Jason Concepcion and Mallory Rubin recently finished their excellent Binge Mode podcast in which they dove deeply into Game of Thrones. At the end of the last podcast episode, Jason makes a case aimed at the Game of Thrones show runners imploring them to not treat the magical parts of the show as shameful aspects of the story. In fantasy, Jason says, it’s often magic that saves characters. Here’s an excerpt from the podcast:
Think of Harry Potter’s story without magic: A child—a baby, really—loses his parents to a car accident. Scarred, physically and psychologically, he goes to live with distant relatives. Resentful of the burden his care puts on them, they bully and ignore him. He sleeps in a storage space filled with spiders under the stairs. Every day, he watches the mail carrier bring in the mail, and he imagines that one of those letters would be for him, calling him away to someplace better, and none of them ever do. Gradually, a darkness, which has always been there inside of him, which he can’t express and doesn’t understand, grows. And one day, he just decides to walk into the woods, intent on ending his own life. Pulls his jacket tight about him and thinks about his parents. Wonders what they would say if they were there with him now.
Or think about Game of Thrones without the magic. A boy grows up, never knowing his mother. His father’s wife hates him. Desperate for a place to call home and to make his father proud he joins the military. When he’s gone, his father and half brother are murdered. An orphan, a refugee from war, on the streets in a foreign land, is sold to a stranger like a piece of furniture by her own brother.
Jason goes on to explain that the fantastical elements of these stories are what save both Harry and Jon. Had magic not been introduced into his life, Harry would have had to endure a sad existence with loveless relatives. Similarly, Jon would have remained a member of the Knight’s Watch and lived the rest of his days suffering in the cold North and knowing neither love nor the truth of his origin. (I’m assuming the truth of his origin is something he will learn.)
There are countless examples in literature of magic’s restorative power for characters. Bilbo would have lived an insipid life had Gandalf not taken him on an adventure to see Smaug. Luke would have remained on Tatooine, and the Emperor would have ruled the galaxy without Obi-Wan Kenobi’s knowledge of The Force. Edmond’s craven nature is washed away because of Aslan’s sacrifice on the Stone Table.
As you know, literal magic doesn’t save people from the circumstance into which they’re born in the real world. An orphaned boy, such as Harry Potter, won’t receive a letter from an owl inviting him to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And a boy who never met his real mother will not become the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. But as I was listening to Jason speak during the end of the podcast, I thought about the closest thing to magic that can save a child: a good teacher.
Teachers can’t provide magical wands, lightsabers, or swords made of Valyrian steel, but they do equip students with confidence and valuable skills. Teachers provide students with the means to take care of themselves and others–no matter the child’s background. Hope, empathy, and resilience are forged in the classrooms of educators who genuinely care about students and continually work on the improvement of their own practice.
We may not have wizards or Jedi knights at the ready to save lives, but thankfully we have great teachers who save the likes of Harry, Jon, Luke, and Edmond every school year.