Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010
144

Harry Potter and the Incredibly Conservative Aristocratic Children's Club

The richly imaginative details of J.K. Rowling’s fictive world, it must be admitted, are pleasurable. The hot-rod brooms, the flowing robes and flying cars, the goth Heaven of the sullen Slytherins, the snake language and the magic wands enclosing phoenix feathers or unicorn hairs, the metamorphic potions, the leaping or fizzing sweets! All these have been fully and lovingly realized in the Warner Brothers movie adaptations of the Harry Potter books, including the most recent, which is a fine-looking but completely incoherent mess with a morally bankrupt and politically repugnant story at its core.

No expense has been spared, naturally; Warner Brothers has seen $5.7 billion out of these movies in theatrical revenue, so far. The visual imagination of director David Yates (he has helmed Harry Potter 5 through 8) is kind of pedestrian but there are some lovely set pieces, notably an animated vignette that is just so beautiful and interesting. The movie was bound to be entertaining, a spectacle, provided you don’t look too closely at what’s being said.

The multitude of sins committed in Rowling’s imaginative but horrible story can be roughly divided into three classes: ethical or pedagogical, literary and political.

Some years ago I was driving a carful of kids to some practice or party, and from the crowded back seat I heard one breathlessly ask the others, “When you were little,” (they were maybe twelve at the time), “did you think you were going to get a letter from Hogwarts?”

Giggles arose in the car, some lofty and some sounding a little embarrassed; a couple of the kids admitted that they had in fact fantasized about receiving such an invitation. (When you are chosen to attend Hogwarts, the public school for wizards attended by Harry Potter, an owl shows up with a letter informing you that you are one of the lucky ones.) This concept of “chosenness” has always put me off the Potter books because it seems so harmful for kids, even though I am a lifelong SF/fantasy fan (a genre where this crops up frequently, to be sure).

In the world of Harry Potter, rules are for the little people. The “wisest” adult, headmaster Albus Dumbledore, showers magical gifts and indulgences on his favorites and lets them break every rule because they are so special, better than all others. How come they are so much better? Well, the general awesomeness and favoriteness of Harry Potter and his friends is mostly arbitrary, the result of the chosenness itself, rather than of effort or application. Harry Potter is just naturally fantastic at flying around on a broom and conjuring illuminated stags up out of his soul and things, Hermione Granger is just naturally the most brilliant student Hogwarts has ever seen, and so on. Ron Weasley, the impoverished aristocrat, is a Sancho Panza-like figure whose rough common sense is meant to keep Harry on the straight and narrow; his noble blood is his “chosen” quality, and marks him, too, as an unimpeachable Establishment figure.

Which brings us to the disconnect between reality and appearances regarding the nonconformity that Rowling so hamfistedly praises at every turn. Harry Potter and his friends, far from being renegades, are in fact slavishly obedient to the all-powerful, omniscient, do-no-wrong Dumbledore. And why not, when he provides them in advance with every rare and fabulous magical gewgaw and hint they will ever need in order to extricate themselves from whatever peril they may find themselves in.

Rowling’s adherence to the old English principle of blood-nobility—that weird but deeply held superstition that has caused countless English protagonists to discover that unbeknownst to them, they were peers of the realm all along—is in stark contrast to the biggest conflict depicted in the Potter stories, the blood purity conflict. The bad guys, Voldemort and crew, are race purists, anti-Muggle (meaning anti-human), which is to say that they are against any magical Muggles or intermingling of Muggle blood (“Mudblood”) and wizard blood. Yet Rowling’s heroes are all noblemen, with the exception of one: Harry Potter learns in the old-fashioned surprise way that his father was a fabulously rich wizard, and his godfather is a rich aristocrat, too; Ron Weasley is a nobleman of the purest blood, though poor. The sole pure-Muggle wizard of any consequence at all in these books is Hermione, the author’s personal projection of herself (there are two other minor pure-Muggle wizards, boys, both of whom are bumped off). So this story can be read pretty effectively as an explanation of why J.K. Rowling should be allowed to hang around with the nobility (she is smart, is why).

Maybe, incidentally, the reason no other woman as smart as Hermione appears in the books is that J.K. Rowling, like the Turk, can bear no sister near the throne. Her volcanic ego burns down everything in its path. Where the Twilight books are works produced from and for a state of sexual yearning and frustration, Rowling’s “wizarding world” is a fantasy place created for the benefit of Hermione Granger, for her infinite sagacity, foresightedness and teacher’s-pet-hood to be rewarded at every turn.

In any case it is a horrible thing to be teaching children, that you have to be “chosen”; that the highest places in this world are gained by celestial fiat, rather than by working out how to get there yourself and then busting tail until you succeed. If the “special” and “chosen” and “gifted” automatically receive all the honors there are, then what would be the point of working hard to achieve anything? So it is really terrible to hear these twelve-year-old kids so smitten with the idea that fulfillment would literally fly to them out of the sky, via owl.

Rowling is a self-avowed liberal who gave a million pounds to the Labour Party in 2008, but her values are Tory through and through. In her books it is the hoary old white guys who run everything; women are popped in here and there for liberal flavor. The tokenism is unbelievable.

Rowling named her first child after Jessica Mitford, the lefty Mitford sister (as opposed to the Nazi-sympathizing ones). Rowling often says she read Mitford’s Hons and Rebels at age fourteen, and that it affected her profoundly; this book in fact provides a perfect illustration of Rowling’s political disconnect, because Jessica Mitford was the daughter of the second Baron Redesdale, a “terrific Hon," as the Mitfords would have said. She was a super-blue-blood with rebelliously liberal views. It’s exactly this privileged, elitist compassion-from-on-high that Rowling admires and has consistently depicted in the Potter books. But the liberal values, the openmindedness, the diversity, are all fake.

