Magic in Harry Potter

Elaboration, 2003

11 Pages

Free online reading


In this paper, we would like to discuss magic as portrayed in J.k Rowling Harry Potter. We want to also analyze some magic scenes and attempt to discuss their significance in the story. Harry Potter has never been the star of a Quidditch team, scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground. All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his terrible aunt and uncle, and their son, Dudley, a great swollen spoiled bully. Harry’s room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he has not had a birthday party in eleven years. But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by an owl messenger. The letter is an invitation to an incredible place that Harry will never forget. For it is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where Harry finds not only friends, sport, and magic in everything from classes to meal, but a great destiny that has been waiting for him.

1.1. The meaning of Magic.

According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, magic[1] is defined as the secret of appearing to make things happen by saying special words or doing special things. Jared Miller defined magic as any means of control or knowledge, which makes use of supernatural beings or forces. He went further to say that :

…magic must be defined as the use of impersonal occult (read: hidden or secret) forces in order to obtain knowledge or power. Such is the well-known transference of symbolic cultures (popularly described as “voodoo”-objective transference of symbolic action), and the phenomenon of magical words, objects, or substances in the ancient and medieval western word

(Miller,Jared 2000:1)

Despite the above definitions, it must be said that magic is a complex term to explain. In order to discuss the meaning of magic, one has to take into consideration the culture and society in which one lives. This is because what may be considered magic in certain societies, may be seen as sciences in another communities, or even religion. The holy bible[2] condemns magic but the Jews considered Jesus Christ as a magician and “wrong sort of person” to perform miracles, although the people accounted Him a prophet. It is said that Jesus Christ changed water into wine, walked on water, died and rose again just to name but these examples. Christians would consider this as miracle. However, not every body is a Christian, and not every body believes in God. From the above explanation, one can see that it would not be wrong for a Pagan to consider Jesus Christ as a magician.

If we take sciences as example, we would see that scientist do organ transplantation, plastic surgeries, paternity test, wireless communication and digital photography. In some primitive societies, these scientific developments may be considered as magic. In the pre-colonial era, when the European went to Africa for Christianity and colonization, they presented some of the African chiefs with mirrors, matches, sunglasses and radios. Some of these uneducated Africans considered these presents as magic like so many others worldwide. At this point, we would like to give two quotations that seem to support this view.

Arthur. C. Clarke. “Any smoothly functioning technology gives the appearances of magic”

Jacque Ellul. “ Magic may even be the origin of techniques”

(Jacobs,Alan 2000:37)

In order to give a synopsis of the relationship between sciences and magic, we would like to quote Alan Jacobs:

In the thinking of most modern people, there should be two histories here: (implied history of magic and of sciences) after all, are not magic and experimental sciences opposite?. Is not magic governed by superstition, ignorance, and wishful thinking, while experimental sciences is rigorous, self-critical, and methodological? While it may be true that the two paths have diverged to the point that they no longer have any point of contact, for much of their existence –and this is Lynn Thorndike’s chief point-they constituted a single path with a single history. For both magic and experimental sciences are means of controlling and directing our natural environment ( and people insofar as they are part of that environment)[3]

(Jacobs,Alan 2000:37-38)

From the above discussion, we would now look at magic as illustrated in Harry Potter by J.k Rowling.

2. Some scenes of magic in Harry Potter

Magic is one of the major themes in Harry Potter and the philosopher’s stone. In this novel, Rowling presents the reader with two worlds, the magic world as different from ours that is called (in the books) the Muggle world. However, one can see traces of similarities between the two worlds. We would now analyze some episodes in which magic is portrayed.

The description of Quidditch is one of the interesting examples of magic in Harry Potter.

“So what’s Quidditch?”

“It’s our sport. Wizard sport. It’s like football in the Muggle world” (Rowling 2000:90)

Rowling describes Quidditch in details, as a game, which shares some characteristics with fooball but is played in the air, on broomsticks, and with four balls. It is in this game that we see Harry as a talented and skillful player. His skill brought him fame and makes him more popular.

Another example of sport in the magic world as portrayed by Rowling is wizard chess (Rowling 2000:215). It is like normal chess, except that the figures are alife, which make it a lot like directing troops in battle. Here we see Ron teaching Harry. This incident shows the relationship between Ron and Harry and brought to light the act that, although Harry is born as a talented magician, he can still learn from his friend.

