Lay down your weary head, my son, and I will lull you to sleep with … a violent tale of death and dismemberment …?

Zan is almost nine now, and one of the great things about having an almost-9-year-old son is that the list of things I can do with him that I actually enjoy rather than endure has grown considerably since back in the days when he was a wee little tyke.

For example: Remember “Brown Bear” and “Goodnight Moon” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “Miss Spider” and “Dear Sweet Christ, My Brain Is Melting From The Monotony of Reading and Re-Reading The Same Boring Shit Over and Over and Over”? Yeah, me too. Thankfully, we have graduated to less lobotomy-inducing fare, such as the “Hardy Boys” mysteries (granted, still awful … but I only have to read them once) …. and, more recently, “Harry Potter.”

We started the “Harry Potter” series last fall, and I have enjoyed reading it to him at bedtime as much as he has enjoyed listening to me read it.

Earlier this week, we finished the fourth book in the series, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

A whimsical, happy book cover that beckons the reader to embark upon a joyful adventure filled with the promise of magic and smiles and things other than,
you know, a gruesome bloodbath.

Here’s a brief synopsis of the roughly 700-page novel:

Pages 1 – 600: Harry, lovable little rapscallion that he is, gets in and out of various predicaments. Oh, Harry! You and your shenanigans!

Pages 600 – 700: He Who Must Not Be Named does Shit That Must Not Be Read … to an 8-year-old, anyway. Shit like murder and dismemberment and bloodletting and more murder and, hey, J.K.: Why don’t you just come to my house and jump out of my kid’s closet in the middle of the night with a fucking chainsaw and a monster mask?

I believe an updated book cover is in order, Ms. Rowling.
Have your people call my people.

Now, seeing as how I was the one reading the book, I conveniently bypassed the self-inflicted amputation, and I may have toned down just slightly a few other intense moments (although I don’t recall for sure; I was too busy having an internal debate about whether or not I’d made a mistake in reading this book to my 8-year-old) … but I mostly stuck to what was on the page … and, to his credit, Zan seemed to handle it all fine. In fact, the couple of times I paused to ask if he was troubled by anything, he explained that, yes, he was troubled … by the fact that I kept pausing to ask if he was troubled by anything.

Well, excuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuse me.

Thankfully, several days later, there have been no nightmares or thumb-sucking incidents or seizures or any other outward signs of psychological and/or emotional trauma, so I’m assuming we’re good.

Now, however I have a dilemma. Two, actually:

1.) After completing each of the first three books, we watched the corresponding “Harry Potter” movie. And so, naturally, Zan wants to watch “Harry Potter and the Bloody Fucking Nightmare Goblet of Fire” … but I’m fairly certain scenes like this are probably a bit too intense for the 8-year-old demographic.

2.) He also wants us to continue reading the series … but with the storyline veering into “Silence of the Lambs” territory, I don’t know if it is wise for us to do so at this time.

Wise or not, however, I think we’re going to give it a try. I figure that as long as I’m the one doing the reading, I can improvise as needed.

And, as Zan said: “Daddy, I know it’s not real. It’s just a book. And, look, if I get scared, I can just picture Voldemort skipping through a field handing out flowers.”

Well, who can argue with that logic?

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  1. Posted March 19, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    I can tell you from reading these books that they get increasingly disturbing. The prisoners of azkaban is not one you want to read to him, and the deathly hallows is worse. May I recommend the Lighning Thief series? or perhaps the 39 clues?
    Onethirdacrewoods´s most recent blog post: The One Where I Actually Become the Middle Aged, Midwestern StereotypeMy Profile

  2. Lola
    Posted March 19, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I agree with Onethirdacrewoods. They books do indeed get darker. Personally I love the books, but I’m 36. I would have trouble, though, reading them to an 8 year old. But like you said, you can edit as you read. Tough decision.

