Harry Potter and the Culture of Clumsiness

[Disclaimer: This blog entry is only about the Harry Potter universe. Regular blog posting will continue next week.]

Slapstick, I feel, doesn’t always translate well to the written word, which is why is has always troubled me when characters in the Harry Potter books would accidentally break things. When characters in books accidentally break things I just fret over the mess and the inevitable clean up involved. Yet throughout the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling continues to include minor mentions of things getting knocked over and broken: Ink pots might spill onto homework, or teacups will get smashed in the wake of a dark vision. Very rarely is any of this significant.

In the lackluster research I did in preparing this blog, I took a quick scroll through http://harrypotter.wikia.com. Here is a description of Seamus Finnigan:

“Through his school years, Seamus generally appeared good-natured and easy-going. He was also rather clumsy, as he set fire to a feather he was supposed to be levitating in his first year.”

And here’s a description of Nymphadora Tonks:

“She was not good at household spells and was also notoriously clumsy, smashing a plate in the Dursley’s kitchen during their rescue of Harry, and knocking over an umbrella stand in Grimmauld Place that set off the painting of Walburga Black.”

For the most part, these moments of clumsiness seem to be written for levity, or to ground the action in a solid world. I understand that satisfaction can be got from seeing characters interact with their environment, but that kind of clumsiness isn’t for me. I, like the average muggle, tend to be relatively spatially aware. Sure, I break things sometimes, but apart from occasional accidents I normally spend every waking moment not running into things or knocking things over. If I unbalance a vase, my hands will flutter about it in a panic to prevent anything bad from happening to it. But magical folk, it seems, don’t fly into such a panic.

Sterling Archer gets it.

With the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, this culture of clumsiness was extended into the Wizarding World at large. On the big screen, clumsiness translates much better. It’s so much more rewarding to actually see a wizard destroying a jewellery store in order to get his hands on a creature, or to see a massive magical beast accidentally destroying a muggle zoo.

FB Jewelery
To be fair, it was hilarious.

However, in a universe as well-thought-out as J.K. Rowling’s, the over-the-top destruction of property requires some suspension of disbelief. I can believe in a world where magical people walk among us, but I draw the line when I see them being so reckless and careless. I can’t help but think to myself, “How can the wizarding world possibly remain hidden with all this clumsiness about?”

The fact of the matter is that magical folk do get away with their wanton destruction of property, all thanks to, quite literally, one magical word: “Reparo.”

It’s certainly a convenient little spell to undo any mess, and an easy method to explain away the troublesome consequences of entertaining magical escapades. But after watching the film, I began to think more and more about this convenient little spell, and it slowly became clear to me that this little word must have formed an important turning point in the evolution of wizarding culture. The Harry Potter Wikia describes the spell as such:

“The Mending Charm, also known as the Repairing Charm (Reparo), is a charm that can be used to seamlessly repair a broken object and works on most materials. This useful charm was invented by Orabella Nuttley, in or before 1754.”

With a magical, catch-all repairing spell in your arsenal, you’d never need to worry about breaking anything. Over time, the spacial awareness of any wizard would diminish to just about zero. Expecting an average magical person to be instinctively careful would be like expecting Superman to know how to block a punch: It’s just never been a necessary part of their development.

Without his super powers, Superman is quite a terrible fighter.

I don’t know whether J.K. Rowling ever gave it any conscious thought, but I’ve really got to commend her on her deep anthropological insight into wizardkind. In a population that does not fret over the destruction of property, it only makes sense that they would have evolved to be clumsy. So the next time you see a poor fellow bumbling along and knocking things over, have patience. For all we know, he or she might be magical.

Oops! I accidentally broke the ENTIRE FRIGGIN’ CITY! But don’t worry, I’ll fix it.



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