Connie Matthiessen, Associate Editor
When my two sons were three and four-years-old, I overheard them squabbling.
"No, I'm not!" the younger one was insisting.
"Yes you are," his brother said.
This went on for awhile and I finally asked them what was going on.
"He says I'm a Muggle!" Dylan wailed.
"I'm sorry, Dylan, but you are," his brother told him, with the maddening authority older siblings wield so skillfully. "And Mom is, too. I'm the only wizard in this family."
Dylan was weeping in frustration by now, because to be a Muggle (a nonwizard) was such a dreary prospect. To be a Muggle was to live a life without magic, and who would choose that?
For years, the boys and their little sister turned sticks into wands and sheets into robes and ran around the house casting spells on each other. They loved those games, but at some point they'd start to argue about which spell had hit whom and whose wand was more powerful. Inevitably, one would say, "I wish we could really do magic."
It isn't just little kids, of course, who want to hold onto the magic. When the final Harry Potter movie came out this summer, a college student told me she cried throughout the show because it represented the end of her childhood. Another young adult, recalling that her second grade teacher read the first Harry Potter book aloud to her class, said she hadn't seen the movie yet. "I'm putting it off a little longer," she told me. "I'm not ready for it all to be over."
I thought about this the other day when I accidently tuned into a commencement speech J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, gave at Harvard. In her talk, Rowling encouraged the graduates to use their imaginations to empathize with others. She quoted Plutarch, who said, "'What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality."
"That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives," Rowling said. "It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing...If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: We have the power to imagine better."
This is a wonderful message for Harry Potter fans, many of whom are now on the brink of adulthood. No one wants to let go of the magic — or resign themselves to Muggledom. But, as Rowling points out, even Muggles can practice magic.