ARJUN PEREIRA was an avid reader of the Harry Potter books when he was growing up. Now, as the Harry Potter movie team celebrates 20 years, he recalls the timeless appeal of Harry Potter, the protagonist, and the intricate universe conjured up in the books
At the start of this new year, a news item on Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts reunion special caught my eye. It made me think of the magical years in my early teen years that I spent devouring the Harry Potter books. Why do the Harry Potter books appeal to so many people across earth irrespective of the culture or country they are from? This is a question I have asked myself often, and only now, the answer has emerged more clearly in my mind.
It is because there are lots of spiritual elements as a whole in the Harry Potter books. The books are literally a spiritual journey in normal life, our civilisation and our existence in it in the 21st century.
Harry Potter as a character is always alternating between being vulnerable, heroic and sometimes, an anti-hero. He is also coming of age throughout the books, thereby changing his perceptions and world views as he takes on more responsibilities as the books progress.
‘Lord Voldemort’ and his team and his many minions are like the demonic entities and energy vampires in our lives, whether in the exterior world or those negative energies that lurk within one’s own self.
The other entities like the Ministry of Magic and the Aurors are much like the governments, police, firefighters – basically the good guys and the unsung everyday heroes who surround us.
The Dementors, Death Eaters and Lord Voldemort can also be compared to the havoc that climate change, global warming and the corona crisis – together have put us in as these threaten to put the whole planet in massive jeopardy, especially the ordinary masses a.k.a. the muggles in the Harry Potter universe.
Harry Potter is not a typical hero, for he has plenty of his own quirks, eccentricities and fears that haunt him from time to time. The other key characters like Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Albus Dumbledore, Professor Snape, and Hagrid and many of the other professors have their strengths as well as weaknesses and some unexplained, big shades of grey. No one is a perfect being, just like in real life, which is what makes the story more compelling, appealing and believable despite its fantasy elements.
You can even compare the events that happen in Harry Potter to the Second World War. Voldemort is similar to Adolf Hitler who gets caught and exiled, like what happened to Hitler when he attempted the coup, also known as the beer hall putsch in 1923. Then, he took 10 more years to rebuild, restrengthen and rise up to his total position of power in 1933. Voldemort has a similar trajectory and eventually rises up only to be vanquished again, just like Hitler was vanquished at the end of the Second World War. Hitler’s inner circle and the SS are like Voldemort’s inner circle, the Death Eaters and the Dementors.
Peace is not an option for Voldemort; similarly, it wasn’t for Hitler. Both are evil, inside-out.
The myriad characters in Harry Potter are like your everyday neighbours and schoolmates. Everyone has their own quirks, struggles, embarrassing family histories and are very reminiscent of people you might know in real life.
A fascinating aspect of the Harry Potter books is that there is never any mention of any dates or years. So, in essence, the story and books have a timeless zeitgeist. It’s almost like the characters and story take place in an alternate universe or in a parallel universe, much to the delight of science fiction buffs!
The central themes in the Harry Potter series are very universal including but not in any particular order: Coming of age, discovering the truth, thirst for power, mysteries being unravelled, pride, class distinctions, the possibility of death or injury, fear, terror, good versus evil, constructive versus destructive, being an important teenager in an adult world, discovering one’s individuality, the prejudice of human beings for each other, rivalry, friendship, brotherhood, family conflicts and all other facets you would expect in present-day human society.
Perhaps, these universal themes strike a chord with every reader from all continents and countries. This is the reason why they are one of the most translated books in all of publishing history. By the way, all said and done, I now binge-watch Harry Potter films from time to time. And if you haven’t read or watched Harry Potter, I suggest you begin, too. You won’t be disappointed by the storyline or the characters.
Arjun Pereira, a writer and editor, is also a singer, composer, lyricist and guitarist. He has worked for several leading publishing houses and corporates and loves to travel, soaking in new experiences and cultures.