I am no fan of Ann Althouse, but I had to admit to a shudder of recognition when I read her criticism of liberals last week:

What is liberal about this attitude toward other people? You wallow in self-love, and what is it you love yourself for? For wanting to shower benefits on people… that you have nothing but contempt for.

This may not be such a very good description of liberals in general but it is an excellent description of J.K. Rowling. In the “touching” climactic scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the house-elf Dobby has been “liberated” by, and now sacrifices himself to save, Harry Potter & co. The house-elves as depicted in the movies are horrifyingly pathetic, small, cringing, grateful; the sad, brave little creature Dobby literally expires with the name of Harry Potter on his lips. It’s like freedom is the gift of the chosen ones to bestow, and those thus benefited can die of gratitude and be “properly buried," which really, there is this long burial scene complete with Harry Potter and shovel. It’s a perfect illustration of the “liberal condescension” that conservatives are always yodeling about, and it made my hair stand on end.

So don’t think about that! Think instead of the strapping young buck Rupert Grint, a fine young actor who manages to rise above the tawdry, maudlin script, or even more, of Helena Bonham-Carter as the queen of the goths, Bellatrix Lestrange, whose gorgeous performance had me totally rooting for the bad guys, as usual. She’s always got a magic wand or a knife at someone’s throat, that girl. Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, too, is as seductive as ever. Just to hear his voice for me is easily worth the price of a movie ticket; really he could read the phone book aloud, for all I care.

The most conservative element of Harry Potter’s world is that it is a materialist paradise, full of costly and rare magical artifacts, invisibility cloaks and piles of “wizard gold” at Gringott’s Bank. Things, that you can make toys out of, things that you can worship and desire and buy. There’s nothing in this story of alleged iconoclasts and rebels that would present the slightest challenge to the establishment. That’s why the story dovetails so easily into a series of Hollywood blockbusters.

The Rowling story of the Single Welfare Mom Who Made Good is not exactly accurate, either; her background is solidly middle class, her dad was a Rolls-Royce engineer, she read French and classics at Exeter, and the father of her first child (whom she divorced, rather than the other way around) was a Portuguese TV personality.

So this good liberal’s face is absolutely the face of the corpocracy. The number of lawsuits brought all over the world by Rowling and Warner Brothers against practically anybody who would dare to slap the Potter moniker on so much as a work of fanfic would curl your hair. Well, finally she allowed this one guy to write a fanfic novel, after having threatened to sue, perhaps because she knew she wouldn’t have won. If it were up to J.K. Rowling, I think Jean Rhys would have been thrown in jail for daring to write Wide Sargasso Sea. Which is fanfic, too, come to that.

In the best-known and most terrible of these lawsuits, the proud liberal Rowling saw fit to sue a fan who’d devoted years of his life to making an online encyclopedia about her books. I don’t believe I’ll ever cry again over the plight of an alleged copyright violator but you never know, I guess. Steve Vander Ark wept openly himself when he testified at the trial, and even though Rowling personally sued him, he later wrote on the blog part of the Harry Potter Lexicon—just like a house-elf!—that he was “still Jo’s man, through and through.” It just breaks your heart, the integrity and gentleness of this man, the love he bears these wretched books, the way he was so wrongly disgraced. A shorter version of Vander Ark’s book finally did see the light of day, in 2009.

On the literary side, suffice it to say that Rowling is ferociously dull and long-winded, that there is no suspense, that she kills people off (nobody Chosen, though) simply in order to show how serious things have become; magical artifacts are produced, used once for the specific purpose for which they were invented and then never seen again; the bad guys, whose actual aims are hopelessly opaque, have got the immemorial bad-guy cluelessness regarding the element of surprise, they let one opportunity after another to bump off our heroes slip past them, etc. Christopher Hitchens’s 2007 review in the New York Times is generous, but pretty searing, too. ("The repeated tactic of deus ex machina (without a deus) has a deplorable effect on both the plot and the dialogue. The need for Rowling to play catch-up with her many convolutions infects her characters as well.")

Anybody should write whatever he or she pleases, of course, and there’s no doubt that Rowling did something right in creating her fictional world of Quidditch and faux-Latin magical incantations, if only because so many people love it so dearly. But if you have a young Harry Potter fan in your orbit, you might steer him or her toward Philip Pullman, whose Dark Materials trilogy is genuine in every way that Harry Potter is false; a fully realized work of fantasy to rival Tolkien in its wisdom, inventiveness and questioning. Because Pullman’s novels really do threaten the establishment view of religion and institutionalized coercion, because they are really subversive in the manner in which Harry Potter pretends to be, the Hollywood establishment chickened out completely and made a perfect hash of the first Pullman movie. Tom Stoppard, who’d adapted the original screenplay, was dumped by director Chris Weitz (of American Pie fame), who preferred to write his own. Hollywood is, unfortunately, an absolute tool of the corpocracy, and will never be equal to any story that presents a legitimate threat to conventionality or to materialist values.



Maria Bustillos is the author of Dorkismo: The Macho of the Dork and Act Like a Gentleman, Think Like a Woman.

144 Comments / Post A Comment

metoometoo (#230)

Lots of good points here, but in fairness, Hermione does work very hard to be so smart – she's always studying in the library, and she's intellectually curious. And she's meant to be annoying and kind of ugly in the first few books.

metoometoo (#230)

Come to think of it, having read all of the discussion in the comments, I'm surprised that you, Maria, don't personally relate to Hermione, since you also have a tendency to intellectualize things in an interesting but annoying to the point of infuriating kind of way.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Guilty as charged! She's my shadow figure, maybe.

