Harry Potter's Wands Are Lazy Storytelling
Movies, like real life, are full of violence. But it's the fun kind of violence, full of gizmos whose main job is to look cool. This week, we're taking a close look at those wonderful toys, seeing what makes them so memorable ... and what makes them so ridiculous.
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As part of his quest to say strange entertaining things (that might even be true, sometimes), Robert Pattinson recently pointed out that when he was in the Harry Potter movies, he held his wand like a gun, because it looks cooler that way:
The news delighted Harry Potter fans, who've long joked about what guns would do to the wizarding world. But Pattinson's comment also revealed something else. Wands really are just like guns, rather than some creative type of magic. You aim at an opponent with your weapon, you fire, and if you hit them, you injure or kill them. They aren't very good guns (hence all the fan discussion about how the average American homeowner could defeat the average wizard), but they do function like guns. And that's lame.
This is a fantasy series for children, so all the fantastic creations are supposed to be weird. Weird and wonderful sometimes, and weird and horrifying other times, but always weird. A magical concept only directly parallels something from the real world when the author wants to use the metaphor to clumsily comment on the real-world concept, and we're pretty sure that's not what's happening with wands. Magic is introduced in the story as something mystical and exciting, but by the end of the series, the climaxes end up just being people shooting at each other.
Wizards can perform all kinds of strange magic. And yet as the series progresses, the most serious and major spell it's revealed that you can do involves just pointing a wand at someone and killing them. Meaning, using the wand as a gun. The last few books all end with good characters and bad characters in combat—already not a very interesting route—and this kill spell ends up being the one we keep seeing the bad guys turn to over and over. Not magically shrinking opponents, or turning them into bananas, or forcing people to square dance, or creating bottomless pits. Just pointing and shooting to kill.
The next most common spell we seem to see during these fights is the disarm spell. Disarming is also something you can do with a gun. Well, maybe not you, the actual human reading this, but a skilled fictional gunslinger sure could. So again, magical showdowns just become gunfights. Even freeze spells aren't unlike shooting with a gun, since you can freeze someone with a gun, though not irreversibly. How did the stories end up like this, after the earlier creativity of transformation potions and time travel?
Theory 1: J.K. Rowling comes from some strange far-off island, where guns are much less common than in America. She therefore never saw how similar these wand fights are to gunfights, or even if she did, guns seemed sufficiently mystical to her that she didn't mind the similarity.
Theory 2: J.K. Rowling likes phallic objects that shoot stuff out because she's obsessed with dicks. This is supported by the traditional joke of changing all instances of "wand" in the books to "wang" and seeing how much it all makes sense this way. Yes, Rowling is obsessed with what genitals people have, to the point of letting that monomania take over her entire life.
Theory 3: From day one, J.K. Rowling composed the series to make a big deal out of magical items rather than just magic itself for one reason—merchandising. She needed to center the story on wands so kids would buy wands of their own, for money. If this is the case, we take back all our criticism; this was genius.