. Sure, Dumbledore is up in his tower most of the time, Snape is unfair, and Umbridge is just plain evil, but the other professors--McGonigle, Flitwick, Lupin, Sprout, Hagrid--have the kids' best interests at heart. The environment and rules of Hogwarts as a whole--at least when the "good guys" are in charge--never struck me as abusive. For abusive and nightmarish, I think of Lowood in Jane Eyre.

I'm not saying this to persuade you to read the books aloud if you're uncomfortable with it, Crabby. I wanted to strangle Harry all through book 5 too, though. :)

dbmamaz
01-04-2012, 03:38 PM
Yeah, i dont remember anyone being locked in. the kids are not supposed to be out, but the door wasnt locked. Also each house has prefects and head boys (girls?). we never see anyone consulting them, but I assumed they are there, like RA's in college dorms here. What I'm hearing you say is that the kids in Slytherin house are likely to be abusing each other. But I dont think they are likely to put kids there who arent able to handle the level of roughness there - remember, they are sorted by a magical hat who looks inside their head and decides which house would be best for them. And as previous poster said, this is a typical dorm setup, and most kids in england spend their later childhood in boarding schools.

Certainly if it brings up stuff for you, simply dont read it. There is no reason to suffer that much just to read your kids a book. get a copy of it on tape from the library and leave the room while they listen to it. I really think its hitting your button but i dont think its a major flaw of the book. most childrens books are not written about badly abused, suicidal kids - because, you know, most people dont want to admit they exist. But just because you would find it an untenable situation to imagine yourself in doesnt mean most kids would. Many childrens books are based on a bunch of kids facing a situation together without adults.

Crabby Lioness
01-04-2012, 04:10 PM
Maybe I have some reading comprehension problems or else my memory is not what it should be. Where is the link made between self-centered and abuse victim?

Real life. Any long-term trauma results in self-centered kids, from child abuse to cancer. That's how kids roll.


What I'm hearing you say is that the kids in Slytherin house are likely to be abusing each other. But I dont think they are likely to put kids there who arent able to handle the level of roughness there - remember, they are sorted by a magical hat who looks inside their head and decides which house would be best for them. And as previous poster said, this is a typical dorm setup, and most kids in england spend their later childhood in boarding schools.

It's the magical hat that said this in the first place. So maybe I shouldn't trust what a magical hat says, but it's what's doing the job.


I really think its hitting your button but i dont think its a major flaw of the book

That sounds like you're saying it's okay to have a situation that breeds abusive relationships as long as you're not being abused personally. And I know you didn't mean that, but consider substituting any other minority in that position and see how it would read.

Accidental Homeschooler
01-04-2012, 05:38 PM
Real life. Any long-term trauma results in self-centered kids, from child abuse to cancer. That's how kids roll.

I guess I just don't take self-centered to automatically equal abuse victim. People can be self-centered for other reasons. When reading that Slytherin is where the kids who are self-centered go I didn't translate that to abuse victims. I don't think, however true it is that long-term trauma causes children to be self-centered, that Rowling was attempting to address child abuse in her description of Slytherin House. I came away from it thinking that the Slytherins were the super ambitious with a good dose of snobbish (the pure blood stuff) thrown in. Also, I really enjoyed the books, as did my kids, and am really sorry you are not.

Crabby Lioness
01-04-2012, 05:53 PM
I guess I just don't take self-centered to automatically equal abuse victim. People can be self-centered for other reasons. When reading that Slytherin is where the kids who are self-centered go I didn't translate that to abuse victims. I don't think, however true it is that long-term trauma causes children to be self-centered, that Rowling was attempting to address child abuse in her description of Slytherin House.

No, kids can be self-centered for a variety of reasons, including just being kids.

BUT if you're going to filter all self-centered kids into one place you're going to get BOTH all the bullies AND all the abuse victims.

The problem, according to other. bigger HP fans I've talked to over the years who have brought this point up with Rowling herself, is that Rowling equates self-centered with evil and no amount of evidence to the contrary was enough to change her mind.

