Almost everyone has them, whether in your wallet or safely tucked away at home. I’m referring to pictures. We take them, treasure them, show them, longingly look at them, tell the stories behind them—and yet are more often than not dissatisfied with them. Why don’t we ever look like our pictures (especially our driver’s license photo, which could often be mistaken for a mug shot)? How come when we go to put a picture of our favorite person in a special frame, it’s not easy to select the one that looks like the person, I mean really looks like him. And none of them ever quite does….
The reason is that people are dynamic, and a flat, two-dimensional, piece of paper snapshot ripped out of a narrative context cannot capture the essence of the person. Not even the blandest among us can be thus reduced. At best, the photo can trigger a dynamic memory of, say, merry eyes and laughing smile as little Amy darted after the new puppy with her hair streaking behind her and the afternoon sun on her face.
But not even these triggered memories where we can contextualize the snapshot with a narrative can tell the whole, true tale. As C. S. Lewis noted so poignantly in A Grief Observed, “The earthly beloved, even in this life, incessantly triumphs over your mere idea of her. And you want her to; you want her with all her resistances, all her faults, all her unexpectedness. That is, in her foursquare and independent reality.” How we ache to hold the reality of the person in her absence, whether it’s a city block or an ocean or mortality that separates us.
What an exceptionally powerful and moving gift, then, that Rowling has given us with her creation of “moving pictures.” Of course we now have movies, camcorders, and any number of increasingly small devices for recording human action, but they often capture either self-conscious people who cannot relax enough to be themselves or those who act up and ham it up for the camera. Whether the moving pictures in the Harry Potter novels are on chocolate frog trading cards, in newspapers, or in family photo albums, they seem to be able to capture and reflect the genuine essence of the person—for good or ill. Many of us likely choked up and had tears in our eyes when Hagrid gave Harry at the end of his first year at Hogwarts “a handsome, leather-covered book . . . full of wizard photographs. Smiling and waving at him from every page were his mother and father.”
To be able to have a more vivid sense of connection with those we love in their absence, even after death, is a gift so many would want, though may not have thought to imagine. Do you have a favorite “moving picture” in any of the Harry Potter novels and/or films? What do the moving pictures/images mean to you? Would you want moving pictures like those in the Wizarding World? Or do you think that—like the Mirror of Erised—they would be a double-edged sword?
*Thanks to my Art Historian colleague and friend Adrienne Baxter Bell for sparking my interest in this topic. (And the title alludes to my favorite album by my favorite band, whose very literal album cover has nothing at all to do with this post–unless you can figure otherwise.)
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- Use Your Imagination!