Saturday, June 30, 2007

Harry Potter and Good Vs. Evil

I am very excited to be done with school and part of the reason is that now I have a bit more time (barring studying for NAPLEX) to actually enjoy the debut of both the new Harry Potter book AND movie. The last movie I dragged Tran to see after a particularly grueling week of exams: we went at 4 pm and I think we were the only people in the theatre. I ended up going again the next week after my finals, to a 10 pm showing at the IMAX theatre with Kate, Buck and MeyDee. Nothing like great FX on an IMAX screen! I did not read the last book until my summer quarter ended and I was down the Cape: I could barely speak until I finished it- and then I read it again. Amy read it in class; she could not put it down. This time I will get right on the bandwagon!
Last weekend, Kate was particularly tired, and was watching Harry Potter movies while re-reading the series. We have a tendency to revisit particularly beloved books/movies on a regular basis. I have been thinking a lot about why I like HP so well, and a piece of it is genre. I am attracted to the saga, a series of stories in which the basic theme is good vs evil, human cowardice vs the triumph of the human spirit, unnatural (or natural) forces vs one person or one group who rise to the occasion. As Samwise remarks to Frodo "all the people in them stories had many chances to turn back, but they didn't; they kept on".
My childhood was shaped by the Once and Future King, the Song of Roland, Tales from Silver Lands and folk and fairy stories. Magic was as real to me as concrete sidewalks. When a cure for a stye on the eyelid is blessing the eye three times with a gold wedding ring (only valid if the ring is blessed), it's easy to see a role for enchantment in daily life. My adolescence and young adulthood added Narnia, Middle Earth, the Mabinogion, Yeats, Pern. While I have dropped many of my Nana's practices after scientific training, I have not lost the inclusion of magic from my life. Or maybe, magic hasn't given up on me! I live in a charmed world of serendipity and great parking spaces and free popcorn.
The central theme of any saga is good vs evil. Thus we have Harry and a group of stalwart friends vs evil unnatural Voldemort; Frodo and the Nine Walkers vs Sauron, Garion and the Orb of Aldur vs the evil god Torak and his minions, Taran vs Arawn, Lessa and F'Lar vs the devastating consequences of Thread. Other recurring themes are the Cauldron- a Celtic legendary regeneration tool. A magical sword or tool (Eilonwy's bauble, Bilbo's Sting, Aragorn's Anduril, the One Ring, the Orb) serves as a focus of power. A Quest (the Grail, the Orb, the destruction of the Ring) serves as the vehicle for the Tale. It's always a very ordinary person/hobbit/nelwyn (Willow) who has an unknown background, or a relationship to a person or place of power, and has an experience/talent/knowledge that makes the quester unique and necessary for solving the situation. Guidance is in the form of otherworldly or godly messaging and signs along the way. Sometimes a protector spirit is on hand. Sometimes the evil one is a hopeful god-wannabe. Sometimes the evil one is all pure evil, sometimes it's a rich mix of warring emotions so you know the evil one hasn't lost every last vestige of humanity, and thus MIGHT be, could be saved. In the end, the quest generally gets fulfilled, but the questor, even in survival, is too changed to sit back and enjoy the peace and quiet. "The Shire has been saved, Sam, but not for me."
Some people object to Harry because his world does not involve God or Christ (yet oddly includes Christmas). Ann McCaffery took the same heat for not including religion in Pern. CS Lewis made his Aslan an analogy for Christ. Stephen King made his The Stand a true God vs Evil epic. Whther religion is involved or not, the quest is spiritual as well as physical; Everyman steps forth out of the Comfort Zone.
I have seen pure evil in my life. I have seen first-hand a terrorist bombing, riots, attacks on individuals, children and mothers battered by domestic abuse, rape victims, incest victims. I have seen the evil of cancer and disease and their effect on the whole family group. The greatest evil I have seen is violence at the hand of loved ones. It has had a recurring theme in my life. It changes both the victim and the observer profoundly.

I have also seen persons of courage and conviction fight the fight; whether on an individual basis or as the main sources of ignorance, poverty and poor living conditions. Like Sam's heroes, they never stopped and are doing it still. I have seen incredible heroism in my life as well. In one of the most heroic acts I have ever witnessed, I saw my sister physically pull several men off a man they were beating up for no other reason than his skin colour. Her windows got smashed that night, but she never wavered from speaking up when injustice was being done. I have met people who survived incredible odds, who fought depression and came out again into the world. I have seen a few miracles.
Small wonder I like Harry. He stands sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, but in the end it will be down to the self vs the greatest trial of a soul. We all come into the world alone and exit alone. We all fight our own demons.
Escaping into a world of magic where Harry's demons are more tangible and visual is a good way to step out of our own worries and demons, and come back with renewed conviction that we can manage our own.

My friend Bonnie's favourite quote suffices here. "Courage doesn't roar. Courage is the small voice at the end of the day that says 'I will try again tomorrow."

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