When the Harry Potter books began to appear I had no interest in them. However, I had never seen such a phenomenon of mass interest in reading among kids. The fever reminded me of when Elvis hit the scene back in the 50’s and the Beatles in the 60’s. But these weren’t the normal screaming post-pubescent teenagers with overdone mascara running down their cheeks who memorized the words to “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” These were barely adolescent kids who couldn’t keep their nose out of these books and waited breathlessly for the next edition to appear. Surely it wasn’t the pretend world of magic and wizards that attracted them, there were already many such books describing fantasy worlds of magic in print. It was something else. Something real and meaningful to these kids. So I began reading the first book with the intent to find out what the attraction was.
It does not take one a long reading before the answer reveals itself: this is a story of growing up and discovering that you are something special, really special, and you didn’t realize it.
Harry’s self-discovery, that he has talents and powers he did not know he had, is what the book – and the entire Potter narrative – is about. It must be totally engaging for a child to be a witness to the details of that transformation. I certainly can see why this is a captivating saga for children at an age when they are not full grown but growing and fear that, compared to the adults around them. There is nothing really special about themselves. This is also a wonderful metaphor for the development of our children’s talent and gifts.
Harry’s adventures are essentially adventures of discovery: discovering who he is; discovering his abilities as well as those of his friends; discovering menace in the world and where he is going to stand in relation to that menace. Why this is so engaging for adolescents is very simple. They, too, wish to be powerful, special, and good. And what a discovery it is to find somewhere deep within themselves there is a magic, a set of abilities they possess that defies normalcy that no one has yet told them about! As parents, would that not be a startling message to reveal to our children: that they are secretly wizards? Wizards at something, anyway.
Musical skill and artistry may seem like magic to those who are not familiar with it. To sit down with a guitar and create a language without words that anyone on Earth can understand and be entranced by is certainly a magical ability. Children are particularly fascinated with other young people who have that “magical” ability, just as they are fascinated and delighted with Harry’s discovery that he can speak with snakes.
I saw this fascination several years ago at our advanced group, Austin Bella Corda’s concert. It was attended by a lot of kids between the ages of 7 and 13. I expected them to fall asleep with our heavy art-music program. Instead when one young girl had to leave she actually cried! Those kids in the audience were beginning guitarists and they knew how difficult it was to play a simple melody correctly. I can imagine that seeing these advanced students perform allowed these beginners to imagine themselves doing the same and being up there making music. The advanced skill that the performers possessed must have seemed like a magical power. But we and the performers knew it is not.
Where does such magical musical and artistic ability come from? The world of fantasy is an illusionary expression of the world of reality. Music is real. Terribly real. It cannot lie. There is no musical “Platform 9 3/4” that is a short cut to the world of Hogwort musical power and ability. Herein lies much of the adult criticism of the Potter books: that it teaches that the real world is actually like that; that there is danger in believing in magic. I have much sympathy for that criticism, though it is a misreading of the attraction of this narrative, which is the wonder of witnessing a child’s self-discovery.
As a parent we need to help our children live in two worlds: the world of reality, where ability comes with commitment, work, patience, self-control and focused study; and the other exciting, ‘magical’ world where our children can discover that they possess real powers they cannot imagine they possess. When all else fails to motivate your child, I think it is valuable for parents to remind the child that they live in the first world of the Muggles, but also have access to the second – the one of skill so profound it appears like magic.
Kevin Taylor is Founder of The Childbloom Guitar Program
© 2009 Childbloom Inc.