In other areas in the novel, we see a tape measuring on its own (Rowling 2000:95), a hat singing, a pudding that disappears, Hermione saying “Wingardium Leviosa” to make a feather rise off the desk and hover about four feet above their heads (Rowling 2000:187). This incident portrays Hermione as a witty pupil and brings to light the normal relationship among students, when Ron was angry as Hermione wanted to correct him. Professor Flitwick’s appraisal to Hermonie’s success is a normal thing any teacher would do, if a student excels. This shows that pupils life at Hogwarts is not totally different from school life in the modern (muggle) world.

Harry sees his late parents in a mysterious mirrow, and the magic hat at Hogwarts that determines the house in which each student belongs (This hat knows that the Weaselys-Ron’s family members have studied in Hogwarts ). These are all examples of magic in Rowling’s novel. We would now discuss the significance of magic in Harry Potter.

3.Significance of magic in Harry Potter.

The novel Harry Potter points to the possibility that beyond , and around, and beside the material world in which we live, there is also one of magic, wonder, and miracle. The two worlds are not entirely separate, but impinge upon one another, and travel is possible between them in both directions as seen in King’s Cross platform 913/4 amongst others:

…they were boarding the Hogwarts Express, talking and laughing as the country-side became greener and tidier; eating Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans as they sped past Muggle towns; pulling off their wizard robes and putting on jackets and coats…(Rowling 2000:330)

Harry Potter describes a great struggle between the forces of evil and good with the promise that good is the stronger and in the end will triumph.

Magic is presented in Rowling’s novel as a craft that can be learned, and refine, where gifts are unevenly distributed, just like in our world. In relation to this, one can say that magic is not a false discipline but rather a means of controlling the physical world as experimental sciences like physics and chemistry. Magic simply works and works as reliable in the hands of a trained wizard as technology that makes planes to fly, fridges to chill the air, robbers to move, and even tablets to heal diseases.

Rowling uses magic to create an alternative world from the one in which we are living. Magic is often fun, surprising and exciting, and potentially dangerous when used wrongly like modern technologies. The magic in Harry Potter expands the imagination of children. There are several newspapers drawing, online sketches, poems and short stories written by children to express their views of Harry Potter.

4. Harry Potter, Magic, and Public Opinion.

The general public responded differently to Harry Potter, some positively, others negatively and the bone of contention is magic as illustrated in the novel.

4.1. Positive views

Harry Potter is a success story in the publishing and film industries. It has become a best seller and has sold over 30 millions copies worldwide. It has also been translated into many languages (about 42). It should be noted that Harry Potter has won many awards.[4]

Some parents claim that Harry Potter has motivated their children to start reading, children who hardly read before. As said before, the magic in Harry Potter makes some children be creative and expands their imagination. The book is also entertaining and a great deal of fun. Harry Potter, like any other children’s novel, helps to increase the vocabulary of children, but this is worth mentioning because Rowling’s novel is one of the most widely read novel in the history of children’s literature.

One of the most quoted supporters of the Potter books is Christianity Today columnist Charles Colson, who, in his November 2 Breakpoint radio broadcast, noted that Harry and his friends "develop courage, loyalty, and a willingness to sacrifice for one another—even at the risk of their lives. Not bad lessons in a self-centered world." Colson dismisses the magic and sorcery in the books as "purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic. That is, Harry and his friends cast spells, read crystal balls, and turn themselves into animals—but they don't make contact with a supernatural world…. [It's not] the kind of real-life witchcraft the Bible condemns."

(Olsen, Ted 2000:2)

4.2. Negative views

People who hold a negative view about Harry Potter are mostly Christians. As said earlier, the bible condemns magic. These critics, some who have not even read the book claim that Harry Potter promotes witchcraft and magic, which they consider evil. They discourage Christian children from reading the book, and some newspapers even reported that copies of Harry Potter were burnt in certain parts of the world. One parent noted, “I’m not saying Rowling is a tool for the devil, but I am saying neopaganism is just saturating the culture,” Furthermore, one critic explains:

. … Author J. K. Rowling admits that some Harry Potter readers have convinced themselves that Harry's world is real. Rowling has said she gets letters all the time, desperate letters addressed to Hogwarts, begging to be allowed to attend Harry's school. When fantasy produces that kind of reaction, we are naïve to assume that witchcraft is merely a harmless, fun literary device…

(Komschlies, Jacqui 2000:2)

In order to support their view against magic in Harry Potter, the Crusader magazine wrote:

I think the Harry Potter books are an attempt by Wiccans to recruit young children into the practices of witchcraft. Most other fantasy books for children transport them to other worlds (Chronicles of Narnia comes to mind) where magic happens. These books take place right here in this world and make children believe they can do magic in this world. The Bible tells us that engaging in witchcraft is a sin. I don't think these books are a good idea for Christian kids. If they like the Harry Potter books, get them the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis instead.

