Can reading "Harry Potter," "The Hunger Games" and "The Lord of the Rings" cause brain damage in children?
The principal of a British private school says yes.
In a lengthy blog post that went viral over the weekend, Graeme Whiting, the headmaster of the Acorn School in the English town of Nailsworth, claimed that popular fantasy books "can damage the sensitive subconscious brains of young children, many of whom may be added to the current statistics of mentally ill young children."
Whiting also criticized books by authors George R.R. Martin and Terry Pratchett, claiming they "contain deeply insensitive and addictive material which I am certain encourages difficult behaviour in children."
The principal lamented the fact that children can buy these books without a "Special licence."
"Buying sensational books is like feeding your child with spoons of added sugar," Whiting wrote, "heaps of it, and when the child becomes addicted it will seek more and more, which if related to books, fills the bank vaults of those who write un-sensitive books for young children!"
Whiting praised the "old-fashioned values of traditional literature," offering as examples William Shakespeare, John Keats, Charles Dickens and "Shelley." (He didn't specify whether he meant Percy Bysshe Shelley, author of "The Necessity of Atheism," or Mary Shelley, author of the pioneering horror novel "Frankenstein.")
The principal ended his post with the lines, "Beware the devil in the text! Choose beauty for your young children!"
Admirers of authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling reacted to Whiting's blog post with disbelief.
In the Guardian, fantasy author Samantha Shannon criticized Whiting for hypocrisy, noting that Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus"
has a character who is brutally raped and mutilated by attackers, and later murdered by her father.
"The logic of dictators and book-burners throughout history, crystallised in all its nonsensical glory: that imagination can only flourish when it’s kept inside a cage," Shannon wrote.
And at Bustle, writer Kristian Wilson contends that Whiting is "clearly Voldemort in disguise," and suggested that the principal probably hasn't read the authors he claims to love.
"If he had," Wilson wrote, "he'd know that Wordsworth's Lucy poems are full of dead women, Keats' 'Lamia' is all about sex, the Shelleys wrote tales of torture and horror, Dickens' body of work is full of prostitutes and orphans, and Shakespeare covered every graphic and occult theme you can think of.
Not everyone disagrees with Whiting. Nikki Ellis, a former teacher at the Acorn School, told the [Plymouth] Herald that she shares Whiting's views on fantasy novels.
"For me, having read the first book of Harry Potter and watched one of the movies I feel that the darkness of the books is so palpable that it wasn't the sort of thing that we would want to expose young children to in their formative years," Ellis said.
Whiting founded the Acorn School in 1991. The school's motto, according to its website, is "Have courage for the truth."