Todd Hartley: I’m With Stupid |

Todd Hartley: I’m With Stupid

Todd Hartley
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

There were a couple of interesting news items from the world of literature earlier this week that some of you may have overlooked, and together I think they make an interesting statement about where we are as a society in 21st century America.

The first little tidbit was the revelation that J.K. Rowling, author of the wildly popular Harry Potter books, missed out on receiving a Presidential Medal of Freedom because some members of the Bush administration believed her books encourage witchcraft and sorcery. At least, that is the claim being made in a recently published book by Matt Latimer, a former speech writer for President George W. Bush.

As scary as it is that politicians would worry books might be promoting something that doesn’t exist, it’s much scarier to me how totally unsurprising this news is. The Bush administration was, after all, the one that spent $8,000 on blue drapes to hide two statues called “Spirit of Justice” and “Majesty of Law” because Attorney General John Ashcroft was offended by their semi-nudity, or possibly by the spirit of justice and the majesty of law.

No, it’s perfectly in keeping with the actions of the Bush administration to deny Rowling the honor, despite the fact that what her books, which have sold more than 400 million copies worldwide, really encourage is reading, something precious few American children do these days.

I do find it somewhat hypocritical, however, that so many of the members of the Bush administration, including Bush himself, are devout Christians who take the word of the Bible quite literally. How, exactly, do they think Jesus changed water into wine and Moses parted the Red Sea if there was no sorcery or witchcraft involved?

And to refuse to grant Rowling the freedom medal on those grounds is a little ridiculous in the first place when one looks at some of the past winners of the award. One of the more prominent names on the list is Walt Disney, the man who gave us the Magic Kingdom and the movie “Fantasia,” the most memorable part of which is an extended sequence called “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”

I have no problem with denying J.K. Rowling the Presidential Medal of Freedom, because I’m not sure what children’s books have to do with freedom to begin with. Granted, I’ve never read any of the Harry Potter books, so I could be missing out on something. Perhaps they’re all about freedom and how it pertains to the U.S.

But turn Rowling down for a legitimate reason, such as the fact that she’s English and it’s supposed to be an American award. Or claim, as the administration apparently did with Ted Kennedy, that Rowling is too liberal and deny her for that reason. Fine. I have no problem with that. I would even expect it. But to refuse her the award because her books encourage witchcraft, which even the youngest and stupidest readers of her books know isn’t real, just makes the people involved look like imbeciles.

The second bit of literature news to make headlines was a story about how, after 81 years, “Return to the Hundred Acre Wood,” the second official sequel to “Winnie-the-Pooh,” is due to be published in the U.K. and the U.S. this week and will feature a new character called Lottie the Otter.

Now, I imagine a lot of you are thinking, “Wow! Isn’t A.A. Milne really old by now?” Well, he would be if, in fact, he was still alive. But Milne died in 1956 having not written a Winnie-the-Pooh book since 1928’s “The House at Pooh Corner.” Thus, the task of writing the newest sequel fell to David Benedictus, an author of numerous children’s books who, at 71 years old, is only slightly younger than Milne himself.

The better question is why, after all this time, is someone writing a Winnie-the-Pooh sequel and adding a new character? The answer may have something to do with the American legal system. You see, just a few days ago an 18-year-old legal battle between Walt Disney Co. and Stephen Slesinger Inc. regarding the sales of Winnie-the-Pooh merchandise was finally settled in Disney’s favor, saving Disney as much as $2 billion in damages.

How much do you want to bet that had Disney lost, every commercial on every Disney TV channel and radio network would have encouraged kids to beg their parents for a brand new Lottie the Otter toy for Christmas?

I wouldn’t have fallen for it, though. I mean, a talking otter? That sounds a lot like witchcraft to me.

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