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Sunday, May 03, 2009


I once asked a Harry Potter enthusiast in my Quaker meeting what she liked so much about the series. “The magic,” she replied, as she cleaned up the stacks of dishes in the meeting kitchen. I understand. I’ve often wished I could wave a wand like Mrs. Weasley and have the pots scrub themselves. I’ve been thinking about magic’s appeal lately as my son has gotten into card tricks and making coins disappear. Being asked to pick a card at 6:30 on a Saturday morning does not always endear me to the magical arts, but then I see the glint in my son’s eyes when he pulls off a trick, and we can’t figure out how he did it. There’s something about doing the impossible that has always fascinated us humans.

Last night we took the magic enthusiast to a show at Grasso’s Magic Theatre as a belated birthday present. It’s a tiny, quaint theatre down by the Philadelphia waterfront, in what used to be the fresh produce district. Using his experience as a contractor, the owner, Joe Grasso, converted the old bricks into “Philadelphia's first and only full-time performance venue for magic and the variety arts,” with Houdini posters framed on the walls and trick cards for sale in a glass case next to the Junior Mints. Four different magicians performed to an audience of no more than twenty-five, which meant that a third of us got dragged up to the stage as accomplices at some point or another. We saw birds appear out of scarves, coins change color and shape before our eyes, and a ripped up fifty-dollar bill appear restored inside a grapefruit. I looked over every once in a while to see birthday boy’s eyes widen with a smile.

I confess I winced as one guy ate fire and then appeared to cut off a fifteen-year-old audience member’s hand, even though I knew the trick must be safe. There was that speck of belief that the illusion might be real, which is probably the key to the whole enterprise. We want to believe that it’s possible to pull money out of a grapefruit or play quidditch on a broomstick. We want to believe there are magic trains that go to magic places, which may be why, according to the Wikipedia entry for King’s Cross Station in London, “The Platform 9¾ sign occasionally causes congestion as tourists and Harry Potter fans stop to photograph it or try to push the rest of the luggage trolley through the wall.”

Today I’m wondering how this fascination relates to faith and the way we live in the real world. I scoffed at the Harry Potter critics who claimed the book was unchristian. The whole lesson (it seemed to me) was that love conquers hate and that giving up your life for your friends is more powerful than violence. In fact, I could argue that the Harry Potter series was more in keeping with the teachings of Jesus than the Narnia series (which also included magic), but that would be a long digression. More to the point, for me, is to wonder why so many of us secretly long for unusual powers and what we would do with them if we had them. It’s easy to understand why a ten-year-old boy would enjoy tricking his parents or why a busy mother would want the dishes to wash themselves, but I think there is something deeper. In short, I wonder if we human beings are so far from fulfilling our potential that on some level we sense we are meant for something more. Perhaps this is why The Secret has stayed near the top of the bestseller list for over a hundred weeks. Do we want to believe we are Gods or do we simply want to be as powerful as we could be if we tapped into our best selves? I'm not sure, but last night as we left the little theatre and walked out onto streets littered with broken glass, it occurred to me that there is magic walking on a spring night with my family, and I shouldn't let that escape my eye.


Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

Very interesting post. I definitely feel that lure of magic in almost everything.

10:29 PM  

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