Mailbag: Why is the Magical World Invisible to Muggles?

A note from Christopher De Morrow about seeing and not-seeing in the series:

Dear John,

I recently finished Order, and came across a passage that seems to make sense of an aspect of the series that I’ve been wondering about. Everyone in the parallel magical world is able to hide their great secret, although it seems pretty haphazzard. So many of the people, actions, and even buildings of the magical world intrude upon our own muggle world that it seems impossible that they aren’t more widely known. I think Rowling let us in on the principal reason why when the group visits Mr. Weasley at St. Mungo’s:

For a split second, Harry thought how abusrd it was for Tonks to expect the dummy to hear her talking that quietly through a sheet of glass, when there were buses rumbling along behind her and all the racket of a street full of shoppers…Harry glanced around at the jostling crowd; not one of them seemed to have a glace to spare for window displays as ugly as Purge and Dowse Ltd, nor did any of them seem to have noticed that six people had just melted into thin air in front of them (483-4).

Rowling’s point is that the magical world is in our midst, but we are too busy and distracted by noise, machines, and consumerism to notice. Is this also a comment about the Church? Is the “magic” of  the sacraments and new life all around us, yet few seem to take the time to notice? She’s made a connection between the wizarding world and true identity before. In the beginning of #1 Harry is ignorant but his identify as a wizard is still real, and Hogwarts pursues him in order to reveal it to him and bring him into contact with it.  Thoughts?

I hope all is well with you and your family.

Fraternally in Christ,


Your comments and corrections are coveted as always!


  1. I like the wording of the last sentence before “Thoughts?” I never thought of it that way. Harry definitely is pursued to reveal to him his true identity as a wizard. Just a question about the title of the post though– shouldn’t it be the other way around: Why is the magical world invisible to Muggle folk?

  2. Sorry about the title glitch. Late night.

  3. And I just thought it was a clever twist, as Tonks so effectively “tunes out” the Muggle noise that it might as well be invisible!

  4. Wonderful insight here, Christopher!!!!
    Every time I read the series, I am struck by “Muggle monovision”; the inability of the non-magical populace to identify the magic around them.

    But then…what of Muggle parents with magical offspring??? (i.e. Hermione and Lily) Does the child’s magical abilities give Muggle family members access through familial-blood association to that which the Muggles could not previously see ? I contend such a condition would parallel the non-believer who intellectually understands faith and doctrine but does not have the indwelling Spirit through personal relationship in Christ and therefore remains outside the Kingdom, looking in.

    Hmmm. Interesting.

    Certainly Mr. & Mrs. Granger walked and interacted with Hermione’s magical community…we see them in Diagon Alley at Gringot’s and on Platform 9 3/4…but they could not fully embrace the benefits/blessings of being magical because they were Muggles! And if we suspend our disbelief for a moment…how then did the Grangers interact with magical folk in magically protected locations when nothing could change their non-magical condition???

    Christopher, your analysis opens up so many more questions!!!!!

    Elizabeth…I think Tonks’ ability to tune out Muggle noise is much the same as the Believer’s ability to flee from revealed temptation: focus on the magic (Spirit), not on the distraction! Clearly, the magical folk have the advantage, the strategies, the inner resource to be “in the [Muggle] world, but not of the [Muggle] world” (my paraphrase) understanding that the Muggle world no longer has control over the magically (Spirit) empowered!

    Thank you, John, for sharing Christopher’s email.

  5. It seems quite obvious to me (and explained in several passages of the books): when the magical community decided to go into hiding from the “normal” world, they used a series of measures to not be noticed and burned alive again. So, as the entrance to St. Mungo hospital, the Express track of Lion’s gate or many other locations including Hogwarts itself, magical places or objects and even wizards are hidden by spells that make them not visible to Muggles, or just to make them not pay attention to the extraordinary next to them (an idea that maybe Mrs.Rowling took from Douglas Adams..?)
    Of course, nowadays we’re so adamant on laws of physics and the impossibility of magic, that if we saw something “absurd” like a domestic elf or a flying Anglia for a brief moment, we would think our eyes were just mistaken, or that we took one thing for another; so that’s another factor to consider, too.

  6. I forgot: as for Mr. and Mrs.Granger, they must have been very disoriented in places like Gringott or Diagon Alley, but probaly just had to be guided by their daughter through the unnoticeable entrance, and then they were fine.
    (At the Quidditch World Cup, they even mention deploying enchantments to drive Muggles away from the area, so they instead feel compelled to go elsewhere… wonder if there’s a whole Department of the Ministry for place-hiding spells?)

  7. Very interesting. What popped into my head was Harry’s “Is this real or all in my head?” question to Dumbledore at King’s Cross. Perhaps there’s the nature of reality to consider in this subject.

  8. Screwtape says the same thing in letter #1 “thanks to processes which we set at work in them centuries ago, they find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes” Our Enemy has a vested interest in our not noticing.

  9. Perhaps not surprisingly, I think of this question in psychological terms: it is well known that, when someone’s attention is focused elsewhere, we are often quite literally blind to other events, especially the unusual or unexpected.

    See demo:

    Given that most of the Muggles we meet either don’t believe in magic or, like the Dursleys are preoccupied with lawns and drill sales and other materialistic aspects of our world, it is perhaps easier than you might think to help them overlook something.

  10. Mary Ellen says

    Thank you for an excellent observation, Christopher. And things are getting worse. Now with cellphones and smartphones and iPods, no one is paying attention to anything else besides their little electronic worlds.

    I live in beautiful Brookline Massachusetts, right near Boston. Waiting for the trolley I have thrilled to sunsets and moon rises that no one else has seen. I’ve watched as Red Tailed Hawks soared the thermals over crimson-leafed trees. I’ve been saddened by the sight of young couples sitting at outdoor restaurants on a gorgeous day, talking on their phones rather than to each other.

    If we can no longer even see the ‘ordinary’ world around us, what hope have we of seeing magic or God’s grace.

    Of course here I am on the computer again 🙂 Time to go for a walk!

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