  3. Posted March 19, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Who are you, Tipper Gore?
    the muskrat´s most recent blog post: my review of the 2012 dad 2.0 conferenceMy Profile

  4. Allyssa
    Posted March 19, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    After the last movie came out, I decided to re-read the series, and my 4 yr old kept asking me “what’s on that page, Mommy?” He’s intrigued by the story and I found myself wondering when he would be old enough for me to start reading to him. Now I know 8 is not the age. 🙂 Maybe you can also answer the question for me, ” when can I let him watch the Star Wars movies?” He keeps begging, and he’s obsessed with the story lines thanks to my husband/his father reading the Star Wars books to him.

  5. Posted March 19, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Wow, did your son really say that? About Voldemort and the field of flowers? He is wise beyond his years. Probably if you read the books at a slow pace, he would be fine.

    @Allyssa – Star Wars was the first movie I saw in a theatre…at age 5. I remember the rollercoaster ride of a fight on the Death Star. I think my nephew was somewhere around that age when they let him watch them, too. Star Wars is much less dark than Harry Potter. Any major characters who die simply “join the force”. If I had kids, they’d probably see the movies starting in infancy because I am furiously addicted.
    red´s most recent blog post: For the Love of a Brew!My Profile

  6. wb
    Posted March 19, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    oh pooo just read him the darn books and don’t worry about it – it will be all too soon before he will refuse to sit in the same room with you so enjoy it while you can. the movies might be another story I dunno I haven’t seen them.

  7. Fabs
    Posted March 19, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I know, right?! I have a 9 year old son, and was extremely dissapointed that the series turned so dark. We’ll be saving the movies for a little later.

  8. BestOfSeven
    Posted March 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    My almost 9 year-old son is reading the HP books (currently finishing up #6) and is loving it. (My husband and I are reading them separately as well.) My son is a bit of sensitive kid so I was a bit concerned how he would react to the stories, but what I’ve found out is he already knows what’s going to happen! All his friends that have seen the movies or read the books have already told him the plot lines. (So don’t be surprised if Zan knows more than you do about what’s next.) And, for my son, knowing how it ends (or at least who’s still alive (or not) at the end) has diminished the scare factor. Also, if he gets to a part that’s a bit darker, he’ll stop reading and take a break for a bit (read a 39 Clues, Geronimo Stilton, or Secrets of Droon book) or wait until the sun is shining to read the next part.

    As far as watching the movies, the deal we have is that he can’t watch the movie unless he’s read the book and he must watch it with us first. And while we typically don’t let him watch PG-13 movies — we’ve relented on the HP movies, Star Wars series, and Moneyball (what can I say, baseball is big in our family), he’s not as bothered since he knows what’s going to happen. (He does love to discuss what’s different in the book and in the movie and why that may be.) And, yes, in certain scenes, he may just snuggle a bit closer to his mom or dad and that’s okay too.

    I do think the series may be a bit more disturbing for adults as we understand and, perhaps, relate more to the underlying themes and betrayals a bit more. I know the thought of a young boy losing his parents bothers me a whole lot more than it bothers my son.

    All this said, the HP books have been great for getting my son to read more and, for that, I’m grateful to JKR.

  9. Shanna
    Posted March 19, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    My 8 year old read them himself three times each. He loves them. He also knows that they are not real. We have had zero problems from the books and his reading them.

  10. Posted March 19, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Way back in time (when mine was a little guy) he read the books and loved them. As did I. Although they are dark, I think it’s like a few of the others said, I don’t think children pick up on the darkness as much as adults do.

    I would actually like to go back and re-read them. But that child who calls himself my son gave the collection away. Yes, he gave away a full collection of HARD BACK books without asking me. Damn kid.
    Gigi´s most recent blog post: How is it that I can be SO proud and yet so heartbroken at the same time?My Profile

  11. Posted March 19, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Not being a parent I know better how to rasie childern than people with kids so listen up. My sister and I look back at the TV Shows we watched when were kids and are like Yo sis how did or Mother let us watch this smut. We totally missed all those sex jokes on Mary Tyler Moore. Now we watch it and are like OH Sue Ann is “The Happy Maker”. I also remember telling my mother to ” Kiss my Grits” and not getting why it pissed her off.
    Fran´s most recent blog post: Know that….My Profile

  12. Roxanne
    Posted March 19, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    My boys read a lot of Gary Paulson’s books – you should check them out. Dog Song, Hatchet, Brian’s Winter, Brian’s Return.