(Eaton, Daniel 2000:2)

5. Conclusion.

We are of the opinion that J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter is a good piece of arts, not only to the intended audience-children but also to adults. The craft and skill in which Rowling details magic in the story is one of the reasons that makes the book a great success. We represent the view that Harry Potter has done more good to both the literary and non-literary worlds. Parents and critics should not be concerned only with the negative aspect of magic in life, but also other negative influences in the society like pornography on television, internet and books, violent films, video and computer games, novels and work of arts that promote xenophobia. These factors may also have a negative influence or effects on children. Some of the criticism of Harry Potter is bias and unfounded.[5]

The publishing and film industries have made money from the book. A reasonable amount of the population has also been entertained. Children are more excited and interested in reading. Magic in the story is fun, but this fun is understood differently, by people from different cultures, and religious beliefs.

6. References

Rowling,J.k.2000.Harry Potter and the philosopher’s stone. London: Bloomsbury Publishing plc.

Wehmeier,Sally(Ed):2000.Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of current English. Oxford,

Oxford university Press

ERNSTING,Kate.Is Harry Potter’s magig kid-friendly? .Online in Internet

Komschlies,Jacqui.2000. The Perils of Harry Potter Literary device or not, witchcraft is real—and dangerous.Online in Internet

Olsen,Ted.2000. Opinion Roundup: Positive About Potter Despite what you've heard, Christian leaders like the children's books .Online in Internet

Kjos, Berit. Bewitched by Harry Potter.Online in Internet

Gray, Paul.1999 .”Wild About Harry”. Time Magazine (September 20, 1999); page 72.

Jacob,Alan.2000. Harry Potter’s magic. Online in Internet

Eaton,Daniel. The Harry Potter Controversy:Does Harry Potter promote Witchcraft or the Occult? Online in Internet

Montenegro , Marcel.2000. HARRY POTTER, SORCERY AND FANTASY . Online in Internet

Regardie,Israel.1969. Magic in East and West.Dallas: Helios

Regardie,Israel.1969. The Art of Magic.Dallas: Helios

Miller,Jared. The meaning of magic. Online in internet

Doniger ,Wendy.2000.Spot the source: Harry Potter explained .London:The London Review of Books.(also online in internet,6109,135352,00.html)

Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania(ed)1998.New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. New York:Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York,INC. page 261

Other online resources on magic in Harry Potter



[1] Related terms include: Black magic: The arts of doing tricks that seem impossible in order to entertain people. Wizard: A man who is believed to have magic powers Sorcerer: A man with magic powers, who is helped by evil spirits Miracle: An act or event that does not follow the laws of nature and is believed to be caused by God Good magic-use to do good things like heal diseases,save people from difficult situation,etc Bad magic-use to harm people, cause destruction, famine, suffering etc Wehmeier,Sally(Ed):2000.Oxford Advanced learner’s Dictionary of current English. Oxford, Oxford university Press

[2] There shall not be found among you anyone who ...practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD, and because of these abominations the LORD your God drives them out from before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the LORD your God has not appointed such for you Deut. 18:10-14

[3] Alan Jacob is Professor of English at Wheaton College, USA (Jacobs,Alen, 2000:38)

[4] The Guardian children’s fiction Award 1997 ABBY AWARD, American Booksellers Association,1999 10 Bremer Beste 1999 Carnegie Medal 1997 FCBG Children’s Book Award 1997,1998, Scottish Arts Council- children’s Book Award 1999,2001, etc

[5] In a newspaper article that we read, one critic claims that Harry Potter has made wizards to recruit young children into sorcerery or witchcraft, but he failed to give evidence. We think that some of such statements may be mere imagination of some people who dislike the book and wish to campaigne against it.

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Magic in Harry Potter
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Stephen Ekokobe Awung (Author), 2003, Magic in Harry Potter, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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