Can fairy tales be relevant in an increasingly materialistic world? Are fairy tales just kiddie fare or are they subversive literature designed to inspire social change? Travis Prinzi answers these questions and more in the context of Harry Potter in his masterful book, Harry Potter & Imagination: The Way Between Two Worlds.
The driving force behind Travis' book of course is J.K. Rowling's 2008 Harvard commencement speech where she quotes Plutarch, "What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality." This can be seen in the book's three parts: Faerie, The Creative Hero, and A Political Fairy Tale. From looking at how Harry Potter satisfies "primordial human desires" (Faerie) and correspond to mythological archetypes (The Creative Hero), we can see how Harry Potter inspires a concern for social justice (A Political Fairy Tale). "What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality" indeed.
Throughout the book, Travis skillfully interacts with other Harry Potter literary critics and draws on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle in his discussions on fairy tales, showing that he has become a Harry Potter scholar in his own right. Travis does all this while explaining difficult concepts in a clear manner for the average reader. Everyone has different preferences and while I loved the entire book immensely, I enjoyed and got the most from his discussions on social justice, particularly the chapters on Postmodernism, Fabian Society, Feminism (Ginny Weasley as Susan Pevensie, Vindicated was just brilliant) and the War on Terror. Those chapters are worth the price of the book alone. Travis unashamedly writes from a Christian perspective because JKR is a Christian, and as Travis writes, removing her from that tradition is impossible. Travis' Christian perspective shows most effectively in his conclusions on Harry Potter and social justice. We are truly between two worlds, this imperfect one filled with evil, and the future when heaven and earth will join together, and the world will be set to rights. Travis words are poignant here for the here and now:
Those who have complained that Rowling hasn’t provided us an ideal world – indeed, that she’s written an unjust one with seemingly tacit acceptance of oppressive norms – miss the point that this might have been Rowling’s plan all along: lay those things out in her world, so that we can recognize them both there and in our own. (272)
How can one be angered by Hermione Granger being called a Mudblood and not care about racism in our world? How about oppression, poverty, political power plays, terrorism, and war? Fairy tales are important, not because they allow the reader to escape, but to see the world in a new light and work to change it.
No amount of words can do justice to this book. The reader will not help but be persuaded by the arguments Travis gives in Harry Potter & Imagination: The Way Between Two Worlds and what are they? That fairy tales matter and that recognizing evil and oppression in Harry Potter can allow us to recognize the same in our world, and act accordingly. Imagining better and producing inward change can have great repercussions for what we achieve outwardly in this world. Travis' book has shown us just that.