Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

The moral and political philosophy of Harry Potter

I'm busy writing a piece for Vogue today, so I leave you with some thoughts about Harry Potter - a piece I wrote as a guest post for Normblog in the summer:

Finishing the seventh and final volume of the Harry Potter series over the weekend, I was struck by the fact that a generation of children has grown up immersed in a morally complex world in which the traditional epic battle between good and evil is clouded by questions. The discussions on the many Harry Potter fan sites bear out this view that J.K. Rowling has exposed her readers to some of the most important and difficult dilemmas of our own age. That these discussions are often awkward and sometimes illiterate does not detract from the real passion and sense of enquiry with which they are entered into.

. . .

In the final volume, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, released on Friday, the Ministry of Magic has fallen to Voldemort's forces and the totalitarian state is emerging. The plan is that the magic world will take over the Muggle world which is to be a vast slave labour camp. Muggles (ourselves) are the lesser breeds - the Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, blacks. Those drawn to Voldemort's cause are obsessed with ideas of racial purity, they pride themselves on being 'pure-blood' (entirely magic) and despise those 'half-bloods', the products of mixed-marriages (though ironically Voldemort himself is a half-blood) or worse, the 'mudbloods', those wizards and witches who are Muggle-born.

In one of the most horrifying sections of the book, Voldemort introduces Nuremberg Laws. Families are investigated for potential half-blood ancestry and the 'mudbloods' are accused of having stolen their magic powers from real magic people. Deprived of their magic wands, the source of their power, they are reduced to pitiful beggars in Diagon Alley, in scenes reminiscent of the Warsaw Ghetto.

But what of the 'good' wizards, those who have heroically fought the takeover? They are not without the taint of evil themselves, for they are slave-owners - of the degraded house-elves who are under an oath of loyalty to the family who owns them, whatever the orders. One scene, towards the end of the book, shows the burial of a house-elf given his freedom, and the simple inscription on his grave: 'Here lies Dobby, a free elf.' In order to defeat evil, dubious alliances must be made: for example, with the goblins, the makers of swords and the guarders of gold, who regard all property as owned by the maker of it, and only 'leased' to others for their own lifetime; at the point of the leaser's death, it must revert to its maker. The wizards' cheating of these rules is, says one character, something on which they should reflect. Many species will not ally with the wizards because of bad relations, old grudges and grievances.

. . .

In America, the Christian right has condemned the Harry Potter books. They regard them as leading their children to Satan. Perhaps they should be more worried that the real danger in these works lies in their sophisticated and empathetic account of the grey areas that exist within both good and evil, and the hard choices we all have to make to find a path through the darkness.
Read the rest

1 comment:

twollin said...

A lot of us on the "not Bush" side of things in the US read the last Harry Potter book with the highly developed sense that J.K. Rowling was sending us a not-so-subtle message. I think the release of "V for Vendetta" held a lot of power for the same reason.
The Christian Right in this country likes their world to be very simple - black and white, I'm right and whatever-you-are is wrong, you agree with me or you are a traitor and so on.
I think a lot of people who have been "asleep" for the past 6 years are starting to wake up to the possibilities - there's been a lot of discussion concerning threats to the Constitution over the past several months and Congress has been responding -- perhaps in a not very effective way at the moment, but they have gotten the message.