  13. Sadie
    Posted March 19, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    There was a reason the author took her time publishing them ~ She needed her audience to grow up with the main characters in the book. The books do get darker but it is a classic tale of good vs evil. Zan realizes that the stories aren’t real – they are magical and the things that happen are pretty far out. JK’s descriptive ability has obviously helped your son’s imagination – Have to say that picturing “He Who Shall Not be Named” tip toeing through the tulips cracked me up!!! I believe that the gift you are giving your son by reading with him every night far exceeds any scary moments he may experience while you are snuggled together ~ Relax and enjoy the moment!!! Like others have suggested, maybe you could throw in a book or two in between the last few books. With his interest in sports, I’d throw in a few books about baseball. With the last few movies, you and your wife might want to “pre-view” them and maybe FF through a few of the scenes when you watch them w/Zan. That is what my friend did with her kids and they survived the sensorship…You are the parents and you get to decide what is appropriate for your kids.

  14. Posted March 20, 2012 at 2:21 am | Permalink

    Here’s a suggestion: When you get to a really creepy place, just start laughing. Get Zan to laugh, too. Make fun of the whole creepiness while you laugh and talk about the author’s imagination. I don’t know. Might work. Until Zan decided you’re ruining the whole experience.
    Gullible´s most recent blog post: Gullible’s DefinitionsMy Profile

  15. Posted March 20, 2012 at 2:40 am | Permalink

    When my eldest daughter was 8 she decided that story time was for her little sisters and that she would rather read alone. I could not keep up with her as she read on average 6 story books a week. Fortunately, at the time, the later darker Harry novels had not been released yet, she grew up with them (the generation that Sadie refers to). My girls all went through a Goosebumps stage of which I did not approve. When I told them they would become desensitised resulting in them being serial killers they thought I was hysterically funny. (Fortunately I was wrong, but personally not into horror)

    PS I agree with everything that Sadie said, I borrowed this from a UK study:

    “Reading to young children stimulates their development and gives them a head start when they reach school, according to researchers who have reviewed studies on the effects of reading. Apart from helping their reading, sharing a bedtime story with a child promotes their motor skills, through learning to turn the pages, and their memory. It also improves their emotional and social development.:”
    Vivian´s most recent blog post: Its changing and I still don’t understand the last lawsMy Profile

  16. RuthWells
    Posted March 20, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    Smart kid with excellent survival skills. He’ll be fine!
    RuthWells´s most recent blog post: My Transplant, by the NumbersMy Profile

  17. Posted March 20, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    I was a voracious reader on my own as a kid and don’t recall ever being told I couldn’t read whatever I had in my grubby little hands. The closest I came was when, at age 12 when I was volunteering over the summer at a hospital, I discovered “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” in a pile of donated books that we’d been told we could look through.

    A few days later, my mom came into my room to put away laundry or something and there I was, about halfway through the book.

    Mom: “Um… wheredja get that?”
    Me: “At the hospital.”
    Mom: o_O
    Me: [blink]
    Mom: “Do you understand it all?”
    Me: “I think so.”
    Mom: “Well, if you have any questions, you can always ask me.”

    My mom was cool. Still is.

    The one thing that stayed with me from the whole book was that it was the first time I realized people named … er … themselves, ifyouknowhwatImean. The rest is long gone from my head, and I’m sure any scary bits from HP will waft away from Zan’s memory or at least tone down considerably.

