Got to hand it to Harry Potter

Opinion October 25, 2012 1 Comment

by Pete Mazzaccaro

A few years back, I wrote an editorial in which I disparaged the Harry Potter phenomenon. How, I wondered, could people be so sucked up in a series of books (or movies for those with shorter attention spans) based on some strange fantasy of a boy wizard fighting evil magicians and a bad upbringing?

Personally, I’ve never had a lot of patience for fantasy writing. I’ve read “The Hobbit” and a handful of other books that fit the bill of sci-fi and/or fantasy, but I’ve mostly been baffled by the genre. In college, I took an elective on science fiction, thinking the class would be a critical look at the form. But the instructor, I discovered, actually wanted to discuss the stuff as serious literature.

Before mid term, I was begging the professor to let me read something different. After struggling to pay attention to Arthur C. Clark and Ursula K. LeGuin, I thought I might never be able to summon the strength to read again. The books were silly and a struggle to power through. I remember saying to the man, “I just can’t take this stuff seriously.”

I made it through the class, which fortunately did include at least two very good books – “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Phillip K Dick and “The Sirens of Titan” by Kurt Vonnegut – but the scars from that semester were certainly still fresh when I tried to read the first Harry Potter book and put it down before I was done with the first page.

In the time that has passed since the attempted read, I have to hand it to Harry Potter (and, of course, his creator, the writer J.K. Rowling). I haven’t changed my mind about the boy wizard. I still have absolutely no desire to spend my time reading about his adventures. I have, however, come to respect the character’s staying power the same way I respect the longevity of other works of fiction, from James Bond to James T. Kirk.

To get a good look at just how popular Potter remains, a visit to Chestnut Hill this weekend where hundred, perhaps thousands, will descend on the neighborhood in wizard wear to take part in activities for kids and adults up and down the Avenue.

The weekend event started last year as an extension of Chestnut Hill College’s growing Quidditch tournament, a nutty take on the magical sport played by characters in the Harry Potter novels. I happened upon the event by accident. I was driving up the Avenue returning from a nice hike through the Andorra Natural Area with the kids when we saw crowds of costumed people – kids and adults – marching up the hill from the college.

When I reached the intersection of Bethlehem Pike and Germantown Avenue, the sidewalks were thick with Potter reenactors of all ages. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to ever see more people on sidewalks in Chestnut Hill outside of its two annual arts festivals.

Whatever the attraction is, it is real. This weekend I’d expect to see the same size crowds, if not even more people, in town for the events. It may not be for me, but a lot of folks love Harry Potter.

My daughter, it turns out, is one of those people. Like every other kid who picks up the books, she is enchanted with Harry Potter. She’ll be here and plans to dress up as the character Hermione. So I’ll be here on the sidewalks with the other wizard fans, if not in spirit, at least in respect.

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  • Hans Andréa

    With all due respect: Harry Potter is one of the deepest, most spiritual and most symbolic books ever written.
    Pete Mazzaccaro is looking only at the superficial aspect of “Harry Potter” – as are most readers, I hasten to add. If one is willing to look closely at the symbolism in the septology, one can find a new world opening up. This is a radiant world of intense spiritual power, of pure goodness and of powerfully liberating energy. This symbolism can be summed up by the word “alchemy”.
    Let me cite part of an interview with JK Rowling in 1998, just before Book 3 was published:
    “I’ve never wanted to be a witch, but an alchemist, now that’s a different matter. To invent this wizard world, I’ve learned a ridiculous amount about alchemy. Perhaps much of it I’ll never use in the books, but I have to know in detail what magic can and cannot do in order to set the parameters and establish the stories’ internal logic.”
    The alchemy I’m referring to is a spiritual process of purification, inner change and the dedication to the pure, divine and eternal principle (Lily) in the human heart. It is turning the lead of the selfish personality into the gold of a truly spiritual person.
    And that is what is hidden in “Harry Potter”. Harry is the symbol of every man who is the son of the Primordial Potter of the Universe. His quest is to free himself of the evil and selfishness within him (Voldemort), and achieve liberation and enlightenment, such as was achieved by people like the Buddha, Lao Tzu and Jesus.
    Anyone who doubts my assertion, consider the following:
    A prophecy is made that a baby is to be born who will change the world. He is born and a star appears to announce his birth. When the king of this world hears about the birth he tries to have the baby killed, but fails. The child grows up in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man. He performs miracles at a young age, but as he grows older he knows he will have to defeat his arch-enemy: Satan. Our hero prepares to sacrifice himself for the world, and so he surrenders himself, undefended, to face certain death. He is killed, and goes into an underworld, where he can choose to ‘go on’ or come back. He comes back victorious, as a Master of Death, i.e. eternal life, to liberate the world of evil.
    We all know that story – that’s the story of Jesus. But it’s also the story of Harry Potter. In Harry’s case the star is Sirius, who becomes his God-Father. At a young age Harry saves many lives, wins battles against dragons and giant snakes, and faces death by Voldemort time and again.
    The story of the hero who enters the world of the dead and then comes back to save the world is universal. It’s the story of Orpheus, Bacchus, Attis, Osiris, Dionysus, and many others, going back thousands of years.
    This archetypal story resonates in the collective unconscious of so many millions because humanity has incessantly been confronted by the symbolism of the Inner God asleep in the human heart, like the bud of a pure, dazzlingly white lily. We can awaken the Prince of Peace by answering God’s call to return to Him. That answer is to thirst for God, like a stag thirsting for the flowing water of the forest stream. This thirst will open the bud, and a new soul will be born, who will commence the struggle against the seeker’s own evil, selfishness, and darkness. He will triumph, and when he does so he will lift the seeker above death, suffering and evil.
    This is the hidden symbolism in the world’s most popular book. This is the symbolism that resonates with the human collective unconscious, explaining the book’s popularity. This is the conspiracy which is bringing light into this world of war, terrorism, human trafficking, child soldiers, drug abuse and endless violence. The light will work its way to the surface, causing millions of people to become seekers for the way back to the Father, like the prodigal son. And there will be a new faith: the faith in the Inner God, asleep in every heart.
    I have created a website which explores this theme: harrypotterforseekers.com. I would very much like to invite Pete and his readers to visit the site. I think he for one will be utterly surprised that far from lacking depth, Harry Potter has a depth that will keep people exploring for many years.
    Hans Andréa
    Haarlem, Netherlands