Stories that center around magic and the mystical arts have been around for centuries. Ancient tales feature mythological creatures and demigods seeking to purge the world of evil. Most big franchises today all incorporate some form of magic, whether this is spiritual like the Jedi’s connection to the Force in Star Wars, spells from a magic wand like in Harry Potter, or magic powers created by science like Scarlet Witch’s from any of the Avengers movies. It’s no secret that humanity is obsessed with magic and fantastical worlds, but why do we as a society turn to stories of magic for comfort and answers? What is so appealing about the magic-filled worlds like those that exist in our favorite books and movies?
For one, imagining that a concept like magic exists gives us a sense of control over the more hectic parts of our lives. Who doesn’t longingly wish for a magic wand to fix their problems when faced with a monumental task or issue to tackle? The heroes and heroines of our favorite books and movies are always on some form of dramatic quest to defeat their own problems, usually in the form of an evil ruler or wizard with red eyes and a billowing black cloak. Admittedly, real life is filled with slightly less exciting problems like financial obligations and imminent deadlines. Problems in magic filled worlds also seem to reside nicely within their respective ‘good’ and ‘bad’ categories; many fantasy readers find that it’s much easier to agree with politics in the Wizarding world than the politics in our own. Stories told within the realm of fantasy are often reflections of the problems that exist in our world and viewing that reflection through a magical lens is often more clarifying than whatever answer Google can conjure up for us. Magical stories have the ability to shape our morals and perspectives like no other form of existing media.
Alright, let’s admit it, who wouldn’t rather be at Hogwarts right now? Society as a whole tends to use magical stories as a form of escapism. Sometimes life can get to be a bit much and disappearing into the pages of a well-loved book for a few hours is much more preferable than looking out at the hectic world beyond our windows. People who grew up reading Harry Potter and similar novels return to their favorite fantasy stories for comfort and peace during times of stress and hardship (this author can confirm that her Harry Potter books were revisited more than a few times during quarantine). Magical stories continue to act as one of the most effective ways to leave reality behind temporarily, even as fantasy readers continue to grow and change.
Most importantly, stories like Harry Potter that takes place within magic filled worlds give us hope that tomorrow will be better. Magical stories continue to teach us about friendship, bravery, sacrifice, and how no matter what love triumphs all. These lessons, imparted onto us by our favorite characters and fictional role models, remind us to never give up hope that the world around us will evolve into something greater. Humanity loves to feel hopeful in scary situations and fantasy reminds us there is eventually a payoff for continuing to persevere through times of darkness.
Given all of this, how could society not willingly turn to their favorite magical world for comfort and answers as our real lives continue to unfold before us? After all, fantasy at its core is meant to show us the best versions of ourselves as we deal with the challenges of the world around us. So what are you waiting for? Go pick up your favorite Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or other magic infused novel, or snuggle up with a blanket and popcorn and watch your favorite fantasy movie to remind yourself how much good a little bit of fictional magic can bring.