    BTW, did he really say that about Voldemort skipping through a field? Because I just almost snorted my diet Pepsi through my nose at that imagery.
    Jan´s most recent blog post: Cross one off the Bucket List!My Profile

  18. Beth
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:17 am | Permalink

    Both my daughters read the Harry Potter books on their own, mostly in elementary school. My husband has also read the entire series more than once. He and the kids said there were so many details they didn’t catch the first time around. We’ve all seen the movies, but I’m the only one who hasn’t read the books. As someone else said, the overall theme is good vs. evil. I wouldn’t be concerned about reading the books to your son, as long as he doesn’t seem to be disturbed by the content (having nightmares, etc.). You’re the best judge of that.

  19. JP
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    My son is also a sensitive kid, really squeamish about movies and basically a big wuss about blood. The darn kid read the whole HP series last year at 7 years old by himself. He loved them. Do I think he probably missed the meaning of some stuff? Absolutely! But the beauty is he can reread it in a few years and get more out of it.

  20. Tommye
    Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    You’ve got a smart kid there!

  21. Posted March 21, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    So you’re saying I shouldn’t be reading these to my two-year old?
    Tyler´s most recent blog post: Hey Ice Cube, today was not that good a day.My Profile

  22. Posted March 21, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    So I guess one of the parenting books my mom never read must have mentioned something about letting your 9 year old watch Midnight Express, The Shining and other random movies about nuclear holocausts because I’d watched all of those by the time I was Zan’s age.

    Call me a helicopter mom, but I feel like 9 is to young to watch those movies so I’m making my girls wait until they’re 10.
    BuenoBaby´s most recent blog post: Remembering In The PaleMy Profile

  23. Posted March 22, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Hi, followed you over from Bueno Baby and let me just say that I think you’re hilarious (although have only read a few post so far, so maybe those were the especially funny ones), also I LOVE your revised cover of the goblet of fire and am seriously considering getting your permission to print it out and glue it on the cover of my book. Regarding the fear factor of the HP books, I think they’re scary but kids are way more inure to death and violence than we are, probably cause they don’t believe it’s real. Think of the stuff we read and watched as kids, think of the brothers Grimm, that’s some pretty twisted stuff there.
    Moomser´s most recent blog post: Marriage, it is like a drug that just won’t leave you be.My Profile

  24. Nicole
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I’m a crappy mom, but my 10-year-old and 7-year-old have been through the Harry Potter books and movies with us, like, twice. We’re both teachers and voracious readers so it was only natural that this epic series joined our life. Our kids have excellent imaginations and to help with some of the darkness of the later books, we made it into a good lesson in reality vs. fantasy. My kids are fine and since created little spin-off stories from the series, like the adventures of Harry’s kids. Also, the excellent conversations we have had about good vs. evil and human goodness have been wonderful. I’ve been fairly blown away by my kids’ deeper thoughts.

    I see no problem with the Harry Potter series as long as parental conversation is included. You’re doing that so my thoughts? Carry on and enjoy that your son loves reading! 🙂

  25. Kayla
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Perhaps we’re a little dark in my house, but my 5 and 7 year old GIRLS have watched all but the very last HP movie, and I’m about to start the books with them. I was very skeptical letting them watch past the first movie, but we went at their pace. They knew to tell us if things got too scary and we reminded them over and over that it wasn’t real. But the blood and evil things never seem to even phase them – they get the good vs evil, and I think that most of all they love the fantasy world it takes them too. They laugh at parts with voldemort because “WHERE IS HIS NOSE, MOM?” Perhaps I am doing something very wrong letting them watch, I certainly don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but it seems to work well with us!

  26. Posted March 25, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Pssh. I remember my Mom letting us watch the Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits when I was 5. I still freak out over that episode where the kid gets lost in her room, and the parents are drawing isosceles triangles all over the wall to create another dimension to get her back out. Now THAT was scary.
    Meg at the Members Lounge´s most recent blog post: The Regional Dictionary. Or Pissah, I Still Talk Like That?My Profile

  27. Posted March 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Well, we didn’t stop to think that our 6 year old maybe shouldn’t be watching Blazing Saddles…the sexual innuendo went right over his head until he was maybe 9…we had to explain the racial stuff. He survived, though.
    His first “real book” (read aloud by Mom) was the Pink Motel (Carol Ryrie Brink). The second was Hunt For Red October (picked by his Dad). I chose not to worry about Harry P.

