Why Harry Potter is Appealing

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My wife and I just attended the new Harry Potter movie.  Generally, we try to see them as soon as they come out, but this time we were in process of moving down to South Carolina, which set us back this time.  I’ll have to say though, that the film was very well done.  I highly suggest it.

Since there are so many other Harry Potter films already out, I also watched some of the older ones on television after seeing the new one.  First of all, it is freaky to see someone grow up on screen.  I hope they deal with fame well.  Second, I noticed some things that may be the reason that Harry Potter is appealing to a whole slew of children, that have now grown up and are dealing with bigger challenges.

(1) The world in Harry Potter is dangerous, just like the real world. Even though modernity, and now post-modernity, have tried to first solve all the world’s problems, and then fantasize them away creatively through fiction – the fact remains: Danger is everywhere.  Children as well as adults know that people die all around them in car accidents, suicides, drownings, fires, and floods.  Mountainsides collapse, and people face challenges, which either end up in heroic stories, or the silence of grief.  Harry Potter faces this reality and does not try to fantisize this away, which I think helps all of us process reality a bit better, and helps us find courage ourselves to face the world as it is, rather than pretending that nothing can harm us because we’ve surrounded ourselves with money and an entourage of body guards, or whatever.

(2) The school (Hogwart’s) that they attend, has a revolving hierarchy. Though Dumbledoor (probably spelled wrong – sorry) is always the head so far, the positions change, and new characters are brought to the attention of the students.  This is because of the issues with the dangerous world, but it also mirrors the fact that students lives change constantly in a world where Politicians, Parents, Teachers, and Administrators are constantly using the school populations as test labs for the latest theories.  Since schedules change yearly, and teachers are always revolving, this touches reality, and engenders authority and trust with the series.

(3) The students receive real challenges. The faculty don’t seem to realize that there is a phase of childhood that needs complete protections.  There are real challenges at the school (involving dragons, etc.) that risk the students lives.  The students fear this, and in a very Platonic way (see The Laws by Plato) and courage ensues.  Harry, being “chosen” seems to be the center of every battle, and so we see the effects of these challenges on him as he grows from being a cookie cutter kid to becoming a strong “warrior” like adult.  His growth encourages the growth of those around him, because they inevitably get brought along for the adventures.

(4) The teachers have real relationships with the small numbers of students. Perhaps this is a stretch, and I realize the favoritism Harry receives is above that of the other students, but that factors in little since the viewer of the film sees things through the eyes of Harry himself.  The teachers have students over for dinner, they protect the students, and overall show a genuine concern for students that teachers often do not exhibit in real life.  This is a basic desire of all students – to find mentors who genuinely want to see them excel and have a knowledge of their achievements without stepping over the boundaries of intimacy (which seems to be a problem in national news from time to time).  Teachers that can be trusted, and whose gaze encourages excellence, and yet whose words are kind in times of failure.  I’ve noticed in years doing youth ministry and talking with many students, that teachers that are loved, are those who share their lives a bit (with boundaries), and those that are hated are those who are inattentive, uncaring, and distant.  In the Potter films, each new teacher introduced is an integral part of the plot, and a relationship is formed for good or bad.

So that is some of the things I’ve noticed, though I suppose the list would be infinite as to the film’s appeal.  While I am more prone to watch The Lord of the Rings than Harry Potter, I still think that Harry Potter has a more contextual and immediate  appeal, whereas The Lord of the Rings is a bit more timeless.  I may be wrong.  Let me know what you think by commenting and we’ll start a dialogue.

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