The curtains sway shut. Exit stage left. We’re going to miss you, Mr. Potter.
With the final Harry Potter film out, I’m resurrecting an editorial I wrote exactly 6 years ago for the Calgary Herald (then marking the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), which still echoes some of why I love the Potter series. I haven’t yet seen part 2 of The Deathly Hallows but will soon enter the theatre with a mix of anticipation and melancholy.
Potter’s Magic: it widens our reality (Calgary Herald, July 20, 2005)
How do you explain all the hubbub over Harry? Security guards keeping watch over caches of books, Supreme Court injunctions against leaked secrets, Potter parties marking the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, kids staying up past their bedtime to get their hands on a soon-to-be-sold-out copy, and sane adults aiding and abetting all of this. What sort of spell has been cast to cause such Muggle madness?
The latest J.K. Rowling book chronicling the exploits of the wizard in training has touched off another hopped-up-on-Harry cultural frenzy. Sure much of it is marketing savvy but I wonder if there’s something more to all this Potter mania? Hasn’t Harry tapped into something missing in our culture, something profoundly spiritual?
And I don’t mean all the magic or sorcery of the book, which mostly is pretty mechanical stuff. Mainly I’m thinking about the magic of story. Basically, the Harry Potter series is a cracking good tale. And story itself has a power that we’ve easily dismissed in our factoid world. We live in a boiled-down, reduced world, where only what is material or measurable is considered true or real. And so we end up living with a shriveled and shrunken sense of reality.
But a good imaginative story widens our sense of reality. Invoke the words “Once upon a time …” and a spell is cast, a world is created, and our sense of reality expands. A good story often helps reveal what we sense is real and true, but do not yet see.
Mostly, stories help us deal with life. They’re a little like toys, which encourage children to explore the world without its dangers. My son plays with his fire truck and doesn’t suffer burns or smoke inhalation. In a similar way, stories help us enter and explore another world, experiencing its pain and joy, and so equip us to deal with the reality in which we find ourselves.
The Harry Potter series constructs a clear conflict of good versus evil where right overcomes wrong. And in our post 9/11 world of war on terror and suicide bombers, who can’t understand the appeal of this Hogwarts fantasy world where Harry fights the powers of darkness, where right overcomes wrong?
Yet the magic of J.K. Rowling’s series points beyond the story to something more. The Potter series is fantasy literature, a universe filled with wonder, mystery and the supernatural. And it’s the little children lining up at the bookstores and leading us to admit, no matter how hard we might try to suppress it, that this world we inhabit is not enough.
There is a deep human longing – some call it a God-shaped hole in every human heart – for more than what this life offers. The Harry Potter series touches at the secret within each of us, that somehow we’ve lost ourselves and yet know there’s more, a bigger world and a larger story we were meant to be a part of.
If you’ve ever felt despair when you read the news, if your heart has ever lurched at the sight of a starving child, then you know this world is not enough. You’ve had a taste for what it is to long for more than this world’s got to offer. Those desires, like the child’s fantasy world of Harry Potter, are signs pointing out that we were made for something more.
We can easily lose our reverence for story; mostly we dismiss it as child’s play or mere myth. But perhaps it is the key to entering the story we were meant to live and meeting the Storyteller of our lives.