If there is one thing I love more in the work of action than magic is well-thought magic system. While magic is not something foreign in a work of fiction yet only few put complex thoughts into the working of the system. Basically most of the magic in stories work under the simple concept of ‘a wizard did it’. That is why I pur respect to authors who managed to think about how magic works in their story. It’s like taming the untameable since what makes magic is magical is the fact that it is cannot explain yet these people create more magic out of magic by creating explanation like magic (this sentence just made xzibit shed a tear). And just like a proper internet native, I honor those people I admire by dissecting and overanalyzing their works. It is also some kind of retribution from me because just like many great authors, I often steal tidbits of their ideas and merging them one another with my own creating some kind of copyright-ambiguous-frankenstein-monster. Oh, and of course these posts contain 100% fresh opinion. Sometimes I might get little facts wrong but as someone who has spent long time on the internet every opinions can be corrected since my opinion is much better than yours!
Ah… Harry Potter. This novel series is what welcomes me to the world of fantasy fiction. No matter how I hate HarryxGinny and RonxHermione now, I always refer Rowling’s tales of magic and puberty metaphor as some kind of trigger. Because of Harry Potter I fell in love with magic system in a story and because of the movies I started mimicking English accent every time I speak English. Just like how this series welcome me in my unhealthy obsession with magic system, I also welcome this series to be the first to be tortured under my opinions.
For children such as 12 years old me who still gazed towards the morning sun with gleaming eyes, Potterverse in essence is… magical. Tell the story to any kids and it’s almost an instant guarantee they want to live in Rowling’s fantastical world. You get everything you love in this world, minus everything you hate in this world, and amp them tenfold with the power of magic. But as I grow and my eyes getting fogged by cynicism, I realized that Potterverse is standing on an unbalanced pillar made of sands. In other word, it’s dysfunctional. Thanks to Cracked for writing this lovely article. It basically summarizes everything that is wrong with Potterverse.
But wait, Opphiucus! You shouted as you stood from your seat knocking your monocle and top hat off (because according to statistics this blog is read by dramatic gentlemen), Harry Potter is a novel for kids! Surely you’re not expecting something DEEP and complicated from a kid’s novel, are you not? Well, dear gentlemen, of course I know it’s a novel for kids and it SHOULD be simple and just magical. However Mrs. Rowling herself is the one who created such complete universe. The problem is, it’s a complete universe for a kid novel so in the end she must sacrifice foundation to enrich her universe with more fantasy. In case you’re wondering, yes, I believe you can add fantasy AND create a complete universe in balance. Just take a look at Discworld by Terry Pratchett. It is the perfect balance of fantasy and a story universe with self-sustaining system. You can get lost in the fantasy yet at the same time it is solid. Rowling’s Potterverse had the chance to be on the same scale of Discworld yet it fails because of one little thing.
That little thing is the case of a hidden world. I don’t know whether TV Tropes list this in different name or something but basically is this, fantasy stories that take place in contemporary setting often set the fantasy side hidden from the common people that is usually based on our world. Discworld doesn’t need to handle with this problem because it’s a world on its own but Potterverse, just like Nasuverse and the world of The Alchemyst, Rowling needs to set the fantasy side as a hidden world. In order to do so, she created a contrast between our mundane world with the fantasygasm that is the magical side. The problem is she created the contrast to be too… contrasting and in the end we get the bullshit such as mages acting like some kind of wiccan amish.
This leads to the second problem. Rowling is quite inconsistent with the scale of the world. The problem of ignorance can be explained if the magical world maybe consist of 1000 people who has taken some kind of oath of solitude. However the magical world of Potterverse is quite huge. You have people from various backgrounds and many of them have to interact with our world on daily basis. Even the pure magical people still have to mingle with our world. Take the platform 9 ¾ for example, it’s an example how most mages must walk through King’s Cross every year yet they still remain ignorant. And Rowling made one mistake that is she increased the ignorance level to an absurd scale. Not knowing what is a car while these iron horses have roamed even to the most remote African village is no longer fantastic, it’s pathetic. Even they need to explain to the magicians what is a gun since I guess most wizards hibernated during the two world wars. For a world that takes place parallel to our world, the Potterverse is totally crippled from development.
The third problem is the problem of evil in Potterverse. Throughout the story, Rowling always reminds us how Voldemort is scary, sadistic, cruel, and noseless. Yet when working through the story, I don’t feel any sense of terror at all. The reason is once again tied to how Rowling can’t make up her mind on the scale of the magical world. The magic world is supposed to be GLOBAL. Voldemort is supposed to be a GLOBAL threat to the point all wizards across Europe tried to erase him from their memory. However what we see in the novels and movies, Voldemort is just some kind of leader of a biker gang who loves to trash English countryside. Basically he’s some mind of magical noseless Alex from A Clockwork Orange. We don’t hear anything from the wizards in America, Japan, China, or the rest of the world. So basically, for seven novels we’re only facing the problem of a domestic terrorist which is sad since Rowling conceptualized Voldemort as the magic world equivalent of Hitler.
Even if Voldemort ended up victorious, he will still be at disadvantage. The wizards who side with muggles just need to reveal the secrets of magic to the top people and soon we have enchated nuclear warhead that can pierce through magical barrier to blow Mr. Snakeophile into smithereens. Remember, the wizards are so amish they don’t know what is a nuclear until it already kiss them in the nose while from the muggle-borns we see in the novel it is clear that muggles are much easier to accept and adapt to the concept of magic when they have to compared to wizards adapting to the concept of technology.
So what would I do if I’m in Rowling’s position. Well, if I still possess my own consciousness and memory, I probably will use ZUN’s concept with Gensokyo. The characters in Touhouverse are pretty similar to the ones in Potterverse. I’m not talking about gender imbalance and frills, but how the characters are oblivious to the contemporary world. However there is a valid explanation for Touhouverse, it is an isolated world of a smaller scale. We can make the Potterverse also a small isolated universe where only few can venture in and out. This can explain the backward civilization as well as making Voldemort a reasonable threat. After all in a universe with scale of Gensokyo, flowers blooming out of season is already considered as a big incident.
These flaws are very fatal to a setting on the scale of Potterverse. It is normal if it’s just the story of good boy versus evil snakeman but the main attraction point of Harry Potter stories is not watching Harry going through puberty yet all the wonders and intricacies that take place in the magical world itself. However, as flawed as it might be, Potterverse deserves a credit for so easy to to swallow (they come in many flavors) for the young audiences. If only those young audiences stay young through the course of its publication then nobody would pay much attention to these flaws.