I always go about recommending my favorite books to people. Forcing and enticing them to read it. This is a habit, I believe, I share with most bookworms in the world. But have you ever thought what this favorite book of yours tells about you?
There’s this saying by Sigmund Freud. He said a lot of crazy things, but one of my personal favorites among his insights, is that the mind is like the city of Rome. Each age has its own architecture, its own monuments, built on top of those from the previous ages. But instead of knocking down those monuments to an older time and replacing them, the mind preserves each landmark. Some, like the Colosseum, are more obvious, while others are hidden in the shadows of Palatine Hill. Even more completely than Rome, each adult keeps the landscape of her childhood intact. If you want to understand that childhood landscape, the foundations on which a person’s life is built, ask her what her favourite books were as a child.
I don’t have the figures to prove it, but I would guess that the most popular children’s story in the world is Cinderella. If I tried to list its adaptions in film and literature just over the past decade, I might just break the internet. Lol.
This should come as no surprise. The story of Cinderella is basically that of a child
unnoticed and undervalued by peers and parent-figures. Her fairy godmother shows up and enables her to unlock her true worth, proving the naysayers wrong and allowing her to achieve the greatness she deserves.
Most children feel undervalued sometimes. And plenty believe that, if only they were seen clearly, or if only they had an opportunity, they could prove that they are more valuable, worthwhile, beautiful, talented or strong than anyone knew. Everyone, at some point in her life, has felt like Cinderella. So, some people will identify Cinderella as their favourite story. But many people won’t. Instead, they’ll mention Harry Potter, or Star Wars, or any of the dozens and dozens of Cinderella stories that dominate our bestseller lists and box offices.
I mean, look at Harry Potter, for instance. We know from the outset that he is ‘the boy who lived’, who survived an attack of the darkest magic from Voldemort and somehow managed, as an infant, to vanquish the greatest dark wizard of all time. So he’s special. Very special. But no one knows it, because he’s being raised by an ignorant aunt and uncle, along with their brutish son (stepmother and stepsisters). But soon, someone comes to rescue him, to take him to the place he’s always meant to be – Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
There is a wonderful passage in which Hagrid, who is rescuing Harry from his horrible aunt Petunia and uncle Vernon Dursley, educates Harry about himself:
‘Do you mean ter tell me,’ [Hagrid] growled at the Dursleys, ‘that this boy – this boy! – knows nothin’ abou’ – about ANYTHING?’
Harry thought this was going a bit far. He had been to school, after all, and his marks weren’t bad.
‘I know some things,’ he said. ‘I can, you know, do maths and stuff.’
But Hagrid simply waved his hand and said: ‘About our world, I mean. Your world. My world. Yer’ parents world.’
Hagrid looked as though he was about to explode.
‘DURSLEY!’ he boomed.
Uncle Vernon, who had gone very pale, whispered something that sounded like ‘Mimblewimble.’
Hagrid stared wildly at Harry.
‘But yeh must know about yer mum and dad,’ he said. ‘I mean, they’re famous. You’re famous.’
‘What? My – my mum and dad weren’t famous, were they?’
‘Yeh don’ know… yeh don’ know…’ Hagrid ran his fingers through his hair, fixing Harry with a bewildered stare.
‘Yeh don’ know what yeh are?’ he said finally.
Uncle Vernon suddenly found his voice.
‘Stop!’ he commanded, ‘stop right there, sir! I forbid you to tell the boy anything!’
A braver man than Vernon Dursley would have quailed under the furious look Hagrid now gave him; when Hagrid spoke, his every syllable trembled with rage.
‘You never told him? … You kept it from him all these years?’
‘Kept what from me?’ said Harry eagerly.
‘STOP! I FORBID YOU!’ yelled Uncle Vernon in panic.
Aunt Petunia gave a gasp of horror.
‘Ah, go boil yer heads, both of yeh,’ said Hagrid. ‘Harry – yer a wizard.’
When I first read Harry Potter, I was 11. And when I got to this passage, I had this strong heart wrenching feeling in my heart. The passage still gives me intense feels. This is J.K Rowling at her best, confirming the promise of Cinderella, confirming the unrecognised (but subconsciously felt) greatness inside the child. Rowling is a genius, and her books will one day be in the ‘perennial bestseller’ class with the Bible, because she tells the Cinderella story so well.
When you see an adult who adores Harry Potter, you are likely speaking to someone whose Cinderella fantasy is to transform from a social outsider into a wizard.
In the Dursley house, Harry is oppressed by his aunt, uncle and cousin’s cruelty, just as Cinderella is by the cruelty of her stepmother and stepsisters. But in a brilliant adaptation of the Cinderella trope, Harry is also oppressed by the Dursleys’ normality. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone opens with the line: ‘Mr and Mrs Dursley, of Number Four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.’ It is the Dursleys’ devotion to all things normal that makes them hate Harry so much. He is unable to conform because he is special – his magical powers keep manifesting, inadvertently, driving Vernon and Petunia crazy, and prompting them to punish him with increasingly harsh measures.
Failure to conform is hated. Specialness is hated. Failure to conform and specialness become one. This is the magical adaptation of Harry Potter to the modern world. When you see an adult who adores Harry Potter (me), who proudly tells you what Hogwarts house she is in (also me!), and explains to you the method for determining your own, you are likely speaking to someone who has felt oppressed by the conventionality of her world, and whose Cinderella fantasy is not transforming from an overlooked child into a princess, but rather transforming from a social outsider into a wizard. This is part of the deep psychic appeal of Harry Potter.
So when a child asks for the same book three hundred times, she is telling what she needs to learn, what she needs to come to terms with. Adults do the same thing. Books are psychologists, using imagination therapy to elicit secrets that their readers did not know they kept. We don’t tend to realise what we are revealing about ourselves when we push a book into the hands of three friends. Maybe the bestseller lists, stripped of the fly-by-night entries and dopamine drips, is a snapshot of the national psyche. It might be telling us what we need to learn, what we are coming to terms with.
P.S. What’s your favorite book then? What does it tell about you? Comment down below. And dont forget to give this a thumbs-up if you liked it. Please subscribe to see more insight into the brain of this dreamer. Byieee!