The Amazing, Incredible Harry
I grew up a child in the 50's and 60's. It was the time of the cold war, "commies" hiding under ever rock, Cuban Missile Crisis and the threat of nuclear war. "Duck and cover" was practiced in school while the local Air Force Base flew fighter planes over Brooklyn, breaking the sound barrier. The sonic booms could be heard as we practiced our abc's and 123's.
Yes, I grew up in a paranoid society, afraid that tomorrow someone, probably the "commies", could "drop the big one" and we would all end up embroiled in WWIII, with the whole thing ending in a big mushroom cloud.
But come the weekend, we would all escape to the movies. Everyone has their preference. Romance was popular, but I was hooked on a particular flavor of movie - The Science Fiction B Film. Yes, I would run out to see the latest cheap black and white "monster" film. And they were monsters - The Blob, Cape Canaveral Monster, The Amazing Colossal Man. Radiation Theater. Giant Ants. Giant Tomatoes. I could go on and on. All threatening our safety as a nation and a planet, and all met with the same solution - shoot first, ask questions later. And we triumphed over all kinds of threats. This was the answer to our paranoia. While we tackled the "commies" in real life, and never seemed to make headway, we always were victorious over the monsters in the Science Fiction B Films. America walked away the champions each and every time.
Once the Berlin Wall fell, and we realized we had overcome the enemy, not with guns and tanks and armies, but with capitalism. Actually, we never did defeat the "commies" - they kinda defeated themselves. And our view of the world started to change. Enter Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The spaceman was no longer a threat. He actually was holding his hand out in friendship. And we were returning the handshake. But the real change came in one movie, ET. We met the enemy, and he was cute, hung out with our kids and changed our entire outlook. He was the change in our perspective on the entire world. We were no longer shooting the monster, we were greeting the "Aliens". They were not the threat we had envisioned. Well, to a few leftover paranoid refugees from the 50's and 60's, yes, he still was. But to our generation, the monsters were gone. All that was left was a new idea, to embrace those things we feared only to find out we had created the monsters, the real aliens were a vast unknown to be explored.
As my tastes changed, my love for movies remained much the same. Enter Hammer House Studios and their beloved "monster" films. Most of them started Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as the vampire and the vampire hunter. But there were these movies with witches and witch hunters. Oh, Hammer Studios knew how to scare a fledgling witch. Burn them at the stake, run around with a cross and drive wooden dowels through the vampire's heart. We had something new to be afraid of. Threats against our immortal soul. I got into these kinds of films about the same time I was discovering alternative religions. Interesting how again, we strike out against what we do not know, rather than looking at what it may be and examining it further. For all we knew, we were looking at ET again, only this time he was an Elemental, and we just drove a stake through his heart.
But, being the kind of person I am, I have a sense of humor, and I rather enjoyed some of the attempts at portraying witches. The Witches of Eastwick, which I found hilarious, and Jack Nicolson as the devil was a scream. Also - Hocus Pocus, an all time classic witch film. But my favorite has to be one of the earliest movies with witches. Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart in Bell, Book and Candle. While the witch changes at the end of the move, and I was sorry to see that, it was the closest portrayal of what real witches might be of the time. Normal people, for the most part, if you realize that beatniks were popular at the time and the movie portrayed the times. I loved her brother portrayed by Jack Lemmon.
Witch movies have come to a crossroad. We are now presented with something that the Religious Right has every reason to fear. While Practical Magic was not all that accurate a portrayal, it was very close to the American Witch. We are pretty, we are real people, we are quirky, and we practice magic. Not too much emphasis on the Goddess, but enough to make us almost likable. Blair Witch was a terrible spook story, the first one at least. And there was no witch in that one. The second movie, however, had a Wiccan Witch. I wonder how many people saw that one, much less understood it. If you did, write me and let me know. Then there is Drawing Down the Moon. Realistic - well, sorta kinda, but not out in the public enough. Just never caught on.
Now - Harry Potter. The books have brought kids who normally would not read into the book generation with a delightful fantasy series that entertains, delights and gives kids a chance to use their imagination. Who doesn't have a very definite picture of what a Quidditch game is all about? What do Harry and his friends look like to you? And who is not in love with this series of books the likes of which we haven't seen since the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew?
The movie is out, and we all have the opportunity to see how close Hollywood has come to making our fantasy heroes come alive against the images we have fixed in our minds. We have all run out to see the movie or our kids have dragged us to see it. And we all love it. Not just our witchy types, but everyone. Harry Potter is a household word. Our grandkids and kids are reading, yes reading, and enjoying it. The TV was turned off while they ran to their rooms to read the next chapter, or we got them to bed and they sat with attentive eyes and ears as we have read these books to them.
But wait. Something is going on in the background. The paranoid Religious Right is getting very nervous. Seems they are afraid of what is going on. People are changing, and the Religious Right is up in arms. The one thing the Religious Right detests is change, especially when it comes to words like "witch". The enemy they have been beating back for centuries is at the door. In true ET manner, people are looking, questioning and coming to realize that, even though Harry Potter is pure fantasy and has nothing to do with real witches, he is a likable person. Our kids love him and the parents like that their kids are happy with a book that they are actually - GASP - reading. And maybe, just maybe, the stigma associated with the word "witch" is being examined, and possibly even - GASP - overlooked. People are not firing their guns and shooting first. They are, instead, offering their hand in friendship to Harry Potter, welcoming him into their homes for - GASP - their children to be introduced to. After all, as parents, whatever gets them to read.
But, there is something deeper here. Something that everyone is overlooking. Harry Potter is fiction. It is fantasy. It is magic. After years of paranoia, after centuries of denying that magic exists, we are finding that Harry Potter is a spell we can all live with. It is something that we want in our lives. We loved those stories when we were kids where the Fairy Godmother granted Cinderella her wish and she went to the Ball and found her prince. The magic of Beauty and the Beast - look how successful that play has been. Practical Magic has been extremely popular. It's the magic.
People want some kind of magic in their mundane (muggle) lives. We can not live on "fire and brimstone" anymore. The world is not a dark, dank place with some guy yelling at us telling us we are going to burn for eternity. We need positive affirmations in our lives. We need to know that there is more than be good and you will go to heaven, muck up and you will be damned. We want to see we can exist on earth and enjoy our time here. And we need to see that we can make this a better place for everyone, if only we have a touch of magic to help us through. Life is for living and enjoying, within the boundaries of common sense. We can have a good time, enjoy ourselves, and still find spiritual happiness, without being threatened or paranoid about who we are or what we do. And God (or Goddess) is a kind and loving God (or Goddess). After all, He gave someone the idea to write Harry Potter to entertain and delight both the reader and the audience.
We are going to experience those people who find anything that is enjoyable must be bad for you. They have every right to fear. Their world is changing. We are going to start enjoying ourselves, having a good time, and not worrying about how we feel about it. Feeling good is good. Enjoying a movie is good. Getting our kids to enjoy reading is good. And none of that is going to threaten our immortal souls. Maybe even Harry Potter, the witch, is a good thing, and it is not going to cost our immortal souls to say so.
Is Harry Potter the ET of the witch movies? I could only hope so. I am tired of everyone fearing what they don't understand. Is this going to change everyone overnight? No, I don't think so. But Harry Potter has opened the box of change. He has come out of the broom closet and shown the world that fantasy is nothing to be afraid of. And maybe, just maybe, he will show that being a witch is nothing to be afraid of either. We are just a little bit different. We believe in that magic that everyone is looking for. And maybe, just maybe, we will be able to spread that magic around and everyone will find it in their hearts, where it has been all along.