By Robbie Fischer, facial hair donor
We can learn one moral from the Dursley family, the ultimate Muggles. A life without wonder or imagination, without play or fun, without a kind of “magic” (not necessarily in the literal sense of the word) is not worth living.
According to TLC, a recent study showed that adults who watch Oprah are more likely to take medications to relieve stress than adults who read Harry Potter. Why is this? The researcher’s conclusion shows his bias: people who read about boy wizards are escapists who live in denial and hide from their problems. Maybe the same data could lead you to conclude– without showing the same bias– that people who use their imaginations, who let a little magic into their lives and expect entertainment to take them out of themselves, are better able to COPE with stress. And people who take refuge from their daily reality by dosing themselves with MORE reality– even in their recreation– are not helping themselves at all.
I see the Dursleys as model victims of this syndrome. They cannot bear even a word about magic to be spoken in their presence. The kind of people who represent the world of magic are not welcome under their roof. Vernon and Petunia are petrified of the social disgrace if their neighbors should find out they have anything to do with the magical world. Dudley is just plain petrified of magic itself.
It is clear that these attitudes go beyond mere hatred of magic, though. We learn right off that Vernon disapproves of the imagination, and that even interesting dreams seem to him to be symptoms of a break with reality. The Dursleys aren’t just foils against which the magical world of Hogwarts shines with greater glory. They are people who have raised mundanity into the realm of sickness.
Some time ago, I wrote for MuggleNet that I think J.K. Rowling has a lot in common with Charles Dickens as a writer. The rich variety of characters and events, the waif-orphan-hero who triumphs over the baddies, the tales of virtue overcoming un-thought-of obstacles, all connect the two authors. But another thing that connects them is their satire of a society that, ironically, resembles many of the people who militate against exposing children to the magic of Harry Potter.
In his rather short novel Hard Times, Dickens aims his satirical barbs at a society that moralizes and rationalizes childhood off the map; that forbids children to believe things, wonder about things, and be afraid of things that go bump in the night… basically anything that can’t be scientifically measured or logically demonstrated. You could point the same finger at today’s enemies of the fairy tale and young-readers’ fantasy genre. People who see no point in Harry Potter or can’t conscience exposing their children to it are only depriving their children of things that brighten dull hours and awaken human sympathies.
The moral of Hard Times is that life without magic is not worth living. In Dickens’ case, we’re not talking about literal magic, but about public entertainment, play, wonder, fanciful thoughts, and tales to stimulate the imagination– including fairy tales, band concerts, and circuses. For grownups these are things that lighten the burden of lives full of stress and strenuous labor; for children, they are simply the things that really allow them to be children, and the kind of children who may grow up to be good people.
But some people would take all the “fancy, fantasy, and sentimentality” out of life, and fill everyone’s life, young and old, day after day, with a monotonous round of Facts– sterile, scientific, algebraic Facts. And as Dickens warns– and the Dursleys prove, in the upbringing of Dudley– this rigid adherence to “sanity” only leads to madness (like Vernon pulling the hairs out of his moustache) and breeds sullen youths whose only concern is Number One (like both Dudley Dursley and young Thomas Gradgrind of Hard Times).
The moral of the Dursley family saga, then, is about the same as what Dickens put forth 150 years ago. We need magic. It isn’t about denial or escapism or hiding from our problems. It’s about learning not to be consumed by them, learning to deal with them better, and learning that sometimes it’s okay just to let go of them and visit another world. It’s about the fact that books, films, and TV programs that tell all the ugly truth and show us nothing but unvarnished reality are not entertainment at all; that sometimes, a gripping story can be more educational than a multiplication table; and that a mind that needs everything to have a rational explanation and an orderly arrangement– a mind of method and rules and straight-jacketed reason– is closer than most minds to the cusp of madness.