Sunday, July 22, 2007

This Will Be My Only Harry Potter Post Ever

Megan McArdle examines the failures of magics and economics in the Harry Potter books.

Yet in the Potter books, the costs and limits are too often arbitrary.

A patronus charm, for example, is awfully difficult--until Rowling wants a stirring scene in which Harry pulls together an intrepid band of students to Fight the Power, whereupon it becomes simple enough to be taught by an inexperienced fifteen year old. Rowling can only do this because it's thoroughly unclear how magic power is acquired. It seems hard to credit academic labour, when spells are one or two words; and anyway, if that were the determinant, Hermione Granger would be a better wizard than Harry. But if it's something akin to athletic skill, why is it taught at rows of desks? And why aren't students worn out after practicing spells?

(Via Instapundit.)



Blogger Ali said...

Interesting quote... I have a guess.

I think, in Rowling's world, "magic" functions very similar to imagination, the imaginative faculty. This is why study is helpful, but not the sole determining factor (just as study of craft is helpful in the fine arts, but does not guarantee brilliant creative work, and is not even always necessary). It's why, in order for hurtful spells to be effective, they must be meant (one must be able to fully intend the imagined suffering to come into being). It's why spells which children imagine as being far too difficult for them (such as the patronus, which is, essentially, the manifestation of self-confidence and, for a child, in some sense the expression of an "inner parent" or protector) grow easier as they are practiced and demonstrated by others who seem, at first, similarly incapable.

I know it's a catch-phrase these days to say that Rowling has "sparked kids' imaginations" with her books. But I think, in some subtle way, this idea of magic is closely tied to imagination. It expresses itself in many ways, can be fueled by many things (bravery, intelligence, greed), and in the end, it is tied inherently to a process of choice, in which the person with the "power" of the imaginative faculty must choose which imagined possibilities he or she manifests in the world.

That's just my off-the -cuff response to this quote, though. My second response is, chill out, it's a kid's book.

4:46 PM  
Anonymous Chas S. Clifton said...

No fear, I'm chilled.

I was just thinking back to a paper that I heard at the American Academy of Religion a few years ago. The writer argued that magic in the Potter-verse was more like software code than anything occult or religious. Made sense to me.

5:05 PM  
Blogger Ali said...

That might make more sense to me if I knew anything about software... ;)

4:26 PM  
Blogger SageDancer said...

Hermione is a better Wizard than Harry.

9:00 PM  
Blogger Kay said...

The patronus conundrum was one of the things that really bugged me about the last Potter book.

I really like the series, but this last book was not up to snuff, imo. I'm in the minority though.

7:20 AM  

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