October 9, 2011

Okay, so I’ll admit it: The Harry Potter books did the same thing to me that Twilight seems to be doing its fans. No, not what you’re thinking. I didn’t become obsessed and unrealistically attached to characters. I did, however, experience a phenomenon similar to that which causes Twilight fans’ romantic foolishness.

You see, the reason all these girls are scrawling “Team Jacob” on their trapper keepers is deeper than mere attraction. They have been led to believe by a sly writing technique that they will one day end up with an undead Adonis. They believe, whether subconsciously or not, that it is entirely within the realm of possibility. The reason for this is that Stephanie Meyer has intentionally caused the “Bella” character to be devoid of any specific features that might have fully disqualified readers from identifying with her. Because of this, Twilight is little more than a lo-fi virtual reality headset under whose influence unrealistically optimistic views are established. The vampires and werewolves are not monsters, but misleadingly titled archetypes of pubescent ideals; think Playboy Bunnies in their Halloween costumes. It is targeted escapism at its finest.

While J.K. Rowling’s prose is far superior to Meyer’s, a similar effect can be noted among readers, myself included. The success of the novels can be attributed to a number of factors, not the least of which are a compelling and convoluted plot, engaging characters, and an accessibility which does not come at the cost of sophistication. The most important factor, however, is a strong identification with the main character. Every child with a working imagination has at some point fantasized about having special, powerful abilities of some sort or another. A child for whom life is challenging or lackluster will freely embrace the idea that they are different in some beneficial way, and that their unenjoyable experience has been the product of not having been “discovered” yet by the right people. When presented in such a whimsical and appealing fashion as in Harry Potter, this notion becomes even more acceptable.

An introverted and thoughtful child to whom books and imaginative play mattered a great deal, I was perhaps the ideal example of someone who would be influenced by Rowling’s work. I had difficulty identifying with peers and determining my place in school. This was due in equal amounts to my weaknesses and my strong suits, which occupied areas near the ends of opposite sides of the spectrum. Shit, with my black hair and round metal glasses, I even looked like Harry at the time. It seemed fairly logical to me once I had read Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone that at some point a mysterious rite of passage would occur, and everything would make sense. It didn’t, and it won’t. I have since come to learn that the real-world equivalent of this transition into understanding resembles a slow expansion rather than the flip of a switch, and at the end of the day this comforts me. There is always going to be more to know, and that is all the escape I need. 

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