Moff (#28)

I never seem to hear kids raving about the Pullman books. Just grown-ups raving about how kids will, ostensibly, rave about them.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Is there Awl-love for Cornelia Funke, I wonder. (I DON'T MEAN MAEBY!)

Moff (#28)

Shirley?

Bittersweet (#765)

@Moff: YES. And even this fantasy-loving grown-up has to admit that the third book in His Dark Materials is a right mess. My husband read it aloud to me (I know, I know, but I was in the hospital recovering from a c-section) and we kept stopping and looking at each other incredulously.

joshc (#442)

yeah. And I have to think that some of that is an odd sort of projection from adults who think that they would have really benefitted from reading the books as kids? I mean, the first one is really good, but things get pretty odd by the last volume.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

I adored The Golden Compass as a kid. Just flat-out adored it. I was pretty iffy on the second book, and by the time the third was published, I was probably too old to have a proper 'kid opinion.'

Vulpes (#946)

I read His Dark Materials for an Adolescent Literature class I took in college, and judging by the raves I heard from my prof (who I adored, BTW) and the reviews and such, I thought I was the only one in the world who thought it was a bunch of pretentious shite. It's totally designed to appeal to adult Milton-lovers, not kids.

erikonymous (#3,231)

can we all agree that HDM is fairly petulant and not at all deep in its assessment of religion? and while it's maybe interesting because so few young adult books are so reachingly anti-establishment, that maybe it comes off as little more than a teenager wearing an inverted cross to try to freak out "the squares" at the mall? and that also the third book was a total mess, and more than a little condescending?

Moff (#28)

Yeah, I read them maybe seven years ago — and I am a reasonably forgiving reader — and I just remember that they have some beautiful moments and ideas, but they don't quite resonate. Readability, like jamiealyse says below.

I remember reading in Vanity Fair (I think?) that Pullman basically wrote them because he was angry with the Christian stuff in the Narnia books. Which, fair enough, although people who complain about Susan dying are sorta missing the point. But I wonder if that sort of activist motivation — the teenage-mall anger erikonymous mentions — doesn't sort of hamstring the quality of the storytelling.

erikonymous (#3,231)

to be fair, I think that the Narnia books suck for mostly the same reason: THE MESSAGE is way too shrill.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

I read the Narnia books as a kid, and my main takeaway was: Eustace is a ridiculous name.

Bittersweet (#765)

Argh, Susan doesn't die in the Narnia books! She's "no longer a friend of Narnia" but nowhere in the text does it say she was involved in the train accident and is now somehow in The Abyss (or Hell, or whatever).

Pullman can crap out all the anti-Lewis rhetoric he wants, but he can't blame Lewis for something that doesn't happen.

@erik: I get how to an adult the Narnia message is shrill, but to an 8-year-old it's just magical. And there's no condescension to the child reader, either.

/pro-C.S. adulation

erikonymous (#3,231)

true, I am looking at Narnia with my adult eyes in. that being said, I didn't enjoy the books (think I got through 3 of them?) as a kid, mostly because they were kinda dull and weren't totally badass like LOTR.

Moff (#28)

@erikonymous: WHICH ORDER DID YOU READ THEM IN? Chronologically or the correct way? Because that is crucial.

libmas (#231)

Moff – I get the cruciality in some respects, but I was young and foolish and read them to my kids chronologically, and they still came under the spell. It's funny – I know what people mean about the explicit Christianity in Narnia, but I've never read it as The Message. The books are less a Story With A Point than a portrait of the Christian life, rendered by someone who finds that life really and truly lovely. At least, that was my impression. There are any number of days when I find myself repeating Puddleglum's "One Word" speech from The Silver Chair.

Moff (#28)

@Bittersweet: She doesn't die. But I mean, she does.

spostaby (#1,081)

I raved about The Amber Spyglass when I was 10ish. I didn't even love the other two, just liked them the way I liked most things I read, but The Amber Spyglass changed the way I thought about religion. And books, and life. Now I'm kind of scared to reread it, because what if it was actually not good?

milo.g.anderson (#8,717)

I actually read the whole trilogy at the right age and adored it. Though it had its cringe moments (the first sex scene comes out of nowhere). Narnia gave me pedobear vibes, even at that age, and Tolkien was just soooo boring (how long have they been walking?). HDM made me question what I had taken for granted, but more that it was the first time I had read anything so subversive in an actual book (with all that book-credibility). Of course, that's what makes it good YA literature, you have to read it at the right age. Now it certainly wouldn't be enjoyable for me, much less mind-opening. HP was never mind-opening or inspiring, just fast-paced. I am one of the few I know who quit the series because I found myself asking, do I care anymore?

Bittersweet (#765)

@Moff: I know what you mean about Susan, and I know a lot has been written about Lewis' misogyny based on his treatment of this character, but it always seems over the top to me. Susan isn't lost because she likes parties and nylons, she's lost because she's denied an essential part of herself, who she is, and what's important. And there always seemed to me the chance for her to reclaim it.

@libmas: well said. There are so many wonderful lines and speeches in the books, and Puddleglum's always stands out to me too.

@milo: I'm afraid to even ask what a pedobear is…

Kyle M Graffam (#8,734)

I was a kid when I read The Golden Compass and I was enraptured. It is one of the greatest fantasy novels I have ever read, though I wouldn't read it now. I flipped through some pages recently and it did not have the same effect it did so many years ago.

Moff (#28)

@libmas: Yeah, it's really not that crucial, but just as a reader of F&SF series — as a reader of stories in general — I was really struck at an early age by the power of telling a story in nonchronological fashion. To have the Pevensies suddenly show up in The Horse and His Boy was just…wow. And then to get all the backstory on the Witch in The Magician's Nephew, just before everything comes to a close in The Last Battle, always felt very right to me. The chronological reorganization in the '90s seemed so pedantic. (I have also always been eternally grateful that I accidentally read Silver on the Tree before the other Dark Is Rising books, and still maintain that the proper order in which to read Sandman is: Book 2, Book 4, part of Book 7, and then 1, 2, 3, up to 10.)

