Monday, August 20, 2007

Magical Thinking

Are you a Harry Potter fan? If so, this summer has been a Harry Potter extravaganza with a new movie and the release of last book in the series of the boy wizard’s life and tribulations. I saw the movie last weekend and am in the midst of reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Pam took grandson, Arley, this weekend. We found ourselves talking quite a bit about why this tale is so successful and not just with kids. Here are some of our musings.

“People want to believe,” Pam says. “The unexplained intrigues us. I get lost instantly in the tales of magic and the ability to transform everyday life and activities.” I have to agree that the appeal for me is about this universal (or so it seems to me) attraction to power, to control over ourselves and our environments. I don’t mean this in a domineering and negative way, of course, but at a fundamentally human level. We want to create reality to suit us, to alter it if need be to fit our sense of what should happen. Magical thinking has been around for all time. Psychologists emphasize that we can create our own reality with positive thought (and hard work, the pragmatists add). Harry Potter is emblematic of just how hard that is as he tries to conjure a patronus to protect him in times of danger, or avoid the burning mind meld with Voldemort. How many times have we all had to fight the demons that derail us?

Pam reflects on the fine line between believing in magic and the power to transform the day-to-day and religion. “They’re different,” she says. “Many religions call on belief in a higher power who can (but sometimes does not) influence the course of events, while reading a book like Harry Potter suggests the power we each have to influence the moment or history.” In the Sunday paper I read an article about the “CEO factor,” the term some researchers use after studying how people in management positions overwhelmingly feel they are invaluable and are doing a great job. The higher up one is in an organization the stronger this belief. “It is a must,” the article says. It’s what gets people up in the morning and able to perform, this belief that we make a difference, that we are essentially good and can alter the course of events.

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, captures, too, the human struggle of good and evil, populating her books with those who use their powers maliciously, wreaking havoc on order and the general good. I like the exaggeration of those battles, the stark contrasts that remind me of just how strong we have to be in our lives as we come against witches, wizards and elves whose intentions are not for bringing goodwill to all. Our daily battles, though, are usually against situations that are not so starkly cast, causing us sometimes to blur our vision, to engage in magical thinking of a different order, to believe everything will work out okay if we just ignore what’s happening.

I like thinking about all the ways the wizarding world gets around. They so cleverly use whatever means they can to get around, walking through pillars in the train station; using objects or events as portals to pass through, or portkeys, as they call them; traveling up chimney flues; and in the latest book, flushing themselves into the Ministry of Magic. Since we work with people all the time on the subject of mobility, we fantasize about how wonderful it would be to utilize some of these more magical means. On the other hand, we are so impressed always with the innovations that continue to appear. The RollerAid (the subject of earlier commentary in these pages) is a great example of innovation. Creating a resting place for your knee to elevate the injured foot or ankle while you push with the good foot provides a great alternative to crutches. In fact, we are hosting a new products showcase in September. Please be sure to check our Events section if you would like to participate as a tester for that event. Help Pam and me choose what new products we will carry.

It seems clear to both Pam and me that Harry Potter resonates with so many of us, regardless of culture, age, ability. It’s about magical thinking, about the power we must believe we have to face life in its most raw, worrying, unexpected, and beautiful ways. “I’m 62 and I believe,” Pam says finally with a twinkle in her eye.

Have you read Harry Potter or seen the movies? Tell us some of your thoughts and the parts you have liked best. Please don’t reveal the ending of the new book, though, as many are still reading it or have not gotten to it yet. We might have to make you disapparate if you do.

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