The U-Bend #9: Mars is Also a Planet
by Andrew Lee and Robert Lanto
“He had never had any money for sweets with the Dursleys and now he had pockets rattling with gold and silver he was ready to buy as many Mars bars as he could carry – but the woman didn’t have Mars bars.”
-Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Someone once asked me (Andrew), what I would like J.K. Rowling to answer on her website. If the opening quote didn’t give it away, I would ask about Mars bars. Now, it could be different in other editions of the Philosopher’s Stone but this one line (seen above) is so intriguing. There was just the one mention of Mars bars in the entire series (at least as far as we can remember), but it leaves a lot of open questions. According to the Wikipedia, the Mars bar is one of two different candy bars manufactured by Mars Incorporated. In the United Kingdom, it consists of a slab of nougat-like chocolate mousse topped with caramel and coated in chocolate. The Mars Bar was first created in 1936 and has become an instantly recognizable worldwide brand. In the U.S., the UK “Mars Bar” is actually known as the “Milky Way,” and the UK “Milky Way” is called the “3 Musketeers”. With that knowledge in mind, does the nougat filled goodness of the Mars bar mean something or is it another false start (like Mark Evans)?
Firstly, given Harry’s rather shabby treatment by the Dursleys, when did Harry ever get the chance to eat a sweet without Dudley taking it from him? It’s highly doubtful the Dursleys would ever buy Harry sweets unless in public (at the zoo the Dursleys bought him a cheap lemon flavored ice lolly). But, would they go as far as to give him a Mars bar? It could be that Dudley has a chocolate ‘stash’ somewhere within the Dursley home and during one session of being unsupervised (it is implied that Harry may have been left alone a few times at the Dursley home), Harry discovered this stash that included a Mars bar. Harry could have eaten the bar, which would begin his love for it. But, it could always be something more simple. Chocolate bars have always been cheap, so it would be possible for the Dursleys to purchase this for Harry on some occasion (probably while in public).
But, now that Harry has lived (and eaten) so much during his time at Hogwarts, does he even care about the Mars bar anymore? From the chocolate frogs to the every-flavored beans, what chance does a muggle-made candy bar have? This is when things get a little murky. Now, with magic involved, wizards have always found the muggle way of doing things strange. Need to open a locked door? A muggle could pick the lock with a lock-pick, but a wizard could use ‘Alohomora’ or something like Sirius’ knife. But food is different. While the method may be different, there are only so many ways to serve a chicken (ie. roast, boiled, baked). So, why couldn’t something like a muggle chocolate bar stand up to similar wizard-made brands? It’s hard to say, after all, we never hear about Mars bars anymore and most of the candies Harry eats are of the wizarding variety.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Harry has given up on the Mars bar. It could very well signify something very important. Assuming that Harry has eaten the bar before (and possibly on several occasions), the Mars bar signifies to Harry one of the few moments of happiness during his childhood at the Dursleys. After all, here is a boy who was forced to live under the stairs, was under constant torment by Dudley, and was treated like scum by the rest of the Dursleys. The moment he could eat a Mars bar would signify a point where he was allowed to enjoy something by himself, without interruption. That chocolate bar signifies one of the few moments where Harry was free to enjoy himself, free from the Dursleys. It could be one of the few moments of sweetness during Harry’s childhood.
Now, there could be another reason why Mars bars were chosen. As we all know, J.K. Rowling picks items that she has encountered during her life. So it is possible that she loves Mars bars, known someone who eats Mars bars, or was even eating a Mars bar at the time when she wrote that scene. Maybe she loves Mars bars, maybe she doesn’t. Maybe there’s some evil corporate scheme to get product placement in popular books and Mars Incorporated paid for the name to be included. Then again, it could just have been that she needed the name of a candy bar and choose that one at random.
So that leads us to another question, why the Mars bar? Why not the more popular Snickers bar or the ever so famous M&M (they helped win a war you know)? Does it really matter what candy bar? The answer is (surprisingly), yes. We have to note that, in theory, the Mars bar is Harry’s favorite candy bar (up to the point on the Hogwarts express). This would mean that Harry would compare any other chocolate bar to the Mars bar. Which means that (in a technical) sense, we know how the wizarding chocolates compare to the base standard Mars bar. So when Harry eats these other chocolates, he’s comparing them to the general consistency and texture of the Mars bar. Why is this important? One of the most important things in J.K.’s books is description. If you can’t get a good feel of what’s going on, the world doesn’t draw you in. However, food is always quite difficult as everyone has there own different tastes. By using the Mars bar as a base, we can get a better understanding of how fine the wizarding chocolates are.
Alas, now we return to the question I’d like J.K. to answer: “What is the deal with the Mars bar?” It could be something interesting, it may turn out to be nothing, but it’s something I’d like to know. Could it be something from Harry’s childhood, or relate someway to J.K.’s own experience? Will we end up getting a free case of Mars bars for writing this? Doubtful, but if there is anything you take away from this article it’s that even the smallest thing can have an interesting story. Mars: it can be awfully red tonight, but it’s also a candy bar.