Muggling Along

HP Harry Potter

Harry Potter: the Boy Who Lived

Nearly twenty years ago, something magical happened that changed the world — and I do mean, quite literally, magical. Back in 1997, we encountered an eleven year old boy with green eyes, untidy black hair, and a lightning bolt shaped scar on his forehead for the very first time.

We met Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived.

I’ve always loved reading the Harry Potter books, despite the fact that I had just graduated from university when the first volume was published. And whenever the movies are on TV I find it ridiculously difficult to change the channel and watch something else, let alone turn them off.

The scene in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when Harry, Ron and Hermione and their friends (and occasional foes, if you count Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle and the rest of Slytherin house in that number) arrive at Hogwarts remains one of my all-time favourite sequences in any film — ever.

Perhaps it’s the recollection of the awe and excitement I felt when I first saw the lamplit boats, bobbing on the black waters of the lake with the castle looming above. Or maybe it was the welcoming golden light shining from the windows of the school, promising goodness and safety, knowledge and wisdom within those ancient walls and towers.

HP Hogwarts

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Regardless of what so captured my imagination, the world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter has been one that I have been happy — no, make that overjoyed — to return to with my children. Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop have fallen in love with the characters and the wizarding realm just as quickly as I did, and while Marvel Girl knows that the books are works of fiction, Miss Malaprop (being two years younger) is having a hard time understanding that it isn’t real. Not surprisingly, Miss Malaprop is a firm fan of Harry himself — “because he’s brave” — while Marvel Girl favours Hermione Granger — “because she’s clever and she likes to read a lot”. But they both absolutely adore Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts, and his fabulous phoenix, Fawkes.

So much could be written about the wonders of these books and the wisdom they impart to their readers, particularly via Albus Dumbledore himself, who conveys many simple — yet powerful — truths.  “It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be,” he reminds us, along with other pearls like these:

HP Dumbledore quotes

The quotable Dumbledore — you can get these on Etsy here.

Surviving life in the Muggle world (the non-wizarding realm, for the small handful of uninitiated still among you) is ever so much easier when you have the guidance of the greatest sorcerer of the age to fall back on — Order of Merlin, First Class no less. And the fact that J K Rowling created such an incredibly detailed world, complete with its own rich history, myths and legends, customs and values remains a great and daily inspiration to me whenever I don my fiction-writing hat (not to be confused with the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, of course), and sometimes even when I don’t. (That, in itself, could be the subject of a whole series of blog posts in which it would become even clearer that J K Rowling is one of my literary heroes, not to mention that I believe her to be the undisputed Queen of the Twittersphere.)

HP Muggles“I do believe,” as J K Rowling herself said, “that something very magical can happen when you read a good book.” I’m ever so grateful that there are seven volumes of Harry Potter for me to share with Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop. And when we’ve read each one, and watched the movie afterwards (our latest ritual), I’ll be thanking the Old Gods and the New that there are so many more fantastic lands we have yet to explore. I am looking forward to climbing with my girls through the wardrobe into Narnia, to wandering through The Shire towards Rivendell in Middle Earth, to sailing among the farflung reaches of the Earthsea Archipelago, and — perhaps when they’re a bit (a lot?!) older — to visiting Winterfell, and Kings Landing, and the rest of Westeros.

Even more importantly, I am grateful that I can give my children the gift of knowing that there is always another adventure to be had between the pages of a book.

Wherever I am, if I’ve got a book with me, I have a place I can go and be happy.

J K Rowling

Swashbuckling Swag

Athos & Aramis

Tom Burke & Santiago Cabrera as Athos and Aramis in The Muskeeters.

For some peculiar reason, I had a recollection this morning of the day, some years ago now, when Marvel Girl (repeatedly) singing a Wiggles song about Captain Feathersword prompted Miss Malaprop to stomp into the kitchen and announce: “Pirates aren’t human — that’s why they can’t swim.”

