When works of literature employ magical elements like in the genre of fantasy or science fiction, the author must clarify the rules and limitations of the physical laws that govern the universe. Works like The Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials, and Star Wars are fraught with magical forces, which are explored by the authors in detail and are used by the characters for both good and evil. There is usually a level of neutrality in the force at work, almost as if it’s a scientific power used by the characters for whatever purpose they desire, but there remains the opportunity for the author makes claims to moral truth The world of Harry Potter is held together by magic, and J.K. Rowling spends a lot of time describing how this magic works. Within this world, emotions govern all human beings and therefore also govern all magic. Benign feelings inspire good magic, while destructive intentions create dark magic.
The strongest example of this influence rests in the nature of Voldemort’s horcruxes. To create them, he has to commit murder – which rips apart his soul – and infuse the split off piece into an object making it a horcrux. Rowling is claiming that murder is an ontologically immoral action that rips apart someone’s existing soul. She is making a moral statement describing how magic affects the soul, setting a standard for objective truth in her world. She uses this truth to teach ethics with her stories. Near the end of the last book, when Harry is sent to King’s Cross, he sees the part of Voldemort’s soul that has passed along. It’s a shriveled entity due to its torn apart state; Rowling is saying, “this will happen to you when you commit murder and use dark magic.”
This is of course, a running theme of the work. When the mechanics of magic are explained, they usually require emotional commitment for completion. Violent spells are done with violent thoughts, and the more powerful a wizard’s will is, the stronger the spells from his wand will be. Rowling pits good against evil, but has the magic turn against his evil users. Dark magic is destructive by nature and so destroys even those who wield it. The reader then learns not to be evil, basically. The lessons for children are clear and invigorating. The villain is a deeply emotional person, but he is filled with evil emotions like bigoted hatred, jealousy, and violent anger. The heroes also have anger and jealousy, but they overcome these conflicts with love and friendship, which form the center of all good magic. The spell that protects Harry is a spell of love, and Voldemort is not able to overcome this magic for a very long time. It’s a thought-provoking structure to establish a fantasy realm on, and one that I hope children continue to embrace as they learn from these stories.