Harry Potter

Good vs. Evil

The screen adaptation of J.K. Rowling's bestseller Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is neither good nor bad. It just is.

Let me explain, but to do so I will have to rely on a couple of Rowling tactics. First of all, this film review is filled with magic. It has a number of glaring contradictions and errors in logic. Secondly, I made it very long. This is heavy stuff - no less than the meaning of life itself.

But I'd like to begin by declaring that this book and movie are the death of storytelling. I figured out why too. It's because of good and evil. At some point every story told became a story about how good overcomes evil. Just look at Walt Disney movies these days. They make a movie about the natural world (The Lion King), but they can't resist the temptation to have it involve an "evil" lion (who's also gay). They're doing this in all their movies now. Even Beauty and the Beast had a battle between good and evil. It's gotten so you can't tell a story anymore unless it's about good and evil.

I recently read an editorial in a local American newspaper that suggested that one of the positive fallouts from September 11th was that people were more focused on good and evil.

And these days whenever I hear George W. talking about the "evil" people, I start developing flu like symptoms.

It's not that good and evil aren't important. They are important - they are important to overcome. Essentially they are a product of the selfish mind that labels all phenomena as positive and negative. They are also a part of the process of the division of the God that I described in my last article, I Accuse God. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's evil, but it is a very inaccurate philosophical worldview. And it has some pretty serious consequences, doesn't it? Look at the Middle East. A lot of good that battle between good and evil has caused eh?

The problem is that Harry Potter seems to be just born "good". I wonder if maybe the movie just left out a lot of Harry's own personal development that was in the book. In the old days, before the Christians got here, story telling use to involve how a person develops and overcomes his or her own personal obstacles. But story telling isn't like that anymore. It's dead.

These days storytelling is just a process of manipulating us to identify with the main character, who is good. And then we follow his (usually male) battle against and eventual victory over the forces of evil. I have countless problems with this. If you look around the world, everybody thinks they're good. The Israeli soldier who taunts young Palestinian boys into throwing rocks, and then shoots them; the Palestinian who steps onto a bus wired with explosives; the Republican and the Democrat; and on and on and on. If everybody is good, why is this world so screwed up with hatred and violence? Or are half the people wrong?

This is what everyone thinks isn't it. Even though Osama Bin Laden deeply believes he's good, he's actually evil.

Everyone universally thinks that they're good (except for your humble narrator and the most wise), and that there is also another segment of the population that is evil or bad. If only it weren't for those people then things would be good. Wouldn't it?

Actually no.

It is very important to recognize that this division existing between ourselves and other people is an illusionary creation of the ego. We extend our ego to include all things we believe in. Abortion, anti abortion, freedom, the environment and on and on and on.

The other thing to look at is how our mind labels all phenomena as good or bad. This happens subliminally. The beauty of meditation is that the mind can shift into neutral and then you can see how each slide of the film is being stamped by the ego as positive or negative.

The problem is (and why the Buddha would suggest that, "all life is suffering") that even the most profoundly good experience is subtly colored with the poison of impermanence. Nothing lasts. And deep down we know that. We try in vain to recreate it somehow or to hold on to it, but it can't possibly work. So even good can be bad. One of the parts I liked best about the movie was when it dealt with this point. When Harry looks into this one mirror, he sees his parents (who are long dead). When Harry's sidekick looks in he sees himself winning a Quiddich trophy and looking handsome. The headmaster of the school informs us that the mirror shows us what we want the most. And he says that people have gone mad looking into it - they can't take their eyes off it.

And in truth, this is what is happening to almost all of us, almost constantly. We are constantly staring into this fun house mirror, which holds the illusion of what we were or what we will become, and we are entranced by the image. And can't ever deal with the reality of what is.

Powerful stuff.

And just as powerful, is the concept of the Philosopher's Stone. It grants everlasting life and also grants it's owner's desires. But it can't be owned by someone who wishes to use it for themselves.

These are the teachings of the Buddha.

I think that problems of the film reflect the problems we have in our society. We are here in wizard school. We learn how to become more and more powerful. We learned how to split the atom along time ago. We have our computers. Soon we will know how to clone ourselves. We have magic in the palms of our hands. But we don't know the essential skills of how to be happy, or how to get along with other people. What good will it be to create more and more powerful wizards when they will ultimately (because they are taught to) turn on one another?

Grant Boland is a Buddhist monk and writer from Ottawa, Canada. He has been traveling around the United States writing a book, and recording his experiences and interviews with Americans on video. Mr. Boland is currently hanging out in the desert, popping into local towns every now and then to send and receive emails. Do you agree with his take on good vs. evil? Email him your opinion at!


January 19, 2001