Harry Potter: Objects of desire

G Arunima | Updated on August 31, 2018 Published on August 31, 2018

Turf war: The final set of challenges before Harry could be recast as a face-off between two sets of objects — Hallows and Horcruxes

Harry’s realm is peopled by not just witches and warlocks, but also things that have a will of their own

“So — back again, Harry?... You, like hundreds before you, have discovered the delights of the Mirror of Erised.” Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, explains that the mirror’s magic is in its power to read the deep desires of people’s hearts, making them return to it repeatedly, until they are driven mad.

JK Rowling’s magical world, spread over seven volumes chronicling their eponymous boy-wizard’s battle against the most dreaded dark wizard, Voldemort, perhaps has the same power over so many of us, across continents, and generations, who have returned again and again to relive the magic that only words can conjure up.

Harry’s magical world is peopled by not just witches, wizards, hags and warlocks, but also ghosts who lingered on, plants, potions and animals that can protect or destroy, and objects that have a will of their own. Like Harry, we wander through this world hoping that the voluble Sorting Hat would place us in Gryffindor, the Hogwarts house for the brave (though, Ravenclaw, for the brainy, would not be too bad either), worried what mirrors in some rooms might tell us to do (tuck your shirt in, scruffy), and stepping gingerly on a staircase that may not necessarily lead us to the same place that it did the day before. Yet, there are some magical objects that stay with us even as we periodically exit the cocoon of Harry’s world.

Which of us hasn’t gone back, repeatedly, to those places in our minds (or, as Dumbledore might have said, hearts), trying to relive happier times, or to imagine a better, more glorious life? Desires animate the world. No one has to be taught that, desiring being as intuitive as breathing, sleeping or thinking. Yet, unfulfilled desires bring with them a sense of loss, perhaps inadequacy, and certainly a great deal of pain. Harry, when he stumbled upon the Mirror of Erised (Desire, flipped around), saw himself reflected back with his family, with his now dead parents smiling by his side. His best friend Ron, on the other hand, saw himself as someone who had achieved as many glories in school as his far more talented older brothers. We may also desire greater glory or happiness, but, as Dumbledore reminds us in a Zen-like fashion, it is far more important not to forget to live. Dreams and fantasies mustn’t become obsessions, as these would just condemn us to a life of despair.

Those who aren’t Potterheads often make disparaging observations about adults who enjoy these books. Where else, I’d like to ask them, would you find a Pensieve, that magical basin that could sift through thoughts or memories. Harry’s journeys into the Pensieve, and into Dumbledore’s memories, showed the layers of time and its passage, of wrongdoings missed at the time these were committed, and possible ways in which these could be rectified. Unlike Veritaserum, a potion which could force people to speak the truth, the Pensieve helped to enter the memories of others (other than one’s own self) that were given willingly; force, as we know, often makes people tamper with truth. That is what a teacher at Hogwarts, who was embarrassed at what he thought might have been his role in Voldemort’s descent into the depths of unimaginable evil, sought to do. Remembering, like forgetting, is never easy or straightforward, and memories may live on in us, bottled up and hurtful. Unlike Severus Snape, the potions master, most are never offered a final heroic moment to reveal a lifetime’s repressed memory that can end up being the key to true understanding.

In the final set of challenges that Harry faces lies a bigger dilemma that could be recast as a face-off between two sets of objects — Hallows and Horcruxes. While the Hallows could give him unbeatable powers, only the destruction of Horcruxes would rid the world of Voldemort. In the days that he spends hiding in forests, barely eating, planning his return to take on his mortal enemy, Harry does dream of the enticing Hallows and the powers they could give him. Yet with the death of his much-adored elf friend Dobby, he realises what he must go after: Horcurxes — or objects that encased a part of one’s soul — and thereby Voldemort. In his desperation for immortality and power, Voldemort tore his soul into bits, leaving behind a man who, despite his powers, was deeply fearful of death.

The world of Harry Potter is so much about what we know and feel — love, sorrow, jealousy or desire. It’s a world where friendship, elves’ tales and courage matter far more than bullying, wickedness or delusions of grandeur. It reminds us that there is something truly difficult, if not risky, in the pursuit of justice. Perhaps that’s why disappearing into Harry’s world is so appealing— it makes dreams seem real, and fantasies attainable.

G Arunima teaches at the Centre for Women’s Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

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Published on August 31, 2018
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