@Bittersweet: That's it exactly. And for Lewis to say, "Well, she lost that essential part, but nuts — let's give her a pass!" would run contrary to what the books are about. By all means, people can disagree with the particularities of Lewis's Christian faith, but the point is: When there isn't something magical about how you get into Narnia, it's not Narnia anymore. (The other point is: It's supposed to disturb you that she doesn't get in.)

metoometoo (#230)

I so agree about the power of non-chronological storytelling.

And to interpret Lewis's treatment of Susan as misogynistic seems to have weird implications about how you conceptualize femininity, to me.

I liked them as a kid.

benedante (#8,995)

How is His Dark Materials anti-establishment? I think it is the most aristocratic book I ever read. Not only are there aristocrats and servants, but you can tell people's class just by looking at their animalian soul partners: servants have dogs, cool people have golden monkeys or snow leopards.

Yes, it is anti-religious, but only by making all religion out to be a conspiracy of totalitarian soul-stealers. Who isn't opposed to that?

But, you know, most fantasy literature is intended to invoke in some way the medieval or ancient past, and since that past was divided into aristocrats and peasants, class divisions are hard to avoid.

deepomega (#1,720)

Was just discussing yesterday how there's a moral equivalence between the HP-verse and the Star Wars universe. There are good guys and bad guys and you can tell who is who by what color clothes they wear and whether they have any tattoos.

Kataphraktos (#226)

Notice, however, that the 12-year-olds acknowledge their earlier fantasies as just that – infantile fantasies. Sounds to me that they had done quite a bit of maturing by the time you overheard this exchange. In this case, at least, any damage done by the Potter books has been reversed by some combination of parents and school.

Moff (#28)

If parents and school can't drive any sense of specialness out of you, who can?

deepomega (#1,720)

Gerald Ford can.

BadUncle (#153)

Whip Inflation Now, muggles.

LolCait (#460)

I for one would love to read a children's book in which no one is special and nothing unfair happens to anyone. Sounds thrilling!

Moff (#28)
LolCait (#460)

Funny how that works.

jaimealyse (#647)

I read Ayn Rand when I was thirteen and that's why I'm not a Communist. Not that I'm an Ayn Randist or whatever, but it just got a different point of view in my head there that I had to consider, just the teeniest pull to the, I suppose, right.

But yes I agree. I think.

Also you can only have sex in trains.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@Moff hey, I am not telling anyone not to read, love, etc. these things. Go ahead! I'm practically the only one who doesn't, I know.

Moff (#28)

@barnhouse: Dude, that's a pretty fine line you're balancing on. While, sure, you are not explicitly saying, "DO NOT LOVE THESE BOOKS," you are presenting an argument as to why people should not love these books.

Which is not to say I think you're way off. I mean, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Jesus — there is a story here that, beyond just the general-purpose Joseph Campbell sense, resonates deeply with Western (deist, capitalist) culture. But it's just also like, Oh, God. Really? The fun story about the boy who lets himself get killed to stop the Nazis — that's bad now, too?

barnhouse (#1,326)

@Moff Certainly not even a fine line! A fine thick plank. If we don't have passionate disagreements about this stuff, what is the point? The thing is, I'm not saying "people should not love these books", I'm saying, I do not like them, for the following reasons.

This is just the kind of talk I love best, where there are good and compelling reasons to disagree with each other. Jeeps, I think everybody should read these books. They bring out such strong feelings in people.

Apropos of which–your last paragraph, YES, that is a great observation. I think it's exactly when these paradoxes arise that you can get the insight.

Moff (#28)

@barnhouse: Well, I believe you. From a practical standpoint, I'm just not sure there's a vivid delineation between an explanation of why you don't like them and an explanation of why other people shouldn't. That said, a wishy-washy discourse on how, well, these are some potentially "bad" things about Harry Potter and these are some "good" things would not serve to inspire any interesting discussion. That is the trouble with writing: The best way to root out other points of view is to have one.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@Moff That is the great thing about the open comments here, is that you can hash things out after. I hope I can write stuff (or learn to) in a way that invites people to explain the other side and change my mind. I really do want to know better.

After thinking about this a bit more … if I really thought it was harmful in some way for people to like this or that book, I would try to explain exactly what harm could come to you. It's hard to think of a book that you could like, for your own purposes, that could harm you, though.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Atlas Shrugged can be pretty harmful. I mean, imagine getting smacked in the face with that thing! Fewer pages next time, Loquacity McTalkypants!

jaimealyse (#647)

The one thing Harry Potter has over His Dark Materials, though, is *readability*. I found Pullman's writing to be sometimes confusingly obtuse – he gave me that reader's frustration of not being able to see what's happening clearly. Rowling's books, at least, are a joy to read. They are engaging and I cared about the characters.

Also, it's not like Rowling invented the idea of the chosen-one hero. (Pullman's children are, if I remember correctly, also conveniently talented. And chosen! Don't they need to [SPOILER] go into the woods to fuck to save the world?) I don't disagree with your reading of the books' politics, but I also don't think it's necessarily bad.

(I'd rather push L'Engle than Pullman on any impressionable youths, though, any day.)

Mar (#2,357)

"Joy to read"?

