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Magical Mutations: Analyzing Harry Potter in Terms of Genetics

First off—let’s face it. Harry Potter, however much we may want it to be, is simply not real. Cars that can stretch to accommodate vast amounts of people? Staircases that move of their own free will? A mirror that provides a 3D image of one’s deepest desires? In today’s society, such things are considered miracles, and exist wholly outside of the laws of physics. And yet, there is one very crucial element of Harry’s world that can be directly linked to science, and thus, is entirely believable: the wizards themselves.

We can all agree that wizards are human: they respond to stimuli, reproduce, excrete, breathe, eat, move, grow, fear, hate, love, etc. But they can also perform wondrous feats, ones that we muggles can’t even imagine. Albus Dumbledore can turn himself invisible (even without the aid of a wand); Professor McGonagle can transform into a cat at a moment’s notice. Thus, I propose that the wizards of Harry Potter are not just mere Homo sapiens, but Homo sapiens optima, a highly intelligent subspecies, one that has existed for as long as Homo sapiens.Think about it: Harry and his friends never attend any basic arithmetic or science courses, nor do they spend time on the computer. The reason for this is simple: they already know everything that muggle scholars of the liberal arts spend years learning. Wizards do not need to be taught these courses that muggles—Homo sapiens—consider the foundation of a good education, because, and this is where the “highly intelligent” part enters the picture, wizards are naturally well-versed in such subjects. Let me break this down: say, however many thousands of years ago, a person was born with a mutation in his gene sequence that enabled him to excel at everything academic (if there even were academics in prehistoric times), and to perform simple magic. Over time, the man, who I’ll call the first wizard, produced offspring, who inherited the mutation. Eventually, the mutation developed into an adaptation, and then evolution occurred. In each proceeding generation, random mutations provided the wizards with increased magic skills, in varying degrees. The variety in mutations accounts for why some wizards, like Neville Longbottom, fail miserably at Transfigurations, yet ace Herbology. It’s all pure genetics.This idea of a subspecies begs the question: how is it possible that two groups can coexist in the same area when one is so clearly superior to the other? Wouldn’t it make sense, in terms of natural selection, that the people without the beneficial mutation—the muggles—would sooner or later die out? The answer is easy: there weren’t enough wizards to successfully move their way to the top of the figurative food chain. Of course, you may ask, after thousands of years, wouldn’t there eventually be enough wizards, or at least one exceptionally powerful wizard who could invent some magic that obliterates all muggles? And yet, in asking such a question, you’d be forgetting one very important character: the squib, a wizard who can’t perform magic. The mutation in the squib gene sequence is similar to the wizard mutation, but not identical. As many wizards as there are, there are still more squibs. They’re all around us; we don’t even find out that Arabella Figg is a squib until the fifth book. How many other squibs are out there, unnoticed? Thousands. Millions. As to the second part of the question—no wizard is powerful enough to kill a large number of people. When Peter Pettigrew, alias Wormtail, murdered 13 people, the wizarding world was horrified. Imagine the press if some wizard actually killed off all the muggles—it would be massive, and the genocide itself wouldn’t be beneficial to the wizards. The reason the wizards don’t kill off all the muggles is simple: in order to continue the wizard line, they must interbreed with muggles, as the wizarding world is very small.On a whole other level, when you think about Hermione, whose parents are both muggles, it seems almost unbelievable that she would be a wizard. And yet, perhaps one of her grandparents was a squib, or even a wizard, and the recessive gene just skipped a generation. I’m sure if you trace Hermione’s family tree back far enough, you’ll find some very good evidence that her status as a wizard is due to genetics.Also, the wizard mutation is recessive, which is why, when wizards breed with muggles, as was the case with Harry’s parents, their offspring are more often than not muggles. The wizarding world itself is very small: If you count all the students at Hogwarts, you’ll realize that there are no more than 300 at a time. There are five boys in Harry’s first year dorm. As the years go by, he still lives with the same four people. There’s no switching involved—so those five boys, Harry included, must be the only Gryffindor boys at a time in his year. Multiply that by seven, and then by two to include the Gryffindor girls, and you get 70. There are four houses in the school, so that’s 280 students. Add 20 teachers—300 people at most. Hogwarts is supposedly the biggest wizarding school in the world, and, as it’s free, it’s safe to assume that most wizards go to that school.Many wizards have never even seen a gun, and the functional uses of lightbulbs, for example, prove to be a great source of mystery to Mr. Weasley. Why use electricity when a wand could do the same trick, but much more successfully? Wands never fail, except when broken, as is proven in the second book, when Ron’s wand snaps in half. However, certain damaged wands, such as Hagrid’s, which is disguised as an ordinary umbrella, are still entirely capable of performing great feats of magic. And who created wands, these brilliant tools, ten times greater than any computer? Wizards like Ollivander. Thus, wizards must be smarter than muggles.Wizards have no use for muggle objects like television—they have newspapers, with pictures that move and tell just as good a story. Admittedly, Molly Weasley does have a radio, but, as her husband is a muggle artifact collector, it’s safe to assume that he bought it from a muggle shop as a sort of antique gift. Of course, Mrs. Weasley’s radio plays wizard music, but how do we know it’s not just a regular muggle station? How many bands these days claim that they’re in touch with their mystical side? It’s entirely possible that muggles listen to the wizard ballads as well, without even realizing who’s singing them.A recurring theme in Harry Potter is purity of blood, and all its connotations. Draco Malfoy and many of his Slytherin cronies are exceedingly proud of their pureblood heritage, and wear it like a badge. (Literally—in the fourth book, Draco passes out badges ridiculing Harry, who’s a half-blood.) Draco even taunts Hermione for having muggle parents, calling her a “mudblood.” Like dynasties in ancient Egypt, the purebloods intermarry, to ensure that their line continues. After all, Sirius is related to Narcissa Black, however much either of them would like to pretend otherwise. And of course, all of the problems that arose in ancient Egypt as a result of interbreeding can be found in the pureblood lines as well: the purebloods, for the most part, are evil. Biology tells us that when two people from the same family breed, the chance that their offspring will receive harmful recessive genes increases. The recessive gene for evil would only show up if a pureblood woman who carried it bred with a pureblood man, who also carried it. Such is the case with Draco.In terms of social skills, and emotional intelligence, however, wizards are just as hopeless as muggles. The mutation in their genes only allows for a superior brain and the ability to manipulate atoms into stretching, shrinking, or breaking through objects. Thus, Harry is in all respects a normal, angsty teenager—he undergoes puberty, develops crushes, and struggles with dancing. In a muggle school, he’d be labeled a freak for his superior intelligence, and perhaps rushed off to Harvard, but here, at Hogwarts, he’s just like everybody else. Except of course, for that lightning-bolt scar.

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