We live in a world of shrinking distances and internet access. Of video conferences and android phones. Of mobile apps and BRIC economies. Of consumers, services and sophisticated technologies. Of fast lives and faster cars.
I belong to the generation in which friends are made on facebook, and lives are saved by twitter. A generation which is characterized by smart college undergrads and dropouts becoming billionaires.
But most astonishingly, this is also a world, and this is also a generation that is fascinated by, what else but old world wizardry and magic. By Harry Potter and Voldemort, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasely, Hogwarts and Dumbledore. Across continents and countries, the love of magic persists.
What is it about the Harry Potter series that makes the facebook and twitter generation crazy about it? If you have read the series, you’d know that the plots, incidents and characters defy all precepts of science and common sense. Vanishing by putting on a cloak? Flying on a broomstick? Killing and saving by chanting spells and pointing wands? Transporting yourself by using a powder? Pouring out memories from your brain in the form of a fluid? Dividing your soul into seven parts to gain immortality? Things just don’t make any sense.
Yet, I enjoy reading Harry Potter. And it is certainly not for literary value. I think of J.K. Rowling as an extremely imaginative writer, and I turn to her works for respite from plebeian life, not to learn literature. She is creative and smart, and she is also commercial. She spun a multi-million empire out of the world she created with words. I’d even agree that she is an entrepreneur. For her creativity, acumen, and business sense, I have the greatest admiration for her. But I do not think of her as someone who has produced great literature. Great entertainment, she has.
I read the first Potter book in late 2004. I have since then read all the books in the series several times over. I read the sixth book in the series, ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ mostly in my office in Mumbai during a particularly slow phase, when I had very little work, and was yet required to be physically present in office. Of course the entire office, including my boss knew about it. We had lunch time discussions about how dark the series had become, and who could the half blood prince be. In contrast to the slow phase at work during the release of the sixth book, when the last book in the series, ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ came out, I was heads down in work. I lived in downtown White Plains then, twenty-five miles north of New York City. Although I had reserved my copy at the local Barnes and Noble weeks in advance, and even gone and picked it, I struggled to find time to read it. Those were days of super crazy work; of blurred boundaries between days and nights; of no distinction between weekdays and weekends; of sleep deprivation, migraines and takeout meals; of black coffee at two in the night; of loss of sleep, appetite and hair. Yeah, that was an enormously busy phase. But that is not the point here. The point is whether or not I was able to read the Deathly Hallows. Yes, I was; after I finally chalked out time over a weekend to read it. And once I finished reading it, a sense of accomplishment swept through me.
I have often wondered, what makes a person like me enjoy Harry Potter? I believe several social psychologists have mulled over the same question. What makes an entire generation go gaga over a boy with a scar, and his friends and enemies, all of who have one thing in common – Magic? Melissa Burkley, professor of Social Psychology at Oklahoma State University thinks that people in general, believe in magic, whether or not they admit it. Her recent Psychology Today post talks about why people like magic.
Honestly, I don’t know if I really do believe in that kind of magic. I’d perhaps like to believe in it, and perhaps I’d be enamoured if magic of that kind manifests itself around me, and in my life. But till the time that happens, I cannot, for sure, say that I wholly, truly and sincerely believe in it.
What I do know is that magic has offered me an enticing and enjoyable escape from the sometimes monotonous, sometimes cutthroat realities that have surrounded me. It has enabled me to fly away on flights of fantasy. It has enabled me to take a break, imagine and visualize the unimaginable, feel happy and liberated. It has offered a lively infusion of energy into my jaded spirits. In some way, by making me a witness to colourful wizardry, it has awakened the dormant child in me. Yes, perhaps that is it. It has provided a pathway back into my childhood. Childhoods are usually happy. Mine was.
So may be, that is why reading J.K. Rowling makes me happy. Because the magic in that world tricks me into believing that I am little again.