Educating a Wizard

More stuff about Harry Potter.

So, I agree with that article in almost every aspect, and I thik it makes mary good points. But the entire argument relies on the following:

I like to hope that if most of us were handed a magic wand (literally) that removed a lot of the drudgery of modern life, we’d use that extra time in cultural pursuits. We’d read more, write more, take a dance class, go backpack around Europe, etc. We’d produce magical three-dimensional movies, and paintings conjured out of our dreams. Magic would be a tool for knowledge and truth and beauty. And yes, I know that most of us would just watch more TV. But still: magic would (theoretically) give us the opportunity to devote ourselves to the liberal arts, or at least explore them more than our non-magical lives currently allow.

But for the wizards of Harry Potter, magic is an end unto itself.

So the question becomes – why? Why are all of those “cultural” things worth doing, if there is absolutely no drudgery to modern life? What point is there in leisure, if our entire lives are leisure? This is the question Harry Potter accidentally raises but refuses to answer, getting around it by having wizards spend all of their time working in cubicles. Essentially, Rowling turns their lives into drudgery even though there is no need to do so within the logic of the world. She does it anyway.

So what should we take away from this? That Rowling is a bad writer? (Perhaps. In certain respects, she certainly is.) But the other possible interpretation is, that human life cannot be made sense of if there are not certain things we must do in order to survive. If we have no duties, this interpretation says, our lives cease to have meaning.

This interpretation makes a certain amount of sense in a Christian light, actually. God cursed Adam and said he would have to work for his food. This is not just a change to the how easy man’s life is – it was easy, now it’s hard – it is also a change to how human life is correctly structured. In the postlapsarian world, we ought to do work; it is unnatural not to have to struggle to survive.

Any world in which no such struggle is necessary, then, will feel hollow – because that aspect of Adam’s curse has been lifted, but not the part that made it necessary. It’s just like how immortality, it is often said, would be tortuous – because, while in man’s unfallen state he is immortal, fallen man is not capable a good immortality.

In this interpretation, the world of the wizards in J.K. Rowling is somewhat hellish; the wizards have nothing to do, and so they have to occupy themselves with pointless work to distract themselves from how meaningless their lives are.

It would have been fascinating if the books had actually explored this question.


2 Responses to Educating a Wizard

  1. Jahu Kott says:

    Bashing Harry Potter as always… It has been some 9 years since I read them, but I think, yes they don’t have this sort of “depth”, they never pose any interesting questions other than accidentally. People who think otherwise are certainly silly.

    Now LoTR. I read through (a translation) of LoTR and saw the films. It was a quite fun reading (like Harry Potter,) and lacked any interesting questions (like Harry Potter!). But people are much more forgiving to LoTR than to Harry Potter.

    You are certainly one of those people. Care to explain? (for all that counts for, I as a random person from the internet swear I’m not trolling)

  2. Well, my first point would be that Harry Potter does raise questions – just of the wrong kind. Even if you believe LotR is just a fun story that doesn’t raise any deep philosophical questions, I find it hard to put on an equal level with Harry Potter, because Harry Potter is a fun story that doesn’t raise any deep philosophical questions and is set in a completely absurd fantasy universe. The LotR universe actually makes sense; the amount of effort Tolkien put into making it coherent is one of the best things about LotR (and that entire fantasy world). Harry Potter is completely lacking them.

    But LotR also manages to pose interesting moral and philosophical questions without becoming absurd, again unlike Harry Potter. The morality of Harry Potter is perhaps best summarized by this article: Whereas LotR has fascinating characters like the entire Denethor-Boromir-Faramir family, Eowyn, Frodo, Gollum, who are actually morally ambiguous and are dealt with in, I think, a quite mature manner.

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