Like the rest of my millennial generation, I grew up reading the Harry Potter books, ravenously awaiting each new release with unparalleled anticipation. The people you will hear from in this article should be treated with compassion, despite their foolishness.
Twenty years after Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone flew from J.K. Rowing's imagination on a broomstick, the franchise continues to enchant generations of magically minded consumers. However, there remains an odd minority of Muggles who have never read the Harry Potter books or even seen the films. In honor of the 20th anniversary of the beloved YA series, Broadly has asked these strange, uninitiated people to try to explain the wizarding world of Harry Potter, despite having no idea what the story is about.
"Harry Potter was born with a lighting bolt on his forehead, therefore signifying that he is a special wizard," said Leila, a woman in her early twenties, who really should have read the books. She and Will, a guy in his late twenties, both understand that Harry is a major character. In fact, Will feels that "Harry is like Jesus or something."
Kaitlyn, a woman who is almost thirty, helped to elaborate on Harry's upbringing. According to her, Harry lived a tragic life and then was "rescued by a magical wizard who he later finds out is really his dad," which rings true on an emotional level, yet is objectively false.
"I'm pretty sure they all go to the zoo and then one of the animals talks to him? Then, for some reason, it starts pouring envelopes, and Harry Potter picks one up, and it says he was accepted to some weird school," Leila explained.
"He is sent to this special school where there is a rag-tag group of loser type kids that he hangs with, and a girl that maybe he gets to hook up with one day when he gets older," Will claimed. "I know [the books in the saga become] increasingly adult. But I don't think they ever get adult enough for me to get really excited about them," he added, explaining something true: Books that lack sex and drugs are boring. However, Leila is fairly certain that once Harry and Hermione stop being children, they "lose their virginities to each other."
"While studying at Hogwarts, [Harry Potter] becomes entangled in a love triangle with his two best friends," Kaitlyn assured me, grasping toward the truth before losing it like a golden Snitch flitting away, inches from her fingertips: "Becoming jealous at Harry's natural wizard abilities, the redhead conspires with Severus Snape to kill Harry."
The redhead conspires with Severus Snape to kill Harry.
Potter scholars like you and me understand that the Patronus charm is one of the most complicated and powerful spells known to the magically blessed; this incantation summons a spiritual entity unique to the wizard or witch casting it, and is used to defend the caster against evil beings. However, to the Potter-ignorant, the Patronus means… many different things.
"A Patronus is a wand used for really intense spells, like maybe what Harry used to curse Snape after he found out he killed his parents," said Leila. "I think it could be a wizard-dad?" Similarly, Kaitlyn said she believes that a Patronus is a "wizard godfather-type," rather than the beautiful magical expression of love that has saved countless lives from the grips of dark magic. A man named David told me that a Patronus shoots lightning bolts, and even asked me if Snape himself is a Patronus. "Harry Potter and him are the only characters I know," David said, pathetically.
All of the people I interviewed for this article appear to be confused about the difference between Severus Snape and Lord Voldemort, often conflating the two easily discernible, central figures in the Harry Potter saga. "In the last movie, he figures out that Snape killed his parents, but since he is a wizard he brings them back to life with his magic and casts a spell on Snape," Leila said assuredly.
"Voldemort is, I assume, a cranky, middle-aged wizard who wears a lot of black, speaks with a snobby accent, and is generally shown by candlelight or thunderstorm," said James, abstractly adding that Voldemort is likely to be cruel to animals.
"There's a sentient hat that helps out when stuff is super bleak for Harry," said Danny, a bearded gentleman in his thirties, who thinks that Lord Voldemort is Harry's brother. Very sad.
As normal people who have read Harry Potter, we also know that Lord Voldemort attempted to attain immortality by locking parts of his soul inside objects called horcruxes, which are magically created by murdering people. My sad subjects have other theories for what a horcrux might be. For instance, Kaitlyn believes that a horcrux is a wand that you get when you graduate, and David believes that it is "some kind of animal" that looks "a bit like a horse." A woman named Joy told me that "a horcrux is a ménage à trois type situation."
Everyone shared similar theories about the series' end: some final battle between Potter and his enemy, Snape/Voldemort. Will suggested, "In the end, [Harry] hooks up with the girl and he becomes the dopest wizard in the world," which isn't untrue.
Ultimately, the people who know nothing about Harry Potter know more than I would have thought—proving that even if you haven't seen the films or read the books, the series has so satiated culture that everyone knows the name Voldemort, even if they don't know exactly who or what it refers to.
But whether you pick up a few names here or there, or have intuited the romantic underpinnings of Harry's relationship with Hermione Granger, everyone has taken something away from the series they've never seen: "All I know is that they play a weird game on brooms," said a young woman named Beverly, "which is fitting since all I know about Twilight is that vampire baseball is a thing."