“Among the forces which sweep and play through the universe, untutored man is but a wisp in the wind.”
Theodore Dreiser Sister Carrie
The Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling are surely one of the modern masterpieces in story telling. They have almost everything one could desire in a good book – interesting plots, well-written content, engaging characters, and even occasional humor. However, they have one distracting flaw. The books are filled with untutored children.
This is probably a strange assertion given that the story takes place in Hogwarts, a school for witchcraft, where the students pursue magical studies. Nonetheless, whenever I read one of the Harry Potter books, I can’t help notice how little education the students receive. I am referring to the real life learning that anchors a person to logic and critical thinking – the kind that keeps one from being blown about like a wisp in the wind.
I find it interesting to note how much of the conflict is based on the characters making irrational choices. If they exercised a little more rational thinking, Harry and his friends could avoid many of the scrapes they get into. The adults in Harry’s life are no better. They are just as emotionally immature. But what can one expect? The adults are products of the same flawed educational system. That is not to say that I don’t appreciate an occasional cartoon character, like Harry’s uncle and aunt, but I do prefer at least one logical adult to be present.
On the other hand, without these untutored characters, there is no basis for conflict and thus there is no story. It certainly isn’t the magic, although that is the vehicle that carries the conflict. In an extraordinary world, where extraordinary people have extraordinary adventures, magic itself is very ordinary. As the Minister of Magic points out, the bad guys can do magic too.
No, the source of conflict must be some sort of flaw in the characters. In the case of Harry Potter, it is untutored men, women, and children. To paraphrase Jane Austen, “Emotions working on an ignorant head produces all sorts of mischief.”
So why would I make such an issue over it? As I said, I really like the Harry Potter series. It’s because I want to love it. And for me, that means I empathize with the main characters. I vicariously participate in their inner world because I recognize in myself. But I cannot find common ground with the untutored characters – I have gotten to old to be a wisp in the wind.