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

I have been sitting here performing a thought experiment as to how the HP universe could have been designed in a more politically acceptable way. If wizarding abilities were something anyone could possess through hard work? That seems like a weird and dishonest reflection of the real world – after all, lots of legacies make it in. So OK, maybe if the heroes were all Muggles? That would make it a lot harder to create the kind of epic resonance that people like about the series, though. Like you say, this problem is inherent to fantasy/SF/children's lit, since the concept of the "chosen one" makes it a lot easier to focus on a main character. But maybe! I guess it seems to me that one of the uncomfortable truths about art is that it's often not morally correct and the devices and themes that resonate with us don't necessarily line up with our politics, and that difference may lead us to consider the other side a bit more. Or not, but still.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

I admire this rational reflection on the ethics of wizarding abilities.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Edit function! You betray me.

I'm serious about admiring this mini-post of a comment — replace wizarding abilities with artistic genius, financial acumen, personal charisma, and it becomes clear this problem isn't confined to kidlit/SF/etc. It's the whole anti-democratic nightmare we're living through. In AWL CAPS

barnhouse (#1,326)

I guess I personally ID/admire more when there are many possible paths to fulfillment. What freaks me out about the HP kind of story, pedagogy-wise, is that some kids will think oh, I'm not talented, so I shouldn't even try. Very common, and drives me crazy.

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

That's interesting – reading / watching the series as an adult, I never IDed as one of the main three, but as like a minor wizard living in the provinces somewhere, reading about Potter's exploits. This is weird! But yeah, I like it more as a story about celebrity that doesn't exclude the other parts of the world – I like that Harry isn't famous in the Muggle world and so we get to see more ordinary parts of that, and I like that the series seems so open and airy. A lot of fantasy series feel very closed-off and suffocating, which is why I never liked Lord of the Rings – it feels like the only important thing going on in the world is the story being told in the book. In HP, though, those weird summer breaks perform the task of reminding us that crises aren't constant, they're slow-building. Even heroes hate their siblings.

MrTeacup (#4,677)

I have slightly different interpretation, that Rowling's world represents a conflict between traditional aristocratic privilege assigned via birth (born to the right family) vs. capitalist meritocratic privilege assigned via… birth (winning the genetic lottery). What we can read in Harry Potter is that meritocracy is an affirmation of a hierarchical class system, it only means that you want it to be organized scientifically according to who has talent, perseverance, etc. The central political conflict of the series is the split in the wizarding community over whether the small percentage of muggles who demonstrate magical talent should be allowed to enter the ranks of the elites. That the anti-muggle side is represented as cruel, callous and immoral while the pro-muggle side is benevolent and wise only serves to legitimize their rule. Another disturbing aspect is how the benevolent rulers systematically conceal their existence, almost as if they are trying to avoid popular resentment from forming and threatening their rule. This is confirmed by the fact that, in the books, the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy that hide the wizarding world from the muggles was enacted in circumstances essentially similar to the French Revolution. Therefore it's possible to read the narrative as a kind of conservative alternate history where the aristocracy reacted to the rise of democracy by making themselves invisible and continuing to rule in secret, and this is called capitalism. The cynicism here is quite breathtaking: the elites publicly pretend to live in an egalitarian, democratic society, but they control everything behind the scenes. It's tempting to write the other side of the story: the muggles know of the existence of the magical elite, but they pretend not to know because they believe they will be chosen to join them.

We can look at this through the lens of Hegel's master-slave dialectic: the master is dependent on the slave for recognition, and lords it over him, building impressive castles and so on, because he needs an Other to confirm that he really is a master. Rowling's insight is that this is ultimately what undoes the elite class, because it generates popular resentment who then revolt. So the idea is that the good wizards are somehow free of this dialectic, they have high self-esteem, don't need recognition and don't need to dominate and rule the muggles.

For kids and adults who read the books, the political implications are that they are solicited to endorse the hierarchical status quo. As a reader, it neutralizes your alienation from the system to reinforce the system, by flattering you and reframing your alienation so it's not an effect of domination, instead its your specialness gone unrecognized. The flaw in the system is that it doesn't see that your rightful place is among the elites, so rather than finding solidarity with other alienated individuals and overthrowing the system, you end up in favor of the existence of the hierarchy in general, only taking issue with the fact that you and your unique gifts are unfairly excluded from it. But this part is what makes Rowling's solution to the master-slave dialectic false. The reader who identifies with Harry Potter desperately craves recognition of his or her specialness from the Other, symbolized by the owl arriving with a message from Hogwart's that he/she has been chosen. The other side of this coin, of recognition of one's superiority, is the essence of the fascist Voldemortian wizard supremacist ideology.

Rowling's solution is that the elites can demonstrate their superiority through high-minded benevolence towards the lower classes instead of dominating them, a kind of noblesse oblige, as in Dumbledore's belief that love is the most powerful form of magic, which Voldemort was unable to see. But historically this sort of thing has turned out to be false ideological screen that only legitimizes domination, so someone should rewrite the story to show that Voldemort and Dumbledore are secretly working together to dominate the muggle world.

barnhouse (#1,326)

WOW that is positively dazzling and CORRECT.

p.s. If you were to rewrite the story along the lines indicated I would BUY it instantly (do not think you could be sued either lol.)

barnhouse (#1,326)

p.p.s. the only thing I would really quarrel over is the idea that the gifts of "meritocratic privilege" are owed to the genetic lottery. Where does free will fit into this system?

I reread your note twice right when I got to my desk I love it so much.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

WOW seconded (and thumbs-up clicked).

heroofthebeach (#2,280)

Speaking as someone who, full disclosure, hasn't read any Harry Potter or even seen any of the movies*, it seems that a more equitable approach would have been to let the main characters keep their establishment blessings, but place them in a scenario where they eventually find themselves trying to change the establishment from the outside, where all of their gifts do them no good. It lets you keep the setting and world building while acknowledging the injustice of such a world, although at the price of turning the story away from fantasy and into political fiction. On the other hand, this is my advice for EVERYTHING.