I remember suggesting at the time that this proclamation was, perhaps, not entirely accurate, only to be fixed with a mutinous greeny-blue eyed gaze and told even more emphatically, “Well, pirates do swashbuckle, you know — that means they don’t wash.”*

That was the point, I suspect, when I changed the topic of conversation, swiftly applying Blue Jai’s First Rule of Parenting (Distraction), and no doubt reminding myself of the corollary to said Rule (which is, of course, Pick Your Battles).

But the memory of that encounter made me realise that my girls, like many other children the world over, have always been fascinated by that wonderful figure of daring and romance: The Swashbuckler.  And — let’s face it — there are plenty of adults out there who still enjoy a tale or two of heroic derring do too.

Athos & Honour

No glory, no money, no love, none of the things that make life bearable — except honour.

What’s not to like about a hero who has plenty of good, old-fashioned adventures, tackling all manner of dangers with bravado and — more often than not — with a sword? And I’m not just referring to The Princess Bride here folks, or Johnny Depp’s hilarious take on Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Seriously — does anyone really think that Game of Thrones would be half as successful as it is were it not for its dashing ensemble cast of heroes and idealists, all brandishing weapons of warfare from centuries past?

Nothing beats the flamboyance of a decent sword fight, full of flashing steel and sophisticated steps, not to mention swirling capes (and don’t think for a minute that the capes are not important: every proper superhero has one). And, in this day and age, I suspect our fascination with the Swashbuckler isn’t simply an escape or a diversion, it’s something more important.

Take the recent BBC production of The Musketeers, for example. Admittedly, the Musketeers are by definition the original Swashbucklers, and have been ever since Alexandre Dumas brought Athos, Porthos, Aramis, D’Artagnan and Captain Treville to life on the pages of his novels in the 1840s. But I don’t think it is any accident that The Musketeers has proved to be so popular, or that the show’s loyal fans around the globe are eagerly awaiting the premiere of Season Three.

Athos & D'Artagnan

Taking the easy way out? Or taking responsibility…

My suspicion is that in this self-obsessed day and age of the quick fix we want to remember the ideals of a bygone era, and not necessarily for rose-coloured or romantic reasons. We want to be reminded of the concepts of chivalry, of honour, of duty. We want to believe that the famous rallying cry of “All for one!” can drown out the far more commonly heard call of “every man for himself”.

And the Musketeers — consistently — deliver. In every episode, we see them strive to set aside their own aspirations and take responsibility for doing things because they right and just — not because they will bring them personal gain. Time and again they are required to rise above their individual flaws, their respective personal circumstances, and the ever-present temptation to take the easy way out against a parade of brilliantly cast villains — not least of whom is Milady de Winter (Maimie McCoy), Athos’ evil estranged wife.

To date, the Musketeers have confronted the scheming Cardinal Richlieu in Season One (played with class and sass and a whole lot of cape swirling by the inimitable Peter Capaldi), followed by the increasingly unhinged Spanish agent Rochefort (Marc Warren) in Season Two, and are set to tackle King Louis XIII’s illegitimate half-brother (Rupert Everett) in Season Three.

It doesn’t hurt — obviously — that the Musketeers are a bunch of good-looking leather-clad blokes who ride around on horseback saving the day in brilliantly choreographed fight scenes, and that the women they love are often as as brave as they are beautiful. But the Musketeers do help to remind us that chivalry does not have to be a forgotten ideal of days gone by, and that doing what is honourable or dutiful can be something worth aspiring to.

So let’s celebrate the Swashbucklers and their stories, too.  Let’s live like daring adventurers, and revisit the romance of a bygone age. And if, along the way, we are reminded of the (somehow higher?) standard of those times — of the ideals of chivalry, honour, duty, loyalty and sacrifice — is that such a bad thing?

My thought is that the Musketeers generally, and Aramis especially, would suggest that applying yourself to such ideals tends to produce positive results — particularly if you do so with a robust sense of humour and a serious amount of swag.

Musketeers

Celebrate the Swashbucklers! Aramis, Porthos, Captain Treville, Athos and D’Artagnan…the Musketeers.

* For the record, I should probably acknowledge that Miss Malaprop’s assertion that “swashbuckling” means “not bathing” is probably historically accurate, even if it is, as a definition, far from complete.