Harry Potter blamed for youth crime wave


After a gang of young people in Bristol attacked a boy with snakes (yes, I’m afraid this is true), a friend opined that it was a copycat crime, based on the pernicious seeping effect of Harry Potter among the nation’s young. I could only concur. Surprising as it may seem, I have seen this sort of thing before. (Maybe it isn’t so surprising. As regular readers will know, Ms Baroque has led a rich and full life. Eventually you see most things.)

It was like this.

The story is long and depressing, actually. A child we know, a boy with an unusual name, had been getting in trouble at school. He had had a tendency to boil over ever since babyhood, and slightly underdeveloped social skills. He is a good friend of the family, and we spent a lot of time telling him, “Use your words!” “Don’t hit people, use your words.” “Don’t have a tantrum, tell us what it is. Use your words, honey.” “Use your words…”

The same boy was something of a child genius. He obsessively read every Goosebumps book he could find. (Goosebumps, for those who may have blissfully escaped, is like this. There was a TV series too. It was torment to parents.) When our little friend ran out of Goosebumps books to read, aged 8, he started writing his own. And illustrating them. They were gruesome things, very true to the genre.

Then there was a fracas at school one time in Year 3 – or was it Year 2? – when he and a rather intense little friend had a major falling-out. He wrote her a letter, with a picture of her lying on the ground with a bloody stake through her heart (standard Goosebumps fare), which said – among other things – “I hate you! I hate you so much I wish I could prosecute you!” He didn’t give it to her. He left it in his tray. But the deputy head found it and there was a huge witch-hunt, hue & cry, packs of baying politically-correct infants teachers and Birkenstock-shod mothers all howling for the boy’s blood. The deputy head, who was famous for getting the children to perform African folk tales every Christmas, compared the letter to wife-beating. Can you imagine. No one – not the teachers, not even the child’s mother, who was far too upset – no one except me – recognised it as a bog-standard Goosebumps drawing.

And no one except me said, “Well, he did what we told him to! He used his words.”

See, I told you it was depressing. The parents of the other child put her into a school in Islington, and Mlle B was thenceforth put in a very bad position every time she had a birthday party, since if our close family friend was there her newly-Islingtonised friend was not allowed to attend. I wanted to drop the other people completely, but apparently we live in a prehistoric village.

His poor mum was completely beside herself, mortified, feeling the other people must be right and that her boy was a social monster, believing the deputy head, etc… she could barely hold her head up in the neighbourhood. This went on and on, and even at tea in the homes of playground [sic] mothers I found myself having to defend the lad, who is now – as we speak – a rather unhappy teenage genius.

So let us fast-forward to the day in, I think about Year 5 or 6, when my friend, all upset and confused again, said that there had been another episode, and that her son was in huge trouble for his “behaviour in the playground.” She had been called in, put to shame, snet homein disgrace with a defiant boy under her wing.

What had he been doing? Scaring the other children. How had he been doing that? He was bullying them. Yes but how had he been bullying them? Well, he had been chasing them around the playground. Waving a stick at them. And shouting at them. Really! What was he saying? He  was shouting, “I want to petrify you!” “And some of them were petrified! The teachers couldn’t believe it.” She said, “I have no idea what he was doing, he’s just out of control.” But what was it all about? “Something about a chess game. Really, I’m in despair. He wanted to turn them all into a chess game.”

No kidding. I burst out laughing. First I said, well, he’ll be lucky, because there’s only 30 kids in a class.

Then I said, he’s making the giant Wizard Chess game in Harry Potter.

See, he said “petrify” them – he meant petrify as in, “They have met the gaze of the Basilisk and been petrified!” He was just trying to get them to stand still.

Can you believe it. But the poor kid got in trouble anyway. I said I thought he should get a gold star for applied vocabulary.

Instead, what he’s got is: a magazine that ran to two issues (complete with comptitions, giveaways, puzzles and stories, all done by himself; a published short story about him and his best friend in Ancient Egypt; a world-class Pokemon card collection; movies (with DVD cases so complete that they even include the smallprint at the back, all original text); a production company (which produced the DVD; he even recorded over the family’s voicemail message in such a convincing American accent that for several days I thought I was ringing the wrong number), and a hip hop persona with a MySpace page and a number of recordings (which he also sells at school).

But he’s never, to my knowledge, attacked anyone with a snake.

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