*So what the hell am I even doing here, right? Go away, Hero of the Beach!

SeanP (#4,058)

@MikeBarthel: If wizarding abilities were something anyone could possess through hard work? That seems like a weird and dishonest reflection of the real world – after all, lots of legacies make it in.

Thank you. Although in a lot of ways I'm sympathetic with the reviewer, in the end… yeah, hard work by itself hardly ever gets you anywhere. In reality, like the world of HP, you need to be "chosen" – if nothing else, you need to be born into a middle/upper class family with reasonably attentive parents. At the very least you'll be significantly handicapped if you don't have at least this. And to really get to the upper reaches of society, you pretty much need more than that – you'll need good connections among the cultural elite.

Is this the way things ought to be? No, but it's the way things are. I can't really fault Rowling for reflecting this in her novels.

Moff (#28)

"Therefore it's possible to read the narrative as a kind of conservative alternate history…"

Wow, that phrase is doing A LOT of heavy lifting. I mean, it's also possible to see Star Wars as the story of a group of malcontent guerrillas willing to murder thousands of government-contracted workers and disrupt an entire galactic economy simply for the opportunity to impose their own imperfect authority on a majority population of billions that was more or less OK with the status quo (and to reinstate the members of an elite religious order as a paramilitary arm of the state!). Or to see The Lord of the Rings as the tale of a coalition of national governments forming to prevent a singular artist from retaining control of a unique piece of intellectual property of his own creation (and conscripting a couple of uneducated minority workers to do the actual dirty work!). All you have to do is ignore a shitload of context and subject works of fiction to the same standards as actual historical accounts!

barnhouse (#1,326)

@Moff you know, you've shot yourself in the foot there a bit, because those are interesting alternate readings! (Except that we don't really know what the majority population of the galaxy really thought of the Empire, or the Jedi, for that matter? Or even that there was a consensus view.)

Moff (#28)

@barnhouse: Well, no, I haven't. Because as interesting as they are, they are not honest or accurate. To say that either definition represents a valid reading of the stories is to veer pretty close to detaching any concept of meaning from them. Because essentially it just means that you can ignore whole elements, cherry-pick others, and say, "Here's a valid way to look at this!"

Again, I'm not saying that Harry Potter isn't a product of our particular culture, or that it doesn't resonate with a particular cultural mind-set. If it didn't, it would hardly have garnered enough attention for us to be talking about it! But that's not the same as saying, "Oh, it also implies all these other things." Because in real life, yes, one could very likely make a case that Dumbledore was dominating the Muggle world in an insidiously subtle way. But Dumbledore is not a real person. He is a metaphor. And the fact that he is a metaphor for a certain type of real-life authority figure does not mean that all other qualities historically observed in such authority figures actually obtain in him. It just means that he's essentially a one-dimensional construct (as nearly all fictional characters are) meant to convey a necessarily limited set of ideas. To say that the presence of that set of ideas must necessarily signal the hidden presence of a bunch of other ideas to me misses the point of stories, which is partly to mimic the real world in service of focusing on one or a few key themes.

(Well, I think we can infer that most of the galactic population isn't part of the Rebellion, even pre-Alderaan, and isn't worked up enough to support them, because otherwise, why do they have to hide on Yavin? But you're right, we don't know for sure.)

Moff (#28)

(None of which is to say that the stories don't imply some things — uncomfortable or unpleasant things, even — about our culture. They must! Because there are uncomfortable and unpleasant aspects of our culture, and the stories do a pretty authentic job of reconstructing a slice of that culture.)

barnhouse (#1,326)

@Moff: If we were in the same vicinity and supplied with a decent bottle of wine, maybe I would try to inveigle you into a poststructuralist discussion. But as matters stand, I'll just say that I disagree profoundly with the idea that "nearly all" fictional characters are "one-dimensional constructs." Even second-rate characters in fiction have to evoke enough complex human characteristics to compel the reader's trust.

Anyhoo, the point I've been trying to make is far simpler: there is a lack of internal consistency in the Potter books. I'm not bringing any outside attributes from "authority figures" in at all. I'm saying, the assumptions the books themselves ask us to make about Dumbledore, Voldemort, the Ministry of Magic, et al., are conflicting. The idea of "thinking for yourself" goes counter to the general infallibility of Dumbledore, from whom Harry Potter takes 100% of his cues, for example. That inconsistency creates ethical problems that I've tried to illustrate above. The "free" house-elves are nothing of the kind; they just exchange cruel masters for kind ones. And so on.

More below in response to you and @MrTeacup. Whew!

metoometoo (#230)

Moff, I am now obsessed with you and am unsuccessfully internet stalking you to try to find if you have a blog.

metoometoo (#230)

Or else if you have written something that I can pay money for, seriously, please.

Uff-Dah (#8,822)

I registered so that I could like your comment, Moff.

MrTeacup (#4,677)

I think that's a perfectly good reading of Star Wars, and bears a passing resemblance to what Zizek says about the series in Parallax View. But all you have done is imagined the story told from the perspective of the bad guys, and the crucial question is what ethical or political assumptions are necessary for us to identify with either side. Rowling makes it extremely obvious that the Dark Arts are a metaphor for fascism, to the point of having a blonde-haired, blue-eyed wizard educated at the germanic Durmstrang Institute go on a killing rampage through Europe until he is defeated by Dumbledore in 1945. For Rowling, the possibility of "dark arts" is inherent to the practice of magic, in a parallel to the possibility of fascist domination inherent in a hierarchical class system. She starts from the premise that hierarchy is inevitable and desirable – everyone wants their specialness to be recognized, after all – and asks the question, how can we prevent this from devolving into outright domination and enslavement? Her solution is neoliberal capitalist: in society, privilege should be meritocratic, not inherited and the existence of a hierarchy should be suppressed while remaining an open secret. Beyond that, we should rely on the personal ethic of "love, the most powerful form of magic" to ensure that the resulting invisible, unaccountable elite rule is benevolent. But notice how this supposed benevolence is absent when Harry faces muggles like the Dursleys who do not respect his superiority. Here, Rowling solicits our contempt, and the difference between Harry and Voldemort is minimal: Voldemort hates muggles in general, Harry only hates them when they forget their proper place in the hierarchy.

