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Missing from 'Harry Potter" – a real moral struggle

Without inner conflict, the hero's tale was hollow.

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If literature truly reflects society, then the end of the Harry Potter series spells trouble for us all.

Because, after 10 years, 4,195 pages, and over 325 million copies, J.K. Rowling's towering achievement lacks the cornerstone of almost all great children's literature: the hero's moral journey. Without that foundation, her story – for all its epic trappings of good versus evil – is stuck in a moral no man's land.

To be clear: This isn't a critique of Ms. Rowling's values. It's a recognition of a disturbing trend in commercial storytelling and Western society.

For those who've yet to finish "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," stop reading now: There are spoilers ahead. If you did, however, embark on a Deathly Hallows marathon, you know that the shady Severus Snape died, not in the name of evil, but in the name of good.

Oh, yeah. And Harry defeated Voldemort. Good prevailed. The problem is, that's not the moral of the story. Good always prevails. It's the hero's struggle – and costly redemption – that matters.

Classic tales such as J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time" set the standard for children's fiction. With their unrelenting drive toward "the moral of the story," they form a golden thread in the West's cultural fabric. And yet, like the society in which we live, storytelling itself has, in recent decades, undergone a radical transformation – sliding toward moral ambivalence with alarming speed.

I'm not advocating for the kind of didacticism that dominated Puritan and Victorian children's fiction. Times change. Arguably, postwar, post-Depression America needed the escape value of Disney's adaptations of "Snow White" and "Cinderella." It was a marriage of storytelling and meaning-making quite apart from what the Brothers Grimm envisaged a century before. But while Disney's focus was entertainment, the moral still mattered. And that moral center has all but vanished from much of today's pop culture.


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