  28. Sharon
    Posted March 28, 2012 at 1:08 am | Permalink

    I can totally relate on getting to enjoy more things together with my son especially that he is growing up. I miss reading these fantasy books. Reading would be entertaining to both of us just like when he wants to watch cartoons or play video games.
    Sharon´s most recent blog post: DTS HomeMy Profile

  29. Frubs
    Posted April 6, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    “And, look, if I get scared, I can just picture Voldemort skipping through a field handing out flowers.”

    ROFL. That’s awesome. Your kid is smarter than most adults. “I can just picture Voldemort skipping through a field handing out flowers” might be my new way of dealing with anxiety tbh.

  30. Ann
    Posted April 6, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    First off, you are reading the book with him. That changes things drestically as you can see when he’s getting scared or nervous and you can edit the books. I remember reading horror and other creepy books like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series as well as Edgar Allen Poe while in elementary school. By myself. I think kids can understand things at different ages and that having a grown up that’s not only around but involved makes everything easier.

  31. cosima
    Posted April 8, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Our daughter turned 7 in March and has seen all of the movies — we watched them consecutively with her over the course of a few weeks in the lead up to the last one’s release. No problems at all.

    She’s watched every Star Wars movie. She’s been in love with The Princess Bride since the age of 3, and gave herself an imaginary brother named Westley, but insisted that we fast forward through the bits with the ROUS (rodents of unusual size). Now she is watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy, very slowly, it takes us about a month to get through one.

    She has light saber fights with her dad and plays Star Wars on the xbox with him. She also has tea parties with her baby dolls and barbies and stuffed animals, and is sensitive and caring and wouldn’t hurt a fly or say a mean thing to anyone, ever.

    Children are shaped so much more by the love and care (or lack thereof) of their parents/families/community than by the books that they read or the movies that they see. I think your little guy is going to be just fine reading the rest of the books, and seeing the movies too if that’s the road you decide to go down.

  32. s
    Posted April 14, 2012 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    My daughter read them on her own at 9 and my son read them on his own at 8. They are now 14and 12 and seem relatively unscarred. The boy who read them at 8 would not watch movies with “real people” in them until he was 10 or 11 because he was that sensitive. I’d stop worrying and just read and enjoy them. The second last book is a bit boring though.

  33. Robyn B
    Posted April 24, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    So I’ve been lurking around your blog for some years, and never commented until now. I’m a huge HP fan and also a parent (and a former teacher), and so I’m going to add my 2 cents (feel free to skip it though, I’ll never know).
    The books do get darker. That’s undeniable. But most of the violence is pretty tame. It talks about people dying, disappearing, etc, but it’s not detailed, bloody stuff. Avada Kedavra (the killing curse) just kills you instantly without injury, and it’s the way almost all the deaths in the series happen. Frankly, Wormtail cutting off his hand is probably one of the more gruesome moments in the series. There are two other incidents I can think of that are on par blood-wise, but both are in Deathly Hallows. You have about 3,000 pages worth of books before you’re there. Also, the next book (Order of the Phoenix) has the least amount of fighting of the whole series, so you’re definitely safe to move onto that one. It’s actually my least favorite book because it’s mostly about moving the story along and growing Harry up a bit.
    You’re the parent and should trust your own instincts, but I don’t think the average 9 year old boy will be too young to read the books with his dad. I think JK Rowling read them to her daughter Jessica starting around age 8. I know a lot of kids who have read them on their own by age 8 (there was a KINDERGARTNER in my son’s class who read them on his own) and have been fine. As soon as my 7 year old son has the patience for chapter books, I plan to read the series with him. I keep trying with shorter books, and he’s just not there yet attention-wise.

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