How to Be an Atheist: Working out the Worldview of a Skeptic, Free for CAPC Members
Mitch Stokes’ ‘How to Be an Atheist’ shows the work of the worldview of a skeptic.
When I was ten years old, I believed in magic. My family moved in the middle of my fifth grade year and I found myself a stranger in a strange land, alone save for the company of books. Opening Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban beneath the shadowed expanse of my school desk felt like tapping on the wall that barred Muggles from Diagon Alley. There I wasn’t alone anymore. I wasn’t strange. My childhood fears were shrouded by the warmth of another world, one that was accessible anywhere I could find room to turn a page.
As I grew older and read more, I became aware that J.K. Rowling’s prose was not as brilliant as it once seemed and Harry Potter’s story was not as flawless as I once believed. Those things, though, were never what compelled me to escape into the vivid folds of Rowling’s story to begin with. On the contrary, what compelled me were the seemingly infinite depths of the world she painted — a world so thoroughly imagined that it was easy to transpose myself there when I most needed to exist elsewhere. For me, the magic of Harry Potter was not simply the story printed on the page; it was the countless ones that weren’t.The script largely aimed to conclude the series more explicitly, and in some ways the additions detracted from the series.
I looked forward to a continuation of that magic with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a collaborative follow-up to the Harry Potter series that was originally adapted for the stage. The script’s bright spots are many, beginning with the protagonist: Harry’s middle child, Albus Severus Potter, is generally more complex than many of the characters that occupied the series’ first seven installments. Albus isn’t the plucky hero his father was. He’s an awkward boy chilled by the shade of his brother’s shadow and stooped over with the weight of his father’s legacy. He’s nearly friendless and his talents don’t emerge in loud or natural ways. The string that ties him to Harry is fraught with tension. And, perhaps most compelling, Albus occupies the same isolating underbelly of Hogwarts that his namesake, Severus Snape, once navigated. These things combine to form a dynamic that’s both refreshingly complicated and honest.
Mingling with the script’s successes, of course, are its failings. The story details Albus’s misadventures, which really only serve as a flimsy vessel by which to explore the relationships uniting the story’s characters. The plot, which heavily relies on the use of time turners, borrows generously from Rowling’s previous works. It ends perhaps a bit too neatly with Harry’s first tenuous steps toward reconciliation with his son.
Because the plot conveniently utilizes time turners, readers (and playgoers) are treated to appearances by almost all of the original series’ main players, both dead and alive. Snape’s redemption is more explicitly defined; Ron and Hermione learn that their love had more to do with chance than fate; and Harry even has the opportunity to confront Albus Dumbledore, a nearly infallible figure who finally gives voice to his sins. And that, really, was the work’s glaring blemish to me. The script largely aimed to conclude the series more explicitly, and in some ways the additions detracted from the series.
When I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I was no longer a little girl who needed to believe in magic. I was weeks away from my first semester of college, and I knew there were a number of things I wouldn’t be taking with me, not the least of which was the Boy Who Lived. His story was done, and so was part of mine. Both conclusions left me wanting, and yet, life moved on anyway, and it didn’t bring the resolution I thought it should. Sometimes life doesn’t. We occupy a world whose loose ends are tied in another, and our human hearts are bent toward that conclusion.
Perhaps that’s why I both liked and did not like the more thorough conclusion we glimpse in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It offers something life frequently does not — a neat resolution. It answered questions fans of the series assumed they might never know. What would Harry say to Dumbledore, given the chance? Does Dumbledore regret his choices? How profound was Snape’s redemption? Could bitter rivals like Harry and Malfoy ever kindle friendship? Fans the world over have clamored for this resolution, and here it is, explicitly spelled out despite all odds.
But the things that attracted me to the Harry Potter series in the first place were never the stories on the page; they were the ones that weren’t. There’s something both satisfying and disappointing in not having to wonder anymore. It’s perhaps more concrete, but it’s also less relatable. It panders to one of our most innate desires — the longing for resolution — but is also unrealistically tidy. Even so, littered throughout Harry Potter and the Cursed Child are winks of the magic that compelled me as a child. Perhaps it’s not the most honest story, but it is rich and warm. The plot’s predictable fun, and while it doesn’t stack up to the original series, it’s certainly a worthwhile read.
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