Magic and Mysticism

For everyone out there who learned to ask deep philosophical questions at the age of twelve or thirteen after reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I would like to impress upon all readers the great power of young adult fantasy novels to teach the juvenile mind about ethics and existentialism. I have not come across a history or political science textbook that has explained a tyrant’s psychology as well as Albus Dumbledore: “Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back!”

A frequent argument I have heard from skeptics is that fantasy books fill their readers’ heads with unrealistic nonsense (dead flies and bits of fluff), while the truth is that these stories deliver some of life’s most crucial lessons in the form of allegory.

When Dumbledore points out to Harry that not every prophecy in the Department of Mysteries has been fulfilled, he reminds us that our decisions, even at a microcosmic level, are what shape our future in the end. The entire arc of the prophecy is a caricature of how human beings have always tried to predict and control the future. But as every time travel movie has proven, attempting to change the past or the future always comes at a great price. Even though it is not realistically possible to change the past, we like to think that we can alter our future if we can predict it. But these attempts to change our fate are the very things that set us on the path that was predicted for us.

Many lessons can also be gleaned from these books that are delivered in simple, straightforward sentences. These are usually extraordinary characters talking about the ordinary aspects of their lives. “People find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right,” is an example of a quote that rings with truth.

In addition to being a catalyst for philosophical discourse among youths, the fantasy genre constantly crosses paths with science. This is quite different from how science fiction presents science. While sci-fi books and movies try to depict what the advancement of technology based on current discoveries would look like, fantasy is more about staying true to the primordial laws of physics and chemistry—even in the world of magic.

As any Rick Riordan fan could tell you, The Kane Chronicles is easily the most existential of his works. Although these books echo some of the happy-go-lucky zaniness of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Heroes of Olympus series, the Egyptian pantheon comes off as more obscure than the Greek or Roman ones. For starters, the deities are not necessarily “good,” which challenges the established notion of an all-powerful entity being all-benevolent.

Riordan cloaks the duality of life in the story of the Duat—the endless river which is like a second skin beneath the world that we perceive. All mortals exist in both worlds, simultaneously. This is a graceful ode to the scientific theory that matter can exist as both particles and waves (proposed by Louis de Broglie in 1924). Furthermore, there is Ma’at and Isfet, order and chaos, two inexorable forces that perfectly balance each other, coinciding with Newton’s third law of motion.

But the finest point of this series is when Sadie learns that there are conflicting stories about how the gods came to be and did what they did. For example, in one story, Isis and Osiris are siblings, while in the other, they are husband and wife. This is actually true for mythical stories in most cultures, because they began as folklore and were created by different people whose names cannot be found anymore.

But Riordan explains it in a way that does not break the illusion of the magical world he has created. In this universe, the Egyptian gods need mortal hosts to operate on the earth. Depending on the relationship between these hosts, the gods’ relationships change. As Iskandar says, “The gods do not think of relationships the way we humans do. Their hosts are merely like changes of clothes. This is why the ancient stories seem so mixed up. Sometimes the gods are described as married, or siblings, or parent and child, depending on their hosts.” This theory gracefully maintains the illusion of fantasy while also respecting the different views held by experts in this field.

It is in stories like this that magic and science blend into what was taught ages ago by ancient philosophers and what is now called mysticism. After all, modern technology may appear to be magical to someone who is not acquainted with the engineering behind it, as shown by The Wizard of Oz. Maybe, what we think of as magic is simply advanced science in another universe.

Harry Potter Books Ranked

I’m sure most, if not all of us, are familiar with the Harry Potter series. They have taken the world by storm ever since Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone was published in 1997. It’s safe to say even if you love them all, there are probably some you love more than the others. Here, I have compiled my ranking of the novels ending with my all-time favorite. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)


7. The Chamber of Secrets. Starting the list at number seven is The Chamber of Secrets. I put this here because although it contains a multitude of catalysts for the rest of the series, I just don’t find myself drawn to it as much as I am to the others. It is chalked full of adventure and clues which I love, but I can’t see myself choosing it off the shelf first.


6. The Philosophers Stone (AKA The Sorcerers Stone). Next we have The Philosophers Stone, which, for obvious reasons, is a classic. This is the first in the series and the Harry Potter world would be nothing without it. There is something magical about meeting all the characters for the first time and learning about magic with them. That being said, the other books have more dynamic qualities surrounding the characters—and even Rowling’s writing—and so due to that, The Philosopher’s Stone comes in at number six on the list.


5. The Prisoner of Azkaban. The fifth novel on the list gives us further insight into the creatures of the Wizarding World. I love the symbolism of the patronus and it’s contrast with the dementors, and of course, meeting Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black for the first time. This book does follow the traditional pattern of time that I grew to love in the first two, but the excitement of switching that pattern up in the other novels ranks this one just a tad lower on my list.