Batgirl
01-04-2012, 06:10 PM
I can see how the books would really press your buttons. I think that the emotional effect of many of the incidents on the characters is pretty much ignored, plus I believe that 1.) that JK Rowling did base the books on her own experience of boarding school and 2.) instances of abuse, bullying, etc. were rampant in English boarding schools. Roald Dahl's descriptions aren't positive.

I dunno, maybe she thought the whole issue was too far outside the compass of the plot & what she felt comfortable addressing. The books aren't exactly deep.

What do you think you are going to do? Wade through them with your kids anyway? Not read aloud, but make a point of discussing after they've read them?????

farrarwilliams
01-04-2012, 06:16 PM
I'm the only person who loves Harry in book 5, huh? :p

I know what you're saying, Crabby. A lot of the things about how Hogwarts is run have bothered me when I really think about them. How terrible it must be to go into Slytherin, not even as self-centered or brutish, but just as ambitious and then find an atmosphere where you're encouraged to have no moral center. And some of the punishments! The use of threats! The bullying even between houses and the way the professors deal with it is also really not right. And then there's the positively dreadful, test-driven educational culture. The teaching, for the most part, is really terrible. There's an odd glorification of boarding school at the same time that, if you delve into it, it's actually really nasty, even at Hogwarts.

But for me, it's easy to push past it. To say, okay, here's an element of the series where I don't think Rowling was really trying to lay out any actual clear thinking about what education should be like, what school should be like, or how children should be raised. So then I just put it aside. But then again, I'm not a former victim of abuse. So... I don't know. Hugs to you. I most just wanted to validate that I think there are some really messed up messages about institutions for children in there.

Stella M
01-04-2012, 06:17 PM
It's years since I've read the books.

English boarding schools were places of abuse; in fiction, start with Jane Eyre and work your way along :( I don't know how one could write about boarding school without encompassing the terrible flaws in full time institutional living. It isn't something that occurred to me when I was reading the HP books but there are many ways to read a book and many valid interpretations. I was probably just carried along on plot...

If it is acting as a trigger for you, then I would break my promise to the kids. Tell them HP makes you sad/upset/angry/whatever and that you've decided not to keep reading them for the time being. Take the kids shopping for a new read-aloud instead. Have they read My Family and Other Animals ? That's a fabulous, funny, well written, educational story far removed from the HP world.

theWeedyRoad
01-04-2012, 06:31 PM
I would say... don't read them. period.

I don't think it's the author's job to make us comfortable. Honestly, if I read a book and I don't feel SOMETHING, then imho the author didn't do his/her job very well.

The HP books didn't really bother me (I was pretty lonely and neglected as a child, so it didn't really push any hot buttons for me), but I have serious issues with... Twilight. LOL. I don't want my dd to read those until she has a healthy dose of cynicism (the 'bad' guy who isn't really bad, isn't trying to get in the girl's pants, and is holding out for marriage.. seriously??? Way to set girls up with unrealistic expectations!).

OTOH, I read through a top 10 list of YA books and was appalled at the current trend of plot-lines. Personally, I think if you feed your kids a steady diet of death, drugs, abuse, etc etc they are going to think THAT is the great adult secret they don't know, and THAT is really what life is about. I want to preserve the fairies and stardust for as long as I can, and a lot of the YA stuff right now just drains the magic out of life altogether (I can see kids going through a situation like the ones mentioned reading those for a type of therapy, but not constantly iykwim). At any rate.

Stella M
01-04-2012, 06:37 PM
Oh yeah, Twilight is B.A.D. The writing is atrocious and the modelling even worse.

Sometimes I ask dd12 "What should Bella have done ?"
And she knows the right answer is "Leave Edward and go to cooking school." :)

dragonfly
01-04-2012, 06:59 PM
When I read the books, I never saw anything that suggested child abuse to me (other than the poor behavior of the Dursleys, but since they were ultimately protecting Harry from certain assassination, I could deal with it). However, I can see how it could trigger those thoughts if one has had any kind of experience of abuse. We tend to focus on the things that are important to us.

A really lame example: I was watching an episode of Rachel Ray's old show, the one in which she traveled around the country looking for places to eat. She visited my home state of NH, and mentioned in a voice over the Piscataqua River--but she pronounced it incorrectly. This pushed my buttons so hard that I had to turn the show off. It had absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the show, but it just bothered me too much. I'm sure every other viewer out there didn't care.

