Harry Potter, The Quest for Meaning

I doubt if anything would have escaped the hoopla around Harry Potter. My participation in this whole exercise has been one from the periphery.

I should be last handful of people on this planet who has neither read the books nor watched any of the movies, at least not fully. This is not because I am one of those who are chronically unable to imagine or enjoy a fantasy. To the contrary I love LOTR. Read the books a couple of times and seen the movie more than two dozen times and still it holds me in thrall. I have almost shed a tear when I saw what the ring had done to Frodo in the scouring of the Shire.

But I have been wondering what could be behind the Harry phenomena? Of course there is the inherit merit in the story, in the characters and the motivations that drive their actions. But a simple story cannot have such a wide reaching influence, across cultures, languages, regions, age groups etc. Harry must be both the wet-dream and nightmare of every marketing person, he makes the notion of a demographic vanish with his magic wand. There are no hard boundaries anymore.

Harry seems to have found the secret word to touch the basics in all of us and hence we fall under his spell. Like a modern day Pied Piper, Harry with his struggle against evil, lures us with his vulnerability and power, an enchanting music that we may not resist, follow its promise of something bigger than what we have today.

I have a hypothesis on what makes Harry tick. The Age we live in, at least the modernized connected world, is one of reason. There is nothing that escapes the clutches of reason. Everything is explained, everything is seen, everything dissected. In explaining and knowing the world around us, and everything in it, we seem to have killed the very mystery of living. There is no joy in living anymore. And we seek our rushes in jumping off cliffs, off planes, in ridiculous stunts, in visceral reality shows. We live in a dead world, populated with a hundred different machines, each prepared to come to life under the impress of our fingertips but nothing more.

This absence of meaning, as enforced by the environment we live in, forces us to discover or invent meaning of our own in whatever chooses our fancy.

And it is this context that makes a simple orphan boy, with a lightning scar on his forehead, such an alluring source of meaning and endearment.

Harry is about powers that cannot be explained, about conflicts that are larger than the provincial concerns of self, about a past that cannot be altered, about odds stacked against us, about providential aid in times of despair and about discovering self through choice and action. And these concerns are universals that transcend the particulars of any given culture. These are the basics upon which life is built upon.

These, if you observe, are the same factors that would have influenced the state of the earliest man. The same factors that force man to act in accordance to the laws of his environment. But the modern solution has been to seal ourselves in more and more isolated compartments of ego and labels that explain nothing.

Harry, if I may dare to say, re-introduces the mystery of living to an Age that has killed the intangible joy of living in the quest to control and explain everything. To an age that knows no ritual, no symbolic high act, no hard morals, no yardstick to measure goodness and success, Harry is a little benchmark by which they may assess their own lives and acts.

In performing this role, Harry joins more than a handful of master literary characters. Hamlet, Frodo, Oedipus, Odysseus, Karna and now a little Harry. High lives that have defined how subsequent generations interpret and make sense of this unstoppable machinery called Life.


  1. and don’t forget the power that he knows not, which around a million people and me think is love.

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