Is anything REALLY original, or just a fresh spin on an old broomstick?


Is anything really original?

I recently heard this question, and although it’s not the first time I’ve heard it, I gave it some thought this time around. I decided to put it to the test with one of my favourite book series, one with which you might be very familiar – Harry Potter.

JK Rowling’s rise to stardom is well-known, and a significant part of it is attributed to the so-called originality of her books and the seemingly endless imagination she possesses. Nothing seems too far-fetched, and just when you believe there’s no way out for Harry, magic somehow saves the day.

Spoiler alert: even Harry Potter might not be as original as we’d like to believe. Ouch, I know. But before you get your wands out, allow me to explain and bear in mind it is purely based on my anecdotal research. While my appreciation for the world of wizardry remains unchanged, my perception of the series’ originality has shifted. If you were to give anyone the list below and ask them to craft a story by combining all the elements logically, I suspect a variety of ‘original’ stories.

My takeaway from this experiment is that I think ‘truly original’ is possible but it doesn’t lie in how we view things or how we interpret things. It resides in HOW we amalgamate everyday elements, presenting them distinctively. This fusion is a testament to an individual’s thought process, their knack for expressing these combinations, or altering the logic behind these elements. I could elaborate, but you grasp the gist. I’m sure this isn’t groundbreaking news, but consider this: the last time you labeled something as an ‘original’ piece, was it genuinely so?

Society’s view of originality is changing

Perhaps this is the safest way for humankind to comprehend the concept of originality. The idea that something familiar is presented in a unique way might be more digestible than a completely novel concept. When something becomes less familiar and therefore more ‘original’, it often ventures into the realm of ethical considerations, challenging society’s moral beliefs. Consider the controversies around space exploration, colonising Mars, the recent rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and let’s not forget about cloning animals or humans.

Yet society craves originality. Whether it is the consumer looking for content that enriches their lives or at the very least, entertains them, or whether it is the content creator looking desperately to stand out amongst the crowd. (The irony of penning an article about the desperate quest for originality, while attempting to be, well, original, isn’t lost on me!)

Before I digress further, this is how I tried to detangle the imagination of JK Rowling and I must concede, it wasn’t as straightforward as I had anticipated. There are of course a thousand things to pick from her books but I decided to stick with more commonly known ones.

Witches & Wizards and flying on brooms

Flying humans? Psh, old news. They have been doing it since earlier centuries and countless movies or series were made around witchcraft. Remember Sabrina or Charmed? Oh, and let’s not forget an adorable local enchantress from my childhood days, Liewe Heksie, and her dear friend, Blommie.

A sport called Quidditch

I had a bit of a tough time around Quidditch as I initially thought it was a really clever way of designing a game that included a ball and some hoops. But blend basketball with soccer, sprinkle some airborne excitement, and voila!

For the snitch, at a basic level, the concept of a small, valuable object that needs to be caught during a game has existed in many forms throughout various cultures. While the golden snitch’s flying escapades seem novel, the allure of chasing elusive targets in games is as old as Dumbledore.

You cannot have a hero without a villain

Let’s be honest: without bad guys, how will we ever have heroes? Whom are they going to save, and how will they become heroes if not by overcoming evil? Even Voldemort’s rising from the dead as a result of a deadly spell, mixing some gory things together, has been included in storytelling for centuries. Without them, what would our dear Harry do? Take up knitting?

The cloak of invisibility

Turning invisible when covered with a piece of clothing? Perfect for those awkward moments at the Weasley family dinner. But invisibility isn’t new. The allure of invisibility often revolves around the freedom it grants from societal norms and observation. It allows characters to act without being seen, providing them with both opportunities and temptations. The idea of invisibility or objects granting invisibility has been present in folklore, myths, and literature long before Rowling, but perhaps her own studies of the Classics also contributed.

The Deathly Hallows

The Deathly Hallows always intrigued me, more so the way in which the author built tiny pieces of the puzzle across seven books to reveal the entire picture at the end, confirming that she had planned all the books before she wrote a single word. In fact, she mapped out the entire series over 5 years before she started writing the first book.

Let’s revisit this fable quickly. Three brothers evade Death when using magic to cross a treacherous river. Death grants them each a wish as a ‘reward’: the eldest receives the powerful Elder Wand, the middle the Resurrection Stone to revive the dead, and the youngest an Invisibility Cloak. In Harry Potter’s world, the person who had all three became the master of death.

One can look at this from various perspectives but for me, this bores down to someone with the almighty power, and the entire concept of the Deathly Hallows is embedded in religion and an almighty person overcoming death.

At the end of the fable, the eldest is killed for his wand, the middle takes his life after the stone’s haunting resurrection of his love, but the youngest evades Death for years using the cloak. In old age, he willingly meets Death, emphasising that one can face death on their own terms. JK Rowling lost her mother around the time that she wrote her first book and perhaps her experience with death culminated in this storyline.

The Dementors and Horcruxes

Speaking of personal experiences, I must mention the dementors and horcruxes. I realised that JK Rowling didn’t necessarily focus on the actual elements in her story but rather on the symbolism behind them and then linking that symbolism to an element. Take, for example, the dementors—soulless and soul-sucking creatures who make you feel like the joy is being drained out of you. It has been reported that JK Rowling suffered from depression at some point in her life, which inspired the dementors, and it does make sense. Giving in to the dementors would be akin to suicide because one has to fight the darkness with positive and good thoughts.

When it comes to the horcruxes – pieces of a person’s (very evil) soul are scattered throughout the earth and only once all the pieces have been destroyed, the creature will truly be destroyed. They might symbolise the lengths some would go to achieve immortality or leave their mark.

So what does original mean today?

It just seems to become a desperate search rather than a creative journey these days. Before social media, many things were considered original because it was almost impossible to know whether someone else in a different part of the country or the world was already doing it. Nowadays it takes me three seconds to type a hashtag and I can tell you how many people are currently doing the penguin dance on TikTok, the best life hacks for mothers with toddlers, or how to relax watching a dancing coffee drinker in Norway (if you’re having a bad day go check him out on TikTok @kjetilkrogstad).

The point is that the era of social media at the same time brought a fresh breath of original content while at the same time changing our perception of the concept of originality. The term ‘original’ is now applied to the person who can use a TikTok template or filter in the most unusual way, who creates presentations on Canva, Prezi or Slide Bean instead of MS PowerPoint, or who posts about the best AI prompts and tools on LinkedIn instead of sharing insights about their jobs.

But it’s not a bad thing at all. Being original is engrained in the deepest parts of our soul, because every person on this earth is original, there is no one else like you or me. So why this desperate attempt to be original then? Where do we lose our sense of being original? Is it perhaps in our teens when peer pressure is much more important than being different? Is social media creating a different meaning to being original when anybody with a decent amount of followers is deemed an influencer because he/she/they is doing something different, or you know, original while you’re not?

I don’t really know yet.

And I am not always entirely sure what it means to me either but at the very least having spent a few evenings getting lost in the magic world of Harry Potter again and reading up on JK Rowling’s journey, it is confirmation enough that true originality lies in the presentation or execution, even if we are all using the same elements.

That perhaps the quest isn’t to invent the next magical broomstick, but to reimagine the way we ride the old ones.

And with that said.

“Mischief managed!”

-Liz Füzy

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