I don't think that child abuse is a theme in HP, but that's just me. (Elf abuse, for sure.) If it is a clear theme for you, or if it brings up unpleasant memories, I can understand being uncomfortable with reading it.

Do the movies bother you similarly?

dragonfly
01-04-2012, 07:03 PM
Oh yeah, Twilight is B.A.D. The writing is atrocious and the modelling even worse.

I've never read them, but I found this (http://failbook.failblog.org/2012/01/02/funny-facebook-fails-total-gibberish/) to be pretty funny.

Crabby Lioness
01-04-2012, 08:12 PM
I've never read them, but I found this (http://failbook.failblog.org/2012/01/02/funny-facebook-fails-total-gibberish/) to be pretty funny.

The Harvard Book Club used to have a link to their review of Twilight. It was a picture of the hardcover hung from the ceiling with a heavy wooden stake driven all the way through it.

'Nuff said.

Pefa
01-04-2012, 09:49 PM
What a tough place to be in. Books can trigger a lot of stuff but sometimes, if it isn't relevant to you, it totally gets past you. Little Women is my prime example - ask what folks remember and mostly it's Beth's death and Laurie marrying the wrong March, stuff like that (which is what I remember). Rereading it as an adult I was astounded at all the religion going on because that wasn't what stayed with me at all. A year or so ago BOO read Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series. I knew it was heavy so I started to read it too. And I couldn't get through it. So we talked about that - what he found compelling about the series and why I found the books too heartbreaking to finish.

I don't really know what to tell you. I'm sorry you had to live through what nobody should have to live through. I can't even imagine how hard it must be to have to live with that history and how hard it must be to seperate that world view from the experience your children are having. I guess you have to decide whether any of your girls are old enough to read the book to themselves and then discuss the real problems you have with the book. (I do remember B1, who read the first book when he was about 6yo, being totally confused by Harry et al's bad problem solving skills something Harry never got any better at.) You can ask them to wait until they're older to read it. You can forbid them to read the book. Personally, I'd opt for letting them read it themselves and then discussing it, a la BOO's and my discussion of the Hunger Games. But, I don't know your girls so that might be totally wrong.

jess
01-05-2012, 03:58 PM
No, kids can be self-centered for a variety of reasons, including just being kids.

BUT if you're going to filter all self-centered kids into one place you're going to get BOTH all the bullies AND all the abuse victims.

The problem, according to other. bigger HP fans I've talked to over the years who have brought this point up with Rowling herself, is that Rowling equates self-centered with evil and no amount of evidence to the contrary was enough to change her mind.

Except that, when you look at the series as a whole, she doesn't. From a whole-series perspective, I really don't see it as being quite as black-or-white as you seem to be seeing.

There are abuse victims (eg. Harry) who go into Gryffindor. We see bullies from multiple houses, including Gryffindor. Some of the Slytherin end up being heroes. It is discussed that people can have prominent traits of houses they are not in, or could do well in more than one house (Hermione would certainly hold her own in Ravenclaw. Harry and Ron both demonstrate amazing self-centeredness at times.)

Which isn't to say that I find the makeup of Slytherin house entirely unproblematic. What would have happened if Snape had been sorted into Ravenclaw instead? However, another consideration is that the sorting hat is more of a lens focusing a person's own intentions, rather than an arbitrary decider. I'd imagine that an abuse victim who wanted nothing more than to be safe would end up in Hufflepuff.

I don't think she explored these issues as artfully as she could have, but I don't think it's quite as black and white as you're seeing, either.

In any case, I'd suggest reading through the remaining books yourself (or detailed summaries) and then deciding whether you want to continue doing them as read-alouds. Or, if the thought of continuing really bothers you regardless of the eventual outcome, it's ok to stop. I think it's perfectly fine to tell your kids they have to read them on their own, though doing it as a read-aloud at least gives you the chance to address parts that you find problematical.


