Friday, November 19, 2010

Why Harry Potter Makes Me Want To Be British

On July 15th, Harry Potter will pop back onto his broomstick and fly into movie theatres in over thirty countries. All over the world, people will gasp, cheer and even shed tears when their favorite boy wizard crosses wands with his adversaries one last time. What is it about this particular fantasy that has made us pour so much of our hearts and minds into its books and films, and has made sure that the Sun never sets on J.K. Rowling’s empire?

Sure, who doesn’t fancy they could do magic? It would be great to simply say “Hooverus Totalis” and have your floors vacuumed in an instant. But for me, there’s another appeal.

Harry Potter makes me want to be British. “British-ness” in itself seems to be a main character in the Potter franchise, and these films give such a whopping great dose of it, that I find myself saying things like, “I’m just going to nip to the loo,” for weeks after I’ve seen one.

I know, America is # 1 and Britain’s a wet little island with soggy weather and bland food. But there must be something they have that we lack… Diction, perhaps? Perfectly round, bouncing Oh’s and lilting Ahs’s, popping briskly, crisply out, while our American vowels drag out nasally, bleating their last like lambs being carted off for slaughter.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that Harry Potter became so popular just when the world decided it wasn’t so keen on the United States telling everyone else what to do anymore. Maybe there’s a certain nostalgia for a time when someone other than those barbarous American Muggles was there to rubbish things up. Certainly, the word “America” is conspicuously absent from the books and movies.

So much the better. As Americans, we are forbidden from ever being the underdog, but Harry Potter can defeat Lord Voldemort in every book and every movie, and still seem like he has the odds stacked against him every time. He shrugs off his triumphs over evil, and makes self-effacing statements like “Harry Potter’s a bit of a tosser, really.” Harry Potter can make winning look like losing, and it takes being British to pull that off.

The veteran actors in the films embody this particularly British wit and restraint. Alan Rickman as Snape is an actor so wickedly precise he can make a quiet word communicate resignation, spite, and confirmed desperation all at once. Maggie Smith as McGonagall admonishes her young charges with a bemused look and a drolly articulated phrase.

Okay, Great Britain. You gave us constitutional government and the language of Shakespeare, we gave you freedom from Fascism and ketchup on your fries—I mean chips. You gave us Harry Potter, and in return, I agree to walk around speaking in my most terrible British accent for a week after I watch the next movie. I think that’s an even exchange. Pip, pip, Cheerio!