The Science of Harry Potter: How Magic Really Works
By Roger Highfield
Tomorrow = my birthday.
Went out with family earlier and was feeling pretty good. Feel rotten now and don’t know why.
As soon as I post this, I think I will go and read until I’m ready to fall asleep.
Book review follows.
Selection: The Science of Harry Potter
By Roger Highfield
Harry Potter lives in a magical world where quirky candies can taste like iced cream or earwax, werewolves haunt the forests while pixies zoom through classrooms, and where magic words can cause you to tapdance uncontrollably, or fall down dead.
In this book of essays, Roger Highfield uses science to theorize about some of the magical aspects of the wizarding world, as well as to show some of the discoveries scientists all over the world are making, which seem just as mysterious and unlikely as a blast-ended skrewt.
This is a really interesting book, but this last reading of it was grueling. It took me almost two months to wade through Mr. Highfield’s essays because I couldn’t pay attention…but don’t let that deter you from taking a peek at it.
Unlike Henry Gee, author of The Science of Middle Earth, Highfield doesn’t take an artifact or creature or spell from the Harry Potter world and then try to explain how it could be made to work. Highfield’s approach seems to be more along the lines of taking a magical item and then talking about different areas of science or about specific experiments that are already studying related phenomena. For example, when he brings up the sorting hat, he goes on to talk about experiments using MRIs to read minds, and experiments being done with clothing that can pick up on the wearer’s mood and change colours accordingly. That sort of thing.
Probably the best portions of the book were about the brain as it relates to magic spells. There is a longish section about memory charms and studies about how our brains perceive information, and how they store and interpret memories. The brain is easily tricked though, and after you read it, that essay will leave you wondering how much of your own life you may have fabricated.
The one thing I really disliked about Highfield’s book is that he goes on some tangents that are kind of interesting, but are sometimes far enough removed from his original point that I found myself forgetting what he’d been talking about when I started reading that section. For instance, at the very beginning, there are essays about wizardly transportation and how portkeys or floo powder are like wormholes, etc…but then he starts a new chapter about how to fly without leaving the ground, and it seems to me that this section was an excuse to write about various drugs and hallucinogens. It’s interesting and all of that, but has very little to do with Harry Potter and is only vaguely connected to magic because Highfield relates it to shamanism and other occult practices.
So overall, this is a great book if you enjoy science and have an enquiring sort of mind. On the other hand…while it’s not a difficult read as far as the writing goes, the ideas require some amount of attention, and this will be a very difficult book to read if you can’t stay focused.