The possibility of radical egalitarian politics where hierarchy is not desirable is non-existent in her world – it's as if we can imagine all sorts of amazing magical powers and fantasy creatures, but a more egalitarian society? No, sorry, that's just too unrealistic.

Moff (#28)

No, she starts from the premise that hierarchy is what we have, and that most of us do want our specialness to be recognized. Now, it's perfectly reasonable to say "Why all these hierarchies?" and "Why do we care so much about being recognized as special?" And it's perfectly reasonable to prefer art that asks those questions. But it's absurd to criticize a work that deals with another question — "Given that all these hierarchies exist in our culture, what are the ways that they go really, truly wrong, and how can we avoid them?" — for not grappling with the whole problem (as you see it).

And Harry's problem with the Dursley's is not that they don't respect his superiority — it's that they don't respect his humanity. If you could point to some other Muggles whom Harry "hates" (of course, he actually ultimately makes peace with the Dursleys, doing his best to protect them from Dark magic) who don't keep him locked in his room, make snide comments about his dead parents, and publicly refer to him as subnormal in intelligence, that would strengthen your case. Or give you a case to begin with.

I mean, the possibility of radical egalitarian politics where hierarchy is not desirable is, at this point, as good as nonexistent in this world. You're blaming her books for doing what art is supposed to do — show us the world as it is — rather than what it's vehemently not — didactically propagandize in favor of a certain worldview.

(And it's not a good reading of Star Wars, no matter what Zizek — or Kevin Smith — says, because, yes, all have done is imagine the story told from the perspective of the bad guys. I have in fact imagined an entirely different story, and stretched the information provided by the original story beyond its breaking point to do so.)

Moff (#28)

@barnhouse: I don't know. Harry explicitly doesn't take a number of cues from Dumbledore, withholding information from him, getting angry at him, and still managing to stumble through. Dumbledore is out of the action for large swaths of the fifth, sixth, and seventh books, and if Harry adheres to his general philosophy in his absence — well, what? So do McGonagall, the Weasleys, Lupin, Hagrid, and not because they idolize Dumbledore but simply because it's hard to argue with the morality of it.

The house elves are pretty tough to discuss, because I don't know how good a real-life analogue there is for them. They're magical creatures who prefer to work for other people; that is explicitly stated. It's also explicitly stated that nobody is forcing them to stay at Hogwarts. As for Dobby, if he decides to keep hanging around after Harry frees him, well, it seems to be in keeping with his totally annoying character.

Re: one-dimensionality — characters do have to have enough human characteristics, but most of them, especially in genre or YA fiction, occupy a certain valence, beyond which their influence does not extend.

MrTeacup (#4,677)

Rowling isn't neutral on hierarchy, in her world, it's inevitable and desirable. The existence of a parallel wizard world above the conventional one in which one's gifts are recognized and encouraged is absolutely crucial to the series' appeal.

The Dursleys' treatment of Harry is explicitly derived from their shame over having magical blood in their family, in a parallel to the wizard prejudice against muggle blood in their family line. But this is a false equivalence, because wizards are the elite class. The lesson is that antagonism between groups is bad no matter who does it, which is false. Antagonism by the upper class toward the lower maintains the former's dominance. Lower class antagonism is emancipatory class struggle.

I think it's a bit weird to say that a work of not only fiction, but fantasy fiction cannot do anything but hold up a mirror to society, especially when even the author comments on it as a moral and political allegory.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Shoot! I have to go but just wanted to observe that @Moff is trying to understand this thing from the inside, and @MrTeacup from the outside, and really maybe never the twain shall meet.

The first feeling of yikes! I had while reading these books was owing to the cruelty of Harry to Dudley. It wasn't Dudley's fault that his parents were this way. Also, who put a gun to Madame Dursley's head and told her to take her nephew in? You'll recall that what La Dursley really hated about her sister was her "specialness". I mean, @MrTeacup's point in spades!!

Moff (#28)

@Teacup: Except, of course, that the wizarding world is laid out, in fact, as parallel to the Muggle world, and not superior to it. I mean, does it sound more fun than the real world? Yes! (Sometimes — for all its moving staircases and talking paintings, one gets a clear sense that classes at Hogwarts are generally as humdrum as real-life school.) But is there any actual indication that the wizards besides Voldemort and crew regularly interfere with or try to influence Muggle life? Or that they see themselves as better and more deserving of Muggles, or Mugglehood as something to be ashamed of? No, in fact, there is explicit evidence that they don't.

Your whole argument hinges on this idea that the good wizards are an elite class who quietly consider themselves superior to Muggles, but to buy into that, you have to ignore not just the repeated instances in which they say otherwise and act otherwise (getting themselves hurt or killed to prove it), but the complete lack of evidence for any sort of elitist activity or attitude on the part of the wizards. I understand that the story rests on the fact of Harry's being special, but special is not the same as elite. And in fact the whole point of the story is that no matter what kind of special you are, there are higher ideals you should aspire to adhere to. (In fact, even if you are an oppressed underclass, you do not lock a child in a cupboard under the stairs, or mock his dead parents.)

