“No story lives unless someone wants to listen.” – J.K. Rowling, 2011.
Don’t look now, but Harry Potter may just save the world.
OK, granted, he’s famous for doing that. I’m intimately familiar with the battles of England’s favorite boy wizard against the forces of Voldemort. I’ve cheered him on as he raised his wand against evil, selfishness and – most frightening of all – government bureaucracy.
But I’m not talking about the fictional confines of Harry’s hidden magical universe. I’m talking right here. Right now.
Or at least, that’s what Anthony Gierzynski is saying.
Gierzynski is the author of “Harry Potter and the Millennials,” a political science book that looks at the children who grew up among tales of Hogwarts and now make up a young voting bloc of their own.
What sort of voters? That’s the interesting part. Based on Gierzynski’s studies, the millennials who grew up reading the Potter books were more likely to be tolerant of differences and less likely to support using deadly force or torture; more likely to be politically active and less likely to be authoritarian.
In short, the sort of people we seem to need so much these days.
“I give Dobby most of the credit!” teased a friend.
Maybe so. Maybe there’s something to be said for an early exposure to Dobby, the fearful house-elf with an unlikely potential for heroism … or to a world where wizards’prejudices have visible consequences … or even to an orphaned boy who belongs to two worlds and sometimes feels out of place in both.
But proceed with caution. And not just because of the giant spiders.
Gierzynski himself warns that correlation may not be causation. For those not used to the difference (a majority, it seems, on the Internet), it works like this: After it rains, I go out and find the roof of my house is wet. But that doesn’t mean soaking my roof will make it rain.
Applied here, it means be careful which way you point the sign post. Sure, it might be that reading Harry Potter creates a tolerant, activist personality. But it could also be that people with tolerant, activist personalities were the most likely to read about him in the first place. Or even that it’s pure coincidence.
Either way, it gives me some hope.
Remember, Harry Potter books in their heyday were the most popular books in the world. At a time where the National Security Agency competes with online marketers to see who can make our lives the most transparent, when ideological differences repeatedly become hard-and-fast battle lines, when rights are treated like conveniences – well, it’s a little encouraging to know that a solid chunk of that record-breaking readership believes in a better way.
More, that they believe in fighting for one.
I know, it’s a long way from imagination to reality. But the way is there. And it’s a road that J.K. Rowling herself has been forcefully pointing to for a long time.
“The Potter books in general are a prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry and I think it’s one of the reasons that some people don’t like the books,” the author once said. “But I think it’s a very healthy message to pass on to younger people that you should question authority and you should not assume that the establishment or the press tells you all of the truth.”
Yes, it’s a story. A fiction. A dream.
But people who have a dream and the passion to see it through, for better or worse, have had an amazing impact on the world before. They will again.
Choose your dreams well.
That’s the magic that lasts.