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An article appearing in yesterday’s New York Times discusses the prominent role that alcohol plays in the latest Harry Potter:

Hermione is tipsy. Neville is serving drinks. Ron is sipping mead and Harry is partying with his professors.

Does Hogwarts have a drinking problem?

As Harry Potter fans crowd movie theaters to catch the latest installment in the blockbuster series, parents may be surprised by the starring role given to alcohol. In scene after scene, the young wizards and their adult professors are seen sipping, gulping and pouring various forms of alcohol to calm their nerves, fortify their courage or comfort their sorrows.

Frankly, I don’t find any of this particularly surprising. The kids are growing up, becoming adults, and encounters with alcohol are bound to happen. What did surprise me, however, was the way that several parents interviewed for the article rationalized exposing their kids to what arguably amounts to a glorification of alcohol:

Other parents were less concerned. Daniel Isaacs, a New York advertising copywriter, said his 9-year-old daughter didn’t notice the drinking scenes. “The Harry Potter universe is not our own,” he said. “Trying to put 2009 American norms into play seems kind of silly . . . .

Warner Brothers, which released the movie, said the drinking scenes were “open to different interpretations.”

“One of our main objectives in bringing the Harry Potter films to the screen has been to remain as faithful to their original source material as created by J. K Rowling,” the company wrote in an e-mail message, adding that the wizarding world “should not be held to the same standards as the real world.” . . .

“I think the alcohol angle washed over me because of the magical context of the film—this isn’t a real school, real teachers or real students—so it’s almost like the drinking isn’t real,” [Alison Turner] said. “I wonder how many kids even know what mead is.”

Huh? Let me get this straight. Because the story is set in a fictitious world, we aren’t supposed to relate their morality to our own? I thought that was one of the main advantages of the fantasy genre. The scenery changes, and that’s a good thing, because what remains is what we want to focus on anyway: The moral challenges we all face in our everyday lives. If these parents are correct, they’re effectively saying: “Harry Potter may choose to fight evil, may choose love over hate, but he’s living in a world very different from our own. We shouldn’t assume that this applies to our lives.” In the end, that would be the greatest fiction of all.

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