On Harry Potter

Discovering Magic

By Karl S. Rosengren, Ph.D.

Harry Potter’s discovery of the world of magic is quite different from how and when children discover magic in our relatively ordinary world. For most of Harry’s childhood he is surrounded by the dreary, mundane world of the Dursley family, a family that is both oppressive and exceedingly non-magical. Even seemingly impossible events, such as the rapid growth of Harry’s hair following forced haircuts, the rapid shrinking of a despised sweater, or Harry’s sudden appearance on the roof of the school kitchen after being chased by Dudley and his gang, are not labeled as anything special in Harry’s childhood. Instead, these events are blamed on Harry, an assumed trickster, or in the case of the sweater, attributed to some commonplace act, such as the sweater shrinking in the wash. While Harry does not fully understand these events, he does not attribute them to anything magical. It is not until Harry is ten years old that his eyes are opened to the realm of magic. In contrast, in the Muggle world, the majority of children at that age have given up belief, and perhaps hope, in magic.

Young children in our world, in contrast to young Harry, often believe in such magical things as the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. They also believe that the feats performed in magic shows are not merely clever trickery but involve real powers that go beyond the ordinary. In this essay we explore children’s real world beliefs in magic and magical entities and how they compare  …

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