And obviously, works of fiction can serve as moral and political allegory. I never said that they couldn't. I said the Harry Potter books are meant to closely correlate to our world, and that as such, blaming J.K. Rowling for not acknowledging the possibility of a radical egalitarian politics is silly, because most of us don't acknowledge that possibility right now either.

@barnhouse: I know what you mean about Harry's cruelty, but (1) that is how a boy in Harry's position would realistically act, and (2) the point is that Harry learns to stop doing it. Not sure how Petunia Dursley's long-held low self-esteem (which is what it is — she resents her sister for something neither she nor Lily can control) validates the idea that she's somehow oppressed.

barnhouse (#1,326)

MrTeacup is right about this: in these books there's a tacit acceptance of "how things are"–plus a judgment regarding "how they should be" that fails to consider for a moment (for example) how the Order of the Phoenix might make a lasting peace with the Death Eaters, or how an open, diplomatic way might be found for wizards to live openly with Muggles (is there even an exchange rate for wizard gold and Muggle money? lol think of the tourism) I also found it profoundly unsatisfying that there was no credible explanation of Petunia's cruelty to Harry; the Dursleys were just piled up with uglinesses of every kind, "inviting us to contempt" as MrTeacup says, when somehow she was gracious and sisterly enough to take Harry in in the first place. I should very much have liked to know about that. The relationship between Petunia and Lily was never explained, either, except that Petunia was really, really jealous of special, beautiful, talented Lily. So it didn't quite figure, to this reader at least, that she would agree to protect Harry. "She's jealous but it's her sister" is enough for Rowling, though, which illustrates again her conformity to the hierarchical political structure (what I mean by "Tory values".)

I brought up His Dark Materials exactly because it does consider and explore in depth the possibility of a radical egalitarian politics. As for the flatness of Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix, their infallibility etc., yes a sop is thrown here and there to the idea that even the wisest may err at times. But compare Dumbledore to Lord Asriel, or to the Master of Jordan College. The latter are a thousand times richer because they have credibly human dimensions and flaws; they're dangerous in a way that none of the "good" adults in the HP books could ever be. Rowling doesn't have the intellectual capacity to create a character of that complexity, though she began to move in that direction with the character of Sirius Black (and then totally blew it.) Which brings me to the lit-theory aspect of these questions. Fictional characters do not fall off a tree, they are made, by a person, for a reason, according to various assumptions already held, right?

Bittersweet (#765)

I'm comparing Dumbledore to Lord Asriel. The former was very wise and powerful, yes, but estranged from his brother and tormented by his sister's death (possibly at his own hand) and obsessed with trying to bring her back to life/rectify his past mistakes.

Lord Asriel was interested in knowledge and in bringing down the religious autocracy in his world. And to further both those aims, he knowingly sacrificed an innocent child. An intriguing character, yes, but I'm not sure he's a "richer" one than Dumbledore, unless by "richer" you mean "more capable of intentional evil."

barnhouse (#1,326)

Sort of? EM Forster's "roundness" is more what I mean ("The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way.") Lord Asriel protected the Gyptians in Parliament, and burst into song after he killed Mr. Coulter; he abducted Lyra, left her at Oxford in order to keep her out of the hands of the Church, didn't even tell her he was her father; loved and hated and loved Mrs. Coulter. His character is layered up slowly and is full of contradictions, but what emerges is a portrait of human (and particularly masculine) will, brilliance, hubris capable of both evil and good. A truthful picture. Dumbledore's complexities are relatively tacked-on, they don't proceed from or really challenge what you knew of his nature earlier. It's more like a series of revelations–EM Forster gets into that too in Aspects of the Novel, comparing Walter Scott, a revelationist like Rowling, with e.g. Jane Austen.

Joseph Guarino (#8,958)

@MrTeacup

Erm, Harry hated the Dursleys because they were terrible to him. In fact, in the last book he has the Dursley's put in witness protection despite the years of child abuse (although this may have been necessary to keep Voldemort from extracting valuable biographical information, such as that Harry is deathly allergic to peanuts).

I think JK Rowling was illustrating that inequality and fascism exist. The most interesting and recognizable form of inequality is probably racial inequality. The most obvious history lesson about fascism is Hitler and WW2. So she puts them through the metaphor mill and it becomes a story about wizards and humans. Fantasy stories often trade on archetypes.

And the story is absolutely socioeconomic, about the tensions between the wealthy and the poor, the educated and the uneducated. Hermione is lucky to have been born inquisitive and with magic. There is nothing in the books to imply that we should not value those who are neither.

Now if you REALLY wanted to get the world view Harry Potter has correct, you'd rewrite it so that the muggles are fully aware of the wizarding world, but consider the wizard's wholesale domination over them a proper thing, to be encouraged even. The wizards may take all the property, live in the nicest places, eat and wear the nicest things, etc. and regard humans as lesser things, as cogs in the wheels that make wizarding life more comfortable, but think about all the great benefits that trickle down. Wizarding health care is excellent should they deign to grant it to you. They invent all sorts of cool and convenient things. And besides, some muggles are born with magic, and if they work hard enough to develop their talents, they might some day ascend to the wizarding class…

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

I did feel uncomfortable whenever the house elves came up in the books. I eventually decided that the best message to take away was "the only way this situation would be even remotely acceptable would be if there actually was a magical race of beings that literally enjoyed nothing more than obeying other people's orders." It just seemed like such a weird concept; one that came from nowhere and had really murky morality.

As for it being a materialist paradise, that is certainly true. It's largely a wish-fulfillment escapist narrative, especially at the beginning, and with kids that almost always means spectacular unearned wealth (Harry's improbable inheritance) and limitless frivolous power (magical gewgaws as far as the eye can see). The later books aren't as bad about this — if I remember correctly, isn't Harry's bank account frozen at some point? — but it can't be denied that the story appeals to