4. The Half-Blood Prince. Now I know the order of this list is a little chaotic, but stay with me. The Half-Blood Prince is a staple in the series, with the discovery of the first horcrux and of course the death of Dumbledore. A lot happens in this book to set up the last one in the series, but, I placed it here on the list because I feel it has just a little less excitement and character growth than the following three books on the list. It is still full of enchantment and moves the plot effortlessly, however, I find myself gravitating towards these next three novels the most.


3. The Goblet of Fire. The next book on my list is a fan favorite. Almost everyone I know favors this book and I can see why. The Goblet of Fire is the fourth book in the series and at this point, most of the readers are in a routine where Harry goes to Hogwarts and something out of the ordinary happens throughout the school year. This book switches up the routine with the Tri-Wizard Tournament, which adds a new and exciting element to the traditional pace of the story. It is also the catalyst for the next three novels with the return of Voldemort and the first “real” death of the series (RIP Cedric Diggory). Overall, this book is full of adventure and excitement, making it a very fun read and great addition to the series.

2. The Order of the Phoenix. My second all-time favorite Harry Potter book tends to be a bit controversial, but there’s a few reasons why The Order of the Phoenix has always been one of my favorites. First, my favorite relationship throughout the novels is Sirius Black and Harry Potter’s. It’s the first time that Harry has a father figure and feels truly happy, and I love seeing that development between the third and fifth book. That being said, this makes his death in this novel all the more emotional. The first time I read it, it was entirely unexpected and 100% made me cry, making it very memorable for me. I also strongly dislike Umbridge, so a lot of different emotions came out of this—and I think that is the marking of a good book.


1. The Deathly Hallows. It may seem cliché for the last book in a series to be my number one pick, but in my opinion this novel ends the series perfectly and shows the most growth in all of the characters. Throughout the series, most of the audience grew with both the characters and Rowling. We saw them find their voices as she found hers. Every character was their most dynamic in this novel and it was heartwarming to experience. Even Neville Longbottom came out of his shell, which I’m sure we were all waiting for. It has emotional deaths, suspense, and a satisfying end with a look at the future. I don’t think the series could have ended any better.


This list was incredibly hard to make, I mean how do you rank literary genius? However, I went with my gut and thought about the novels I re-read constantly and am generally drawn to, and thus this list of rankings emerged. Feel free to comment your list and let us know what you think! If you’re interesting in purchasing any of these, you can find them all on Changing Hands’ website here.

7 Magical Reads for Harry Potter Fans

Break out the cake, Dobby—it’s Harry Potter’s 39th birthday today! To celebrate, the girls in my house have been doing a Harry Potter book club, and it has been, in a word, fantastic. But we all know that eventually we will have to read Rowling’s last, “All was well,” at which point we will turn to these seven magical reads.


Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is perfect for any fan of fast-paced and beautifully written fantasy. When our Editor-In-Chief lent me this book (which, incredibly, was originally a draft for NaNoWriMo), I had no idea how much I would enjoy escaping into the world of Celia and Marco in Le Cirque des Rêves. Its powerful imagery and sorcery are reminiscent of the Time-Turner complications with magic that Harry Potter encounters in his third year.


For fans of the later and darker Harry Potter books, The Red Queen is an explosive start to a now-famous young adult series that satisfies readers who enjoy court intrigue, unsteady relationships, and supernatural violence. A powerful protagonist, a glitteringly gory setting, and the swiftly changing loyalties and truths in the narrative make this book hard to read without immediately picking up the next of the series.


Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted follows Ella of Frell in her quest to break her curse of obedience. This is potentially one of my favorite stand-alone fantasy novels, perhaps because it combines the complications of magic that resonate in the later parts of the Harry Potter series (particularly with Harry’s discoveries about prophecies, curses, and destinies) with the simplicity of action and strength of character that Harry shows from the beginning.


For fantasy readers who find themselves somewhat disappointed that dragons are only featured in a few (key, but brief) scenes of J. K. Rowling’s series, turn to Jessica Day George’s Dragon Slippers trilogy that follows Creel in her enchanting journey through a fantasy full of delightfully personable dragons.


Readers who loved Harry Potter as “the Chosen One” will enjoy Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The False Prince, where an orphan thief named Sage confronts his identity and potential in a fantasy kingdom. Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy deals with many of the same themes found in Harry Potter’s encounters with navigating fame and accepting responsibility.


Gwendolyn Clare’s Ink, Iron, and Glass builds an engaging fantasy world of scriptology where Elsa learns to navigate reality while understanding the power of the written word. Her realizations about truth mirror Harry’s encounters with Umbridge’s lesson, “I must not tell lies,” in his fifth year, as well as his learning how to sift fact from fiction in Rita Skeeter’s Dumbledore biography in the seventh book. Clare’s book is perfect for Potter fans!


Last but not least, Brandon Mull’s Five Kingdoms series has perfect action scenes for those readers who loved the various encounters that Harry and his friends had with magical creatures—including trolls and spiders. Sky Raiders is full of Cole’s adventures that are enthralling like Harry’s, and there are four more books to enjoy in the series!