Harry Potter: One for all, all for one

Bishakha De Sarkar | Updated on August 31, 2018 Published on August 31, 2018

Between the lines: The world created by JK Rowling in her Harry Potter series is vastly different from Enid Blyton’s   -  THE HINDU/ G KRISHNASWAMY

The touch of Harry’s magic wand dissolves age barriers in the universe his fans inhabit

One summer, up in hills as a mellow sun beamed upon us all day, we watched films. The men sat out with the majestic mountains behind them, as they ate, drank and made merry. But we — a motley group of women of varying ages — watched Harry Potter.

We had read the books, of course — not once, but over and over again. We had discussed them threadbare — did Grawp need a bigger role? Was Dumbledore gay? Was Fred cuter than his twin, George? — and some of us had seen some of the films together. But that was the first time we were spending the golden hours of a mountain holiday indoors, watching films on a television screen. And we were not complaining.

For those who came in late, just a few lines about JK Rowling’s books. Harry Potter is an orphan, brought up by a mean aunt and uncle. Just as he turns 11, he gets to know that he is a wizard and has to join a special school of magic called Hogwarts. It is there that he gets to know about his nemesis, a man called Voldemort. And in each one of the seven volumes of the book, he fights evil forces. Simple, right?

Not really. You have to read the book to love the characters, find out the links that connect events and people, laugh and cry and stand up for an inclusive, anti-ageist, multicultural society. It is certainly a series that unites. I haven’t met anyone who reads Harry Potter and doesn’t open up to another Potter fan. Our motley group, for instance, has had and enjoyed numerous conversations with teenagers and young adults about the books.

It wasn’t like this when we were growing up. I, for one, never had a conversation with an adult about Enid Blytons when I used to eat, drink and breathe her books as a young one. There was no one to talk to about why George would glower when she was called Georgina; why six cousins — three from the city, and the others who lived in a farm — found it so difficult to stay together; about hot scones or cold tongue sandwiches; or how a family coped when their father went missing.

All the children’s literature I went through was read by other children, and discussed among them. We went through our Five Find-Outers, Nancy Drew, Billy and Bessie Bunter, The Three Investigators and William. I was introduced to the two schoolboys Jennings and Darbishire, after I chanced upon a well-thumbed book in a Delhi Public library in the early ’70s. I read the books again when I grew up, and even collected the entire Jennings series with brand new orange jackets some 20 years ago.

But those were all children’s books, read mostly by children. I knew of no adults who enjoyed them the way we did the Potter series. Like all the children who waited impatiently for the next book in the series to be released, we — an architect, a scientist, two professors and a journalist — were always excited about the launch of a new volume. And like millions of children across the world, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves when we were done with the last book.

What is it about the books that mesmerised us so? In the first place, let’s look at what the books were not: They were not boring, preachy or verbose (even though the last four volumes were almost as thick as telephone directories). So what was so special about them? Let me count the ways. One, the characters. Not just angst-filled Harry, or indecisive Ron or bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Hermione. There was Hogwarts headmaster Dumbldore with his broken nose, potions master Snape with his oily hair, half-werewolf Lupin with his tired face, and house elf Dobby with his tennis ball-like eyes. Two, Rowlings celebrates love, mixed marriages, multiculturalism and an inclusive world. Three, those who stand for absolute hatred are rightly squished.

Our Blytons didn’t teach us any of this. On the contrary, she wrote scathingly about working women, of the French, the Americans and the gypsies. Her little girls played with dolls, but the boys were adventurous. Foreign princes had to be taught English values.

I have read the Potter series some six or seven times since they were written. Every time I go through the first book, and the last, I read two passages over and over again. In the first, headmaster Dumbledore addresses the students as school opens. “I’d like to say a few words, and here they are. Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!”

And then, in the last volume, there is this bit about a lost love.

A professor indicates to Dumbledore that he has never stopped loving his long-dead Hogwarts classmate.

“After all this time,” Dumbledore asks, his eyes full of tears.

“Always,” the teacher replies.

Still reading Harry Potter, I am often asked.

“Always,” I reply.

Bishakha De Sarkar

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Published on August 31, 2018
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