The Broom of the System

Give 'Em Hell, Harry!

Rough magic: Potterites clutch tomes at the Lincoln Center B&N at midnight on Friday.
photo: Jennifer S. Altman
Rough magic: Potterites clutch tomes at the Lincoln Center B&N at midnight on Friday.

Rowling may be the authoress of these modest tomes, and the marketers may have hawked them, but we are the sole creators of the Harry Potter storm head, whose only equivalent in the last few centuries—remember, hundreds of millions of self-motivated readers—has been religion. We may well ask why, why these books, why this spectacle of mass entrancement: Apprentice wizards? Jeez, on brooms? At a magic school? With centaurs, goblins, elves? Perhaps the fearful, deep-eyed Christian psychos are right after all: The HP wave is best understood as a sincere, easy-reading expression of the essential failure of modern organized faith. Rowling's magic mountain boils down to an isolated narrative path where you don't have to die first to witness or even wield "magic" forces, where palpable pagan innocence is a ruling principle, and where instinct is a virtue. It's as old as the hills of Avalon, but it has unarguably answered a call of collective-unconscious desideration, right now. Resistance to the onslaught isn't futile by any means, but resentment might be. For a generation of children, at least, the brain-branded, self-posing question of the future will be, What Would Harry Do?

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