The Harry Potter Effect
A few months ago, my family and I visited Universal Studios to see the Harry Potter parks. My wife and I have enjoyed watching the movies, but this visit was mainly for our nine-year-old daughter, a self-described “Potterhead” who has immersed herself in the books, the characters, and the story.
The parks are very well done, and if you are willing to suspend adult disbelief for a little while, you can easily get caught up in the atmosphere: quaint streets, dark alleys, castles, dragons, magic wands, and exotic wares all conspire to make you feel you are Somewhere Else, where magic is pervasive and wonder awaits at every turn. We spent most of two days there, and I found it surprisingly hard to leave. Compared to the wizarding world, the “real” world seemed crushingly dull. When we got home I felt a sense of loss, as if something colorful and fantastic had been replaced by something gray and mundane. (Incidentally, I have since learned that this is a common reaction for adults returning from escapist vacations.)
After a while, though, it occurred to me that I was doing our world an injustice. So many things that we take for granted are truly wondrous. Think about how the sky can be painted with color at sunset, or how, outside my window as I write this, dozens of little creatures are flying through the air and singing beautiful songs. Think about our technologies, which allow us to speak to each other over vast distances, pull information out of thin air, and literally move mountains. Think about how incredible it is that everything on Earth is made from the dust of stars, including us. If I thought our world was un-magical, it was simply because I wasn’t paying attention.
I realized, too, that my work is another response to the challenge posed by our trip. Photography, as I see it, is all about finding meaning in the world and sharing it with others. The same can be said of designing buildings, decorating rooms, or a thousand other things that people do to make the world more interesting and more beautiful. Daily life will always be full of everyday tasks. But at the heart of our work is the opportunity – and the imperative – to produce things that add beauty and significance to our lives.
The lesson here is that magic is where you find it, or even where you create it. I was wrong to think that Harry’s world eclipsed our own. Instead, it reminded me that the worlds of our imagining can inspire us to bring greater meaning to the world we inhabit.