Here be monsters

12/10/2012 § 2 Comments

I’ve been hanging around with Harry Potter and his friends recently. I bought the book a month ago to read to my son. He’s only six and arguably a bit young for it, but I felt drawn to it myself and he was the excuse. I started reading it to him before bed and he loves it, so I bought the first two films too. Lucas doesn’t watch TV but he’s allowed a film every now and then, and we often watch it with him. So yesterday after school as a treat I watched Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets with him and read the last two chapters of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone to him before bed.

The stories are brimming with monsters – huge spiders, trolls, scary trees, snakes, vicious pixies, plants that can kill you with a scream. And those are just the light, fun ones of the first two books – they get darker and darker, I understand, as the series goes on. Millions of us find these monsters stories appealing. Harry Potter is a global bestseller, perhaps the best selling series of books of all time, and the films have been seen by millions. Another series that is likewise filled with fantasy monsters, the Lord of the Rings, also has a huge fan base (I love it myself).

What is it about these stories that appeals to us? It occurred to me this morning that they appeal because they’re an outer reflection of our inner reality. In these books we see images of the monsters that dwell in our depths.

It’s more and more apparent to me that inches below the surface of our civilised society, all sorts of demons are lurking. I see them in the middle-class village where I live, as I hear stories of child abuse, struggles with depression, highly dysfunctional marriages, soft or not so soft alcoholism and so on.

I have monsters of my own, but I’m not quite ready to share them here, nor am I sure that you want to know about them. Yet this reveals a problem – we have no place, in public at least, to share this stuff, and we feel the need to present an orderly, composed face to the world. Yet life has a way of bringing this dis-ease out. If it isn’t dealt with, eventually there is explosion of some sort, a painful divorce, a breakdown, and illness. We can’t ignore our monsters. We have to deal with them, sooner or later, and this requires us to look at them.

But looking straight at our monsters can be highly uncomfortable and even risky. Some monsters are so scary that we have to look at them obliquely, in a mirror, or out of the corner of our eyes – our eyes may not be able to bear the gaze. This is represented in the first Harry Potter book by the basilisk, a creature that kills you stone dead if you look in its eyes. So we have to find ways of making them manifest in ways that we can cope with, through stories and metaphors, or through projection onto our friends, family members, colleagues or public figures. In this sense, JK Rowling and others fulfill a vital public service, allowing us to understand ourselves better. We can learn ways of dealing with our own monsters as we identify with Harry, Hermione, or Ron and see how they face theirs.

This feels like a big insight but I am not sure what to do with it. I know I will never look at Harry Potter in quite the same way again. I will understand better, as I trudge into Mordor with Frodo and Sam, why I feel so connected to the story, why it feels so real, so important. I know that, as I confront my own monsters, if I can find the same courage and determination as Harry, the same intelligent application of learning as Hermione, and the same loyalty and generosity of spirit as Ron, I should do alright.

What about you? What do your monsters look like? How do you manifest them in your daily life? Are your monsters close to you – your parents, your neighbours, even your children? Or are they further away – politicians, large multinational corporations, “terrorists”, the trade unions perhaps, or murderers or rapists? What’s your flavour of choice? You don’t have to answer me – just ask yourself. And ask yourself this – how real are they really?

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