Modern Magic, Gift or Curse?

by Robbie Fischer

Once upon a time, magic was a gift. Wizards and witches could do things that Muggles could only dream of. So many things were possible to magical folk that their secret had to be protected — otherwise they would have no peace, either from Muggles who wanted them to solve all their problems, or from the conniving malice of the envious and fearful.

Now, in my opinion, this is no longer the reason the existence of magic needs to be kept secret. The sad fact is that, in the last century, Muggle technology has overtaken magic in almost every area of life. Things are now possible in Muggle transportation, communication, medicine, warfare, and even cooking and cleaning, that equal or surpass the achievements of magic.

But wizards and witches cannot enjoy many of these Muggle improvements. The magical field that surrounds their places of work, play, and family life, interfere with the processes that make Muggle equipment work. Certainly simple, mechanical inventions, like all-manual cameras, have been adapted to wizardly use. But most conveniences of the modern Muggle world are lost on wizards and witches.

While the Muggle world has been swiftly changing, the magical world has stayed the same. So comparing what is possible for Muggles to what is possible for magical folk, it now looks as if magical folk are rather more disabled than gifted. They cannot enjoy the things that Muggle technology has made possible. Muggle gadgets don’t work for them; even the discoveries of Muggle medicine don’t seem effective on their illnesses. So ironically, instead of making amazing new things possible, magic merely compensates witches and wizards for the possibilities of Muggle science that are closed to them.

These effects seem to worsen where there are higher concentrations of magical activity — so, presumably, one witch could take a ride on an airplane, but for a whole Quidditch team and their hangers-on, it won’t do at all. You might ask, why would they want to fly on an airplane at all, when they can go by broom? This brings us to another aspect of magical disability: the need not to be seen.

As Muggle populations have grown and spread, as the density of Muggle inhabitation has increased, as their ability to see into every corner of their environment has improved through the use of aircraft and satellites and automatic cameras and such, so also the problem of keeping the magical world a secret has grown. Wizards and witches have been forced to take so much care of their secret that there almost isn’t time to do anything else with their so-called gifts. It has almost reached the point where they can’t do magic at all, except to keep the magical world a secret. It would take but a small step for keeping that secret to become their sole purpose in life.

Wedged between their fear of discovery — in a world where that discovery every day grows harder to prevent — and their inability to enjoy the improvements of Muggle science and technology, magical folk have changed roles in the world — or rather, the world has changed around them. They are now, more or less, just an insular group of people who live a simpler life, like a religious sect that renounces worldly vanities.

Their chief reason for keeping magic a secret may now be that they have nothing else to do, nothing else that is entirely theirs, no other way of compensating for their disabilities, and no need or desire for the world’s pity. Probably, if discovered today, they would be studied as an oddity, and then, in most places, tolerated with a smile and a slow shake of the head.

If this isn’t depressing enough, there is the one chance in a million that it doesn’t have to be that way. That is, there is one wizard or witch in a million whose power and comprehensive knowledge of magic enables him or her to discover new possibilities for magic. I don’t know if there are even a million living witches and wizards in the world today, but if there are, that one-in-a-million wizard was Albus Dumbledore. I haven’t heard about any benign witches or wizards of similar skill, standing in the wings, waiting to take up Dumbledore’s mantle. If they are out there, great. If not, Dumbledore’s death may be a greater tragedy for the wizarding world than we knew.

At age 15, Dumbledore did things with his wand that the OWL examiners had never seen before. Later, he discovered the uses of dragon blood and did important work in alchemy. Who knows what else Dumbledore discovered — or could have discovered, had he lived, or had he done something with his life other than run Hogwarts and fight dark wizards? Perhaps Dumbledore could have opened up new realms of magical possibility, new areas where witches and wizards could have found fulfillment or served humanity, new ways for magic folk to be like regular folk with “something special added.” Alas, that chance is lost — for now. And perhaps, at this time in the history of magic, that loss is fatal for the wizarding world.

I would hate for it to end this way. But it is a possibility we need to be prepared for, as Book 7 looms on the horizon. Harry Potter’s wizarding world may be fated to end. The war of the Death Eaters, culminating in Harry’s last confrontation with Voldemort, may indeed be the deathblow to an already crippled magical community.

And maybe that is for the best. Maybe the only good reason to have a place like Hogwarts these days is to help kids with magical abilities learn to control them before they become serious problems. Maybe, after that, the best thing for them is “vocational rehabilitation” to prepare them to reintegrate with Muggle society. Maybe there isn’t safety in numbers; maybe their best chance is to live as Muggles, among Muggles, unhindered by the magical fields that surround areas of concentrated magic; and maybe the current war serves a good purpose by destroying those “dark” witches and wizards who simply cannot, or will not, live that way.

One of the charms of a story like Harry Potter is that it takes magic — which really needs a pre-technological, medieval world to flourish best — and transplants it, with a combination of wit and anachronism, into the modern world. But the cost of that transplant is that it can only function for a limited period of time. Are the days of wizardry numbered? That is, perhaps, for only J.K. to tell….