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`Real Magick' Casts a Weak Spell

November 15, 2001|LEE MARGULIES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On the eve of the release of the first "Harry Potter" movie, the Discovery Channel takes a stab tonight at explaining the real-life origins of fictional wizardry such as that practiced by Merlin, Oz and Harry.

It's about as effective as an incantation by Harry's bumbling pal Neville Longbottom.

The intention of "Real Magick: The Science of Wizardry" (9 p.m. Discovery) is solid enough: to show that the elements of fictional wizardry--casting spells, taking flight, conjuring visions, transforming into animals--had roots in the practices of shamans in northern Europe before the arrival of Christianity.

These were the tribesmen whose knowledge of the natural world, particularly the healing and hallucinogenic power of plants, gave them the aura of otherworldliness. Their skills were later branded evil by the competing "magicians" of the church.

But the literary connections quickly get lost in a plodding series of dry interviews with historians and archeologists.

Only at the end does anyone address the more interesting question of why wizards and witches have remained a dramatic staple for centuries.

Oh well. What can you expect from a bunch of Muggles?

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