HPEF presents Infinitus 2010, a Harry Potter conference            TEXT  MENU

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July 15-18, 2010
Orlando, Florida

Muggle Studies 101: Metaphorical Possibilities of Being Magic or Muggle
James W. Thomas

Ron's surprise that Muggle-born Hermione is taking Muggle Studies leads to her point that it will be "fascinating" to study Muggles "from the wizarding point of view." Actually, this is what Rowling would have us Muggle readers do throughout all 4100 pages of Harry's story. We see Muggle life from a magical perspective: our physicians are "Muggle nutters that cut people up," and our guns are a kind of "metal wand the Muggles use to kill each other." Conversely, some magical folk, actually maybe just Arthur Weasley, find us fascinating with our plugs, post offices, and our many "eclectic" devices. What is imagined and imaginary in the magical world and what is real, though almost like magic, in the Muggle world is what we will explore in a number of ways. Consider first how like magic Muggle technology (for good or ill) ranges from those metal wands with which we kill, to the magic of what all the magic our cell phones can now perform. Arthur C. Clarke is quite right: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Think next about the Muggle antitheses of magic. What are its polar opposites? Dursley normal? Being limited in or void of imagination? In fact, try to imagine imagination as magic. Isn't Rowling suggesting that the mind is the greatest form of magic, as when Dumbledore tells Harry that just because something is "happening inside your head" does not preclude its being real? Maybe one way to perceive magic and Muggle is to identify the first word with the imaginative, the creative, the poetic, and the latter word with the unimaginative, the empirical, and the prosaic. So there may be magical folk out there among Muggles, just as there are Mundunguses and Umbridges among magic folk. Thus when Hagrid wonders how Muggles manage without magic, the answer is that they don't, not the imaginative ones anyway because they find magic in music, painting, sculpture, and books, and in human relationships involving love, which is the same in magic and Muggle worlds alike—yes, love, as Dumby says, just love, the one magic we two worlds have in common. This is something to consider as we keep our eyes out for flying motorcycles, cats reading maps, and shrinking keys—not one of which is less likely or more outrageous than a Boeing 757 in the sky, or GoogleEarth finding my Little League field, or my being unable to find my keys to drive to work tomorrow morning.

James W. Thomas, Professor of Literature at Pepperdine University, has taught a number of courses on Rowling's books. He has been quoted in TIME, interviewed on NPR, and delivered a number of lectures—all affirming his belief that the Potter books are "legit lit," that they deserve an honored place in the literary canon, and that they will endure—as he likes to say—so long that his grandchildren will read these books to their grandchildren. He has made presentations at a number of Potter conferences, including Prophecy and Portus; and, since last summer, Professor Thomas has been a contributor to monthly podcasts as a member of the Potter Pundits, along with his fellow pundits John Granger and Travis Prinzi. He is the author of Repotting Harry Potter: A Professor's Book-by-Book Guide for the Serious Re-Reader and is currently at work on a second book on the Potter series.
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