The Harry Potter story has come to its conclusion: in Italy the translation of what has been announced as the last episode of the series has been published; seven books that narrate the adventures and the growing up (from 11 to 18 years old) of the main character, Harry, during his scholarly period in the school of witchcraft and wizardry ‘Hogwarts’. Each volume of the book tells the story of one year at the school. These fantasy tales, written for both children and adolescents, for a generation that read little more than text messages have achieved extraordinary success and have captivated millions of adult readers as well.
“There is more truth and wisdom in the world of fairy tales than there is in the world of alleged rationalism” wrote G.K. Chesterton, the great English compatriot of J.K. Rowling; and in the tale of the young wizard of Hogwarts, wisdom is not lacking. Behind the astonishing adventures of the various characters one can see the anthropological vision of the author that describes the context of the postmodern world; leading the reader from a vision of an individualist selfish man, towards a vision of a man lead by moral values, such as the giving of himself, the choice of good, self-sacrifice, friendship and love. The author writes a tale for children, trying to transfer to them her concept of good not by using moral discourse, but by trying to lead the reader to understand that “to do good” is the right thing to do. Therefore it becomes clear that success without effort, wealth and eternal life on this earth are nothing but illusions, and that the only things that really count are friendship, love and commitment.
The story is set in contemporary England and the hero is a teenager; an orphan since the age of one whose parents have been killed by the evil Voldemort, a powerful wizard, whose ambition is to rule the world, but who finds an obstacle in the Potter family, in particular due to the love of Harry’s mother who had given her life for his sake.
In her saga the author points out her vision of post-modern man, who looks for safety in material goods, who uses others as objects at his disposal, who boasts of superiority in order to affirm himself, finds in the end that he fears everything that goes beyond his little knowledge. He is afraid because much of the reason of the previous centuries has deluded him: from great ideologies have come Nazi concentration camps and Russian Gulags, leading to present times when the president of a leading country can push a button to trigger a nuclear war and thus the end of life on the earth. This is the man that has lost God and therefore doesn’t know himself either. He wants to own himself, but in truth he is owned by the material things that belong to him. This is the man that has no hope since he has no more sky to look at. This is the man that doesn’t know any longer how to be a creature of his Creator, because he has renounced Him. This is the man of indifference that doesn’t ask himself questions on his origins, or on his future; he lives every day building up new needs because consumerism has turned him into a consumer of things.
Voldemort is the symbol of the man who puts himself at the centre of the universe, and from being a creature of God he tries to turn into the creator himself; with the illusion that with power everything is possible to him. However Voldermort has a weak side that will appear throughout the other volumes of the story: he has a great fear of death, since after death all he can see is nothing. This is typical of a man that has lost sight of the horizon that transcends him.
From here comes the distressing search for the myth of pleasure, of a long life on this earth and a fear of death. The desire for an immortal life that Voldemort wishes for is the same as that of many scientists and modern researchers: we think for a moment about the utopian promises of biology, biotechnology, computers and robotics.
Rowling puts aside this tragic evidence of post-modernity by moving away and trying to illustrate her vision of man and life, by using a particularly apt and intelligible style for children, at whom the book is aimed.
Harry, the main protagonist of the book, after having lived a childhood without any real meaningful relationships, always subject to harassment, is unaware of his true identity until something special happens (the arrival of the letter which asks him to Hogwarts), which gives start to a period of formation. Fundamental for the development of Harry is the opportunity for relationships that the new life presents him with: From those with persons that love him; his friends, the game warden Hagrid and the Silent headmaster; to those with persons that despise him; Professor Snape and the Malfoy family. Harry learns from these relationships how to know himself, to appreciate himself, even to fight to defend his self and others. He discovers a part of himself that he did not know; a world of feelings that enriches his journey and helps him to grow in awareness of others and of whom he is facing himself.
In this journey of perfecting his nature, these values are far more decisive than that of the magic, which represents the most striking element of the stories (and that has raised concerns in many educators), which plays a spectacular and enchanting function in the eyes of the little readers, but that's not all. Harry, entering into the world of the magicians, discovers that magic is not a game for boys; that it is not enough to have a magical wand to resolve problems, but that it takes a lot study and toil to learn the art of magic. The same author gives good evidence in the first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, where Hagrid explains to Harry that there exists a Ministry of Magic, and Harry questions: "But what does a Ministry of Magic do?" "Well, their main job is to keep it from the Muggles (non-magical people) that there are still witches and wizards up and down the country." "Why?" "Why? Harry, because everyone would want magic solutions to their problems" (pp. 51). Or further more, when it is said: "There is a lot more to magic, Harry quickly found out, than waving your wand and saying a few funny words.” (pp. 99).
As the great Irish writer C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, wrote; there exists "a bigger magic" than that of sorcerers and necromancers. In a world such as the contemporary one, where there does not seem to exist an objective truth to adhere to, but only the subjective truth that each person has created, Rowling also presents her concept of truth. The truth is presented as something wonderful and terrible to be handled with caution, as something precious that can not be manipulated at will, according to one’s own interests.
There is another aspect that the author wants to communicate: that it is not the great heroic deeds that count, although they are worthy, but that it is the small altruistic gestures made by less-gifted people that are much more precious. The emphasis is not on the power of success, but on the humility of self-giving. Weakness is the final winner, not the strength of the muscles. Evident is the call to another great Christian author of England of the twentieth century, J.R.R. Tolkien, whose heroes are the small, humble Hobbits; the exact opposite of the arrogant superheroes, who have the pretension that they are totally self-sufficient, and wish to dominate the world. And as in Tolkien, Rowling is also strong on the theme of death. This theme is at first sight surprising in a book for children, and also because in today's world the theme of death is often largely hidden from children. In this story, instead it is well-defined and "central". There is talk of the reality of death, immortality, and the suggestion that something may exist beyond.
With the expression "central theme of death" one understands that this carries the story, and that the sub-plot is the gift of her life by his mother to save her son Harry. Several times this episode is revisited to highlight the power of love in such a gesture. In the myth of Harry Potter then it is possible to find an intelligent reading of the age in which we are living. With this background of symbols, metaphors, direct and indirect references, and the use of mythology, a wise reading of the current times is present. It is not the power, it is not the success, it is not the easy life that leads to the truest and most profound joys, but it is friendship, selflessness, sacrifice, and the adherence to a truth not built on an image of man himself.
Man has great desires (as in the mirror of desire), but he cannot change to satisfy these needs right away: if he tries to do so he will lose his own human identity; instead he is called to comply with a purpose that is bigger than himself. Where does this purpose come from? Rowling does not state this clearly, but she leaves the question open; the question that arises whenever man tries to understand the meaning of his own existence.