Paving the Road to Hell

by Christopher DeFilippis

DeFlip Side, Vol. 1, No. 10
(First Appeared: November, 1999; First Light E-zine, Issue #86)

I am writing to you from my mountain hideaway, high atop Pennsylvania’s Route 715, at the world famous Pocono Lodge. When I opened the door to room 306, breath-taking with its staggeringly majestic king sized bed and quaint fireplace (the kid at the desk informed us that we would be held to a strict ration of one Ultraflame (Burns Cleaner than Wood!) per night), I dropped the suitcase and headed straight for the television.

Sure enough, I found Quantum Leap on the Sci-Fi Channel (“The Flying Panzinni’s”) and my wife plopped herself down on the bed amidst a pile of pamphlets she had scooped up in the lobby, diligently planning how to best spend my money in the sparse two days allotted on our little trip.

Oh So Good

What this goes to show is that no matter where we find ourselves in life, no matter how far outside the routine we stray, there are always constants. Favorite shows. Favorite hobbies. Wives spending hard-earned loot at the outlets. We seek them out because they provide comfort, a tether of continuity to keep us connected to the things in life that give us a good feeling. Like Tyra Banks.

But not all constants are good.

Poverty.

Taxes.

Oprah.

And that scariest of all constants: Ignorance.

Let me quote, if I may, from a recent article appearing in The New York Times:

“‘At first I felt kind of left out, but now I don’t really mind,’ said Eric, 10, shy yet articulate. ‘I realized that it’s for my own sake that I’m not listening. There’s a lot of stuff about witchcraft and evil spells and magic. I was taught at church that that was not good.'”

Those are the words of Eric Poliner. Eric leaves his classroom at least once a day because his mother would rather he sit in the hallway or the library than let him bear witness as his teacher begins reciting from one of the most insidious tomes of our times.

The Satanic Bible? The Tibetan Book of the Dead? John Grisham’s The Client?

Think again.

The book is none other than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. Like most of the kids around the nation, Eric’s classmates are just wild about Harry. But Eric’s mom ain’t. The Times reported that she’s spent about 80 hours (probably more now) rallying like-minded parents and planning a protest against the book’s being read in school.

Never mind that it’s just a book (I hate that expression). Never mind that it’s getting kids, especially boys, to forget about video games for a little while. Never mind that it may be the first step for many children toward a life-long love of the written word. The simple fact of the matter is that those Harry Potter books have gotten so dang popular so quickly that the hand of Satan must be in there somewhere. It only stands to reason. Or so Eric Poliner is being taught.

I feel bad for Eric. His parents have a right to teach him whatever they want to I suppose, but I always thought the goal of all parents should be to raise intelligent, inquisitive individuals who can think for themselves. Eric is being taught to “realize,” as he says above, that those qualities—so vital to a fulfilled life—are evil.

The simple fact of the matter is that this really has nothing to do with Harry Potter. Last year it was Goosebumps. Before that it was Dungeons and Dragons. Tolkien. Jordan. Even Star Wars. All have been demonized by one group or another. This kind of crap has been going on for as long as there have been people interested in consolidating and holding onto power. Dictatorships. Religions. Microsoft.

The methodology is largely the same: define the enemy, consolidate against the enemy, eradicate the enemy. Or, even more effective, get ’em while they’re young so they’ll never know any better. And anyone who doesn’t fall into line gets death. Or better yet, eternal damnation. Who is the enemy? Independent thought. It may be an old story, but it still gets my blood boiling with disgust every time I hear it retold.

I’m not going to bother embarking on an out and out rail for two reasons.

  1. Anyone reading this ‘zine is probably of a like mind and there’s no sense in preaching to the converted
  2. It wouldn’t do any good anyway. People who have been taught to fear all but one mode of conduct, all but one “acceptable” way of thinking, wouldn’t dare listen. But neither should we sit idle.

I propose we fight fire with fire. Define, consolidate and eradicate the constant that is ignorance. If you hear of any scheduled demonstrations, organize a counter-demonstration. If some wacko right-wingers are attempting to browbeat the PTA into taking certain books out of the school library, make sure you let the PTA know just how much you value the easy access and availability that your school library affords your child. And even if, like me, you don’t have any children, you can still use their most potent tool against them. Get to the kids while they’re young and pave their roads to Hell.

I’ve already begun the process with my godson. Every occasion that calls for a gift means a new book from Uncle Chris. Be it a birthday, Christmas, the first day of school, or a simple whim, his library is steadily growing. And even though he can’t even read yet, the effects are evident. He knows where the wild things are, is as curious as George and wonders what the people do all day. I can’t decide which day I’m looking forward to more, the day he begins to read on his own or the day I hand him his first copy of The Hobbit.

Those power-mad demagogues are onto something. I say we turn their evil to good. I’ll bet each one of you knows at least one child. Make it your responsibility to shove a book into the kid’s hand. It may be a hard sell; you may have to cajole, bargain or bribe. But don’t give up until reading is as natural to them as eating or sleeping. Don’t give up until books have gone beyond hobby and become a part of life.

And, if at anytime you feel like giving up, just think of poor Eric, who’s sitting in life’s hallway, never knowing what’s happening beyond those forbidden doors—never even having a chance to know. The world can’t afford more stories like his.

It’s a foregone conclusion that we can’t fail. Reading Fantasy, I’ve grown accustomed to another of the positive constants that I mentioned above: the powers of Good always triumph over the powers of Evil.

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