Karl Stukenberg, associate professor of psychology, as he discusses the phenomenon of Harry Potter in light of the Nov. 23 release of the film adaptation of "The Prisoner of Azkaban," the third book in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.
Q. In 2001, the first film based on J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series, grossed almost $1 billion worldwide—more than any "Star Wars" movie and the first two "The Lord of the Rings" installments. Why is Harry so popular?
A. I think that Harry, like Luke Skywalker, is a hero with whom readers identify. Both are orphans, raised by parental figures who are not sympathetic to them—who don't really understand them. I think that, on some level, we all believe it a great cosmic error that we have been born into such ordinary surroundings and that someday we will discover our true calling and destiny.
Well, Harry and Luke both do that. In order to do that, they have to leave their roots behind, and it is easier for them to look forward because what is behind them is so bleak. We, too, need to look forward in order to create our destinies, but it is more complicated when we are invested in the families that we grew up with. College is an opportunity for students to make a break with the past, to move forward to meet their destinies, while still remaining connected to their roots but with a new vantage point from which to see the future.
Q. How do dreams and magic contribute to thematic elements in the series?
A. As a psychoanalyst, I am struck by how realistic the dreams are. They use symbols in much the way that dreams do for us all, and they support the story, foreshadow things to come, but they do so in a very subtle, but psychologically consistent manner. Magic, of course, is equated with technology in the books, but there are magical wishes that we all have, and those magical wishes are quite dreamlike in the way they reveal our interests and desires. Who has not dreamed of flying? Who has not dreamed of winning accolades? How wonderful that Quidditch allows us to join Harry to do both.
Q. Which is your favorite book? Why?
A. I think the fifth book, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," is my current favorite. I used to think the second was very weak, but some of the symbols are more compelling now than at the time I read it. I would like to re-read it now and see if it is stronger than I thought at the time.