A few years ago the entire nation seemed in the grip of a Harry Potter craze. Even though we pretty much all knew how the saga was going to play out (adventure, strife, Voldemort dies, Harry learns the meaning of life) millions bought the tomes produced by J.K. Rowling to have our suspicions confirmed. The journey is the point, right? And then, having read said tomes, queued up at movie theaters to see the movies, even though we already knew the movies were going to be filled with horrific acting by actors playing people ten years younger than their characters. But the special effects were boss.
Admittedly, the stories did have some appeal. Good against evil – though a lot of the time I found myself rooting for Voldemort. And coming-of-age stories are always touching – unless we get to see the characters in their aged condition at platform whatever, all overweight and made up. I really could have done without that. But the whole magic thing just didn’t really do it for me. Now, before you go off saying “John has no imagination!” I cut my teeth on Dungeons and Dragons, read all the Tolkien books, the entire Xanth series, David Eddings great series, All that Shannarah business, the entire Thomas Covenant series, and a lot of other fantasy and science fiction. I guess, for me, it was the mix of magic and the real world that fell short.
What bugged me, and I may be truly unique in this, was that – well… their magic just wasn’t very powerful. Okay, so Harry could make someone fall asleep. And they had a map that could tell you where people were. Seriously? Meh! In fact, I found the magic of Harry Potter to be far weaker than the technology we have today. I mean, why would I want to fly on a broom when I can go mach 2 in an F-15 Eagle, have a comfortable seat, and Sidewinders, AAMRAMs, and an M-61 Vulcan 20mm six-barrel rotary cannon? Go that fast on a broom and your face would melt, and honestly, straddling that pole always looked… ow. What is the power of “Avada Kedavra” against a 2,000 pound JDAM? And that scene at the end of the final movie – what was it, number eight? – where all the evil wizards were pummeling Hogwarts with what appeared to be Roman candles. Give me a 200 kiloton, W-89 thermonuclear warhead and I’ll remove that shield and Hogwarts at the same time, and blow a hole in their racial memory so deep – sorry, wrong movie. But, you get the picture.
Okay, now a wizard might make a pretty cool spy. Granted. You could disguise yourself, go invisible, and assassinate just about anyone you wanted. But you know, they never really used it that way, something that to me, would have been cool. Alas – an opportunity missed.
Maybe this is all because I’m an engineer and a physicist and work with really powerful weapons. Perhaps that’s why even though Hogwarts is made to look like a fun place, I think there are in fact places that are better. When you go to school as a lad or lass not only do you get to hang out and get into minor mischief, you get to learn stuff that is real. And if you do well in your basic wizarding classes you get to go to a place called college that is even more fun than Hogwarts because you don’t have to wear robes. And you can learn spells there, too, of a sort. You can learn skills to save lives. You can learn skills to take lives. You can learn how to do most of the things that Hogwarts made a really big deal over. Instant communication. Flying. Invisibility – almost there. Teleportation – working on it. Incinerating your enemy by the millions. If Voldemort had been serious, he’d have absconded with some nukes. You can even learn how to go into space – something I don’t remember happening in any of the movies.
If you love the Harry Potter stories, that’s great. They’re cute and very creative. I applaud Ms. Rowling’s imagination and envy her bank account. Just don’t fail to see that Hogwarts is real, you can go there, and you can learn skills that will let you do things far more powerful than any spell in J.K. Rowling’s made-up universe. They’re called chemistry, mathematics, physics, biology, engineering, computer programming, and your other tech classes.