The HP books didn't really bother me (I was pretty lonely and neglected as a child, so it didn't really push any hot buttons for me), but I have serious issues with... Twilight. LOL. I don't want my dd to read those until she has a healthy dose of cynicism (the 'bad' guy who isn't really bad, isn't trying to get in the girl's pants, and is holding out for marriage.. seriously??? Way to set girls up with unrealistic expectations!).

OTOH, I read through a top 10 list of YA books and was appalled at the current trend of plot-lines. Personally, I think if you feed your kids a steady diet of death, drugs, abuse, etc etc they are going to think THAT is the great adult secret they don't know, and THAT is really what life is about. I want to preserve the fairies and stardust for as long as I can, and a lot of the YA stuff right now just drains the magic out of life altogether (I can see kids going through a situation like the ones mentioned reading those for a type of therapy, but not constantly iykwim). At any rate.

I admit... I read all the Twilight books and enjoyed them. They aren't masterpieces, but I don't find them as problematic as many people seem to, and I wouldn't have a problem with a teenager who otherwise had a reasonable grip on reality reading them. But the fact that these books are some of the most popular among elementary schoolers really bothers me. Bad role-modeling aside, a book that's blatantly focused on the question of when to have sex doesn't seem like a good one for a 3rd grader to be reading (I read a report at some point that showed the Twilight series as THE most popular book(s) read by both male and female 3rd-5th graders in some recent year, but can't find a link to it).

I'm not sure the death/drug/abuse trend is really all that much more common now than it used to be - I remember reading a lot of that when I was a teen. But I agree, based on my own experience, that it isn't particularly emotionally healthy

Stella M
01-06-2012, 01:13 AM
Monarch programming ?? Lakshmi, Lakshmi...

Methinks JK is a nice lady who got lucky hitting on a book that took off, not part of a program. I like the fable aspect of fighting against depression and self doubt myself...

IMHO :)

theWeedyRoad
01-06-2012, 12:37 PM
I'm not sure the death/drug/abuse trend is really all that much more common now than it used to be - I remember reading a lot of that when I was a teen. But I agree, based on my own experience, that it isn't particularly emotionally healthy

This may be very true. I remember books when I was in middle school that we were forced to read- mostly they seemed to have to do with cancer or some other disease or the occasional historical fiction. On my own, I read a lot of fantasy of the order of Robin McKinley or Terry... Brooks? Which seemed to have a lot to do with courage, not nearly as much death, and generally none of the sort of heavy duty stuff I looked through lately. I don't remember it being on the market then, but it might have been (but that was... 20+ years ago)

theWeedyRoad
01-06-2012, 12:41 PM
What a tough place to be in. Books can trigger a lot of stuff but sometimes, if it isn't relevant to you, it totally gets past you. Little Women is my prime example - ask what folks remember and mostly it's Beth's death and Laurie marrying the wrong March, stuff like that (which is what I remember). Rereading it as an adult I was astounded at all the religion going on because that wasn't what stayed with me at all. A year or so ago BOO read Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series. I knew it was heavy so I started to read it too. And I couldn't get through it. So we talked about that - what he found compelling about the series and why I found the books too heartbreaking to finish.



The Narnia books. I LOVED those books, and learned that C.S. Lewis was religious not long after reading them. BUT at the time I didn't pick up on all the religious aspects of the books. I read, and reread that series numerous times. As an adult, my first viewing of the movie was... irritating because it seemed like the religious aspects were so much more obvious (although not to my kids, and I don't think it was intentional from the producers).

SueEllen Grieves-Curl
01-06-2012, 01:02 PM
I can tell you that I have been there. Suicide was in my thoughts growing up and even tried it a few times. I ended up spending time in a hospital because of it.
I have not read these books and really have no interest in them. However just the fact that you are getting this from reading these books in my opinion you should not be reading them. Only for the fact that they are taking you back to a place and time in your life when you were in a bad place. Revisiting that place will effect you in the present and you need to guard yourself from that. If you allow yourself to be brought back there you will relive it and all those feelings and thoughts will come back. The bad thing is it is harder to come back from there a second time.

Crabby Lioness
01-10-2012, 01:07 AM
Thank you. I've decided -- I'm not going to make a decision right now. There's other books I can read next. I'll revisit the issue later, and maybe I'll feel differently then.