When Magic Meets Muggle Technology
From the start of the Harry Potter
series, our hero finds himself a
stranger in a very strange land. He discovers that the world he grew up in
hides a secret wizarding world. This is no Oz or
Wonderland that exists separate from the normal world and can only be entered
through extraordinary means. No, it exists side by side with present-day
Harry quickly discovers that this
world has norms and rules different from the
world he is familiar with. For example, it is
normal for the images
in pictures and paintings to move. They even leave to go visit others
of their kind. All these new experiences help to sustain sense of wonder
throughout the series.
One of the first things that Harry learns
in his new world is that much of the Muggle
technology he grew up with is not to be found. Everyday items such as
telephones and electric lights are unfamiliar to many of the wizard community.
The obvious question is why. Why are so many of the artifacts of modern day
life unavailable to wizards? That is the question that this essay attempts
Muggle technology seems to fall into three broad groups: those that don't
work in the wizarding world; those that could
work, but the wizards have their own
devices; and those that fit
comfortably in both worlds. We are told by
Hermione that there are some
Muggle devices that will not around magic, radios for instance
(GF28). Why is that? For the
answer, we must take a quick side trip into the nature of magic.
Magic in the Harry Potter world is a power that wizards and witches are able
to harness and control by some innate ability. Magical effects are often
accompanied by lights, sparks, and sounds. The very first magical effect that
Harry performed in his
new world was shooting
sparks out of his new
It seems to imply that magic effects the electro-magnetic spectrum in some
way. Some serious energy is being dealt with. A similar thing happens when a
nuclear device is exploded. A massive pulse of EM energy is radiated out all
over the spectrum. Radios cease to work. Power lines arc. Telephones burn out.
It is because of this chaos that nations spend millions installing
infrastructure that is immune to this EM interference.
Nuclear devices work by a conversion process. They convert matter into energy.
Magic is also a conversion process. It converts matter or energy into other
matter or energy. In any real-world process, there is always wasted energy --
the second law of thermodynamics. It is reasonable to assume that much of that
wasted energy escapes in the EM spectrum. The manifestation of this is light,
sparks, and heat.
If this is true, then it becomes obvious why such Muggle devices as telephones,
televisions, radio, and electric lights and appliances are unusable. They would
burn out, arc out, or pick up so much static and other interference as to
render them useless. Just providing power to these would be problematic. Any
power grid would act as a huge antenna and short out.
Computers would suffer a similar fate. The author once worked for a computer
manufacturer that made a computer that was so sensitive to
electro-static-discharge (ESD), they had to withdraw it from the market. If a
user had long hair and shook their head, the ESD generated could hang the
system. If that can happen in a real-world system, imagine what would happen
in the chaotic, super-charged atmosphere of a wizard home, school, or
workplace. One Accio
spell would hang every computer within 50 meters.
The only Muggle electrical devices that would have a chance of working would
be very small, self-contained DC battery systems. It has to be small so that
the electrical runs do not act like antennae and pick up the magical
interference. It also has to be DC because the interference will cause power
ripples. This precludes radios, audio/visual equipment, and digital devices.
A flashlight would likely work. So
would an electric analog wristwatch.
Mechanical devices seem to fare better in the magical world than their
electrical counterparts. Several of the students have wristwatches.
Colin's camera seems to
operate without difficulty. These are simple devices that wizards have not
developed their own versions. For other functions, they have developed their
own solutions. A classic example of this is the moving staircase to
Dumbledore's office. This
is far superior to any Muggle escalator, hence
Mr. Weasley's and
Hagrid's unfamiliarity with them.
One question that is asked repeatedly is, why does
Harry have to use a
quill pen? Why doesn't
he use a ballpoint, or at least a fountain pen? There could be several
reasons. A conservative magic world might not want to give up
quills -- it sets them
apart from the Muggles. It could be that writing about magic requires an
enchanted writing implement, and no one has come up with a spell to enchant
anything other than a
quill. Or it could be
that Hogwarts makes its pupils
do things the old-fashioned hard way before they get out into the real world
and can use simpler methods.
Another question is why don't wizards wear Muggle clothing? Here is a
perfectly good Muggle technology that wizards seem to avoid. The question is
made more interesting by the fact that wizard children don't seem to have a
problem with them. It could be that magic casting requires robes.
The energies involved cannot be properly handled and fully controlled if
the spell-caster is in Muggle attire. Since wizard children aren't allowed to
do magic before Hogwarts or
during summer break, they can wear the Muggle clothes during these times. Or
it could be the conservative wizarding world
once again. Harry's generation may be the
one that finally does away with the robes except for formal occasions. A
similar thing has happened in Japan.
One question the writer would love to see answered is, what is the nature
of a wizard printing press? All those
school books and all those
Lockhart books and all
those wizard magazines and newspapers
-- they have to be printed somehow. It seems terribly inefficient to have
people doing them by hand, especially the illustrations. It has to be
painstaking work. Remember
Even banks of enchanted quills
would be a logistic nightmare. Since the pressruns are limited from a few
hundred up to a few thousand, they likely could get by with just a simple
Whatever the reasons for the lack of Muggle technology in the
wizarding world, one thing is certain.
Joanne Rowling has created a truly magical place where adults and children
can both relax and enjoy the environment. She is a true sorceress.
© 2002 by Mark B. Hammer (PrefectMarcus)