Are we opting for ‘escapism’?

Life being the serious business it is, a small dose of escapism to relieve tension may be just what the doctor ordered

Khalid Saleem September 16, 2019
"The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" theme park at the Universal Studios Hollywood in Los Angeles, California. (PHOTO: REUTERS)

The hot news is that a Catholic school in Nashville has “removed” J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series from its library after its pastor described the spells and curses risky “as they might evince conjuring evil spirits”. This news appears a tad odd coming from an area that prides itself on being enlightened.

It should come as no surprise in this blessed land where there has been a lot of thinking about what is needed to bring the Ship of State to the keel. Having tried all known systems of government and successively handed over the wheel of the ship to “saviours” of all ilks and genres, the country’s thinkers must be at their wit's end. If we keep on the same track; Harry Potter and his magic wand may be needed to set things right.

The way Ms Rowling caught the fancy of young and old with her bizarre but readable narrative of the adventures of a lovable young wizard, Harry Potter, is a tribute to her imagination and understanding of human nature. It may be of some interest to cite a report from Frankfurt (c.2002-2003), that the world’s largest book fair in that city had formally “thanked Harry Potter for helping to rear a new generation of eager young readers around the globe”.

Book reading — as a knack — has lost to the demon of technology. There are those who make do with the hotchpotch dished out by the electronic media; others prefer to wait for the film or television series. One wonders if the reader remembers the time when, after having read the book, one viewed the film or television version with serious misgivings. As one invariably concluded that the visual record was nowhere as vivid as the written word picture. And then proceed to re-read the book to confirm the assessment. And now, we are fated to deal with the likes of the pastor of Nashville! Recent technological advances appear to have made matters worse. The practice of leisurely reading has gone out of the window. One ruefully recalls the days one would save to buy a good book and read it at leisure; savoured it and, if it lived up to its promise, read it again. In fact, the real flavour of a good book could best be absorbed only on the second or third reading.

The good news is that thanks to Harry Potter, all is not lost yet. If the younger generation was out there in droves queuing up to buy the latest Harry Potter tome, then they intended to read all six hundred-odd pages of it. The art of reading may yet be resuscitated.

Why did the series garner so much popularity? After all, no one would classify the Rowling tomes among the greats of even contemporary literature. It is possible to answer in one word: escapism. A good section of people in our troubled world is looking for a vehicle to escape the realities of life. Meanwhile, designated “spin-
doctors” filter their everyday reality to see life only through rose-coloured glasses. In this make-believe scenario, books like the Harry Potter series provide the perfect escape route away from mundane realities, views of the pastor of Nashville notwithstanding!

There would be little harm in the present day world going for this type of literature for entertainment. Life being the serious business it is, a small dose of escapism to relieve tension may be just what the doctor ordered. The time to agonise comes when perfectly sane persons start to confuse real life with fantasy. The world is hopefully not blundering towards such a calamitous denouement, as civilisation continues its bumbling march onward. So far as the scenario in this blessed land goes, “escapism” has already taken over from reality. So there you have it in a nut-shell!

Published in The Express Tribune, September 16th, 2019.

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