The magic that makes it real: The adult’s fascination for Harry Potter and his World of Magic

On 15th July of this year, the world will witness one more “HP phenomenon”, as it is called now, since the publication of the first book of the series in 1997. The second part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Movie) will be released worldwide by Warner Bros, sparing the Potter fanatics of their anxiety. It has been more than a decade since Harry’s adventures and his magical world has been revealed to us, to the ordinary Muggles. In 2003, Oxford English Dictionary has added ‘Muggle’ to the list of words in it and isn’t that enough for the popularity of the series? Potter has become a cultural icon in these days and an introduction is the least needed requirement when one writes about Harry Potter or J. K. Rowling in the present cultural context. What is the spell that makes Rowling’s quill produce such a charming and intelligent work, one wonders.

No wonder if one doubts, whether it is the same book that little Ron mentions in Chamber of Secrets. (“And some old witch in Bath had a book that you could never stop reading! You just had to wander around with your nose in it, trying to do everything one-handed”. (172)). Just as the Ministry of Magic had tried to confiscate these books, the Potter series too had to face criticism and censorship from different strata of society. Overcoming all these censorships and bans, notably the Catholic Church’s, Rowling’s tale has crossed all the barriers it can. One among those is its popularity among adults. Coming with the label of Children’s Fantasy Fiction, the HP series has gradually grabbed the adult reader’s attention and hooked her in it. What is it that works behind this boarding school cum fantasy story that fascinates the mature/reasonable adult?

There could be many reasons. From her need to invert the logic of the mundane everyday reality to the mere amusement it gives to anyone who is interested in Magic, Witchcraft and Wizardry. Not but to practice the latter but to get a glimpse of a world that has been regarded as an existing one once, a belief that has suppressed a whole lot of marginalized who practiced a different system of belief. If it is to find an escape to a world that doesn’t need any logical reasoning (Our logic, of course!) in its functioning, things go further complicated. What does the real world lacks so as to lead the reader to a fantasy world? Does this world provide her with what the real world lacks? Let us see.

Harry Potter Ad on an autorikshaw in Hyderabad Credits: anaxila

Critics have differed in their opinion about this cross-reading. The psychoanalyst would argue that it is because of the growing “infantailization” among the adults, but for the sociologist, the phenomenon is a result of the youth-oriented policies of our governments and reflects the positive attitude of the adults towards these policies. And for the Marxists it is all about Power. Let us leave such conclusions to the psychoanalyst, to the sociologist and to the Marxist. Have a look at the superficial or rather the self-evident factors which characterize the series that attract the ordinary reader towards it.

I would say that Magic is the only thing that distinguishes this tale from their ordinary, realistic counterparts. In many other respects it just mirrors the ‘real’ world, the world which you and I and others around us experience. Of course they know magic but that is just their gift; a gift more or less the same as that of our modern day electricity, computer or wireless communication. They need money to survive and among them also exists the Rich and the Poor. This magical society is also an institutionalized one with their ministry, prison (and obviously the Dementors are their torturers) and school. The conflict among these various institutions constitutes a major part of the entire series and an adult can easily identify with these parodies (?) of the real world. So like the dominant culture of ours! Again, the values that these series stand for -Courage, Bravery and Friendship- are hardly the subject of any of the present day realistic fictions. A series that ends with the triumph of Good over Evil. We cannot blame the adult if she wants to re-experience her childhood/teen hood where she can still stand up for these noble values and can be victorious at the same time. So unlike the dominant culture of ours! Thus the Potter series is a mix of what we do not have and what we do have. A much better version of reality, indeed! Magic is just the spice that adds to the variety of the stuff.

The generic conventions that the series break are another catalyst that brings down the threshold of reading and makes it accessible to more readers. It is Fantasy, School Story, Detective Fiction, Quest Romance, and Bildungsroman at the same time. No one has explained it as precise as Anne Hiebert Alton who said, “In a game that is constantly changing and rearranging its pieces, no single genre can claim top place in the hierarchy; instead it is the continual interplay among the tags and thus the genres that becomes most significant, as this interplay is what creates the multiple meanings of the whole”.

Amazing is the brain that works behind this plot. Enough attempts were made to devalue it as the product of a single-mother’s need for money and as something that has been given directly from the devil. Anyone who goes through these passages cannot ignore Rowling’s master craftsmanship, be it in the structuring of plot or in the coinage of new words. Words that make ultimate sense! The spells that she uses are enough to prove her hold on the classical languages, especially in Latin and they make sense in relation to what happens as a result of them. Of course, all these arguments make sense only to those who have read the books, not to the ones who just ignore those and criticize them without reading those. It is not a shame that adults are hooked up in these stories but it is rather an extraordinary phenomenon where they overcome all their inhibitions to recapture all that they have left behind so as to come in terms with the ever growing competitive reality that surrounds them. It is not the dark side of the human beings but the bright side that it reflects. A tiny ray of hope that she found, in a world that lost its enchantment long ago; a place where reason can be put aside for the little joys and fun. Harry Potter is not alone in this journey. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Material series and Mark Haddon’s The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night Time are worth mentioning when we speak of the cross-over genre. Rowling’s series was the one which made us aware of our own temperament and functioned as a trigger. And yes, we are still doing everything one handed and wandering with our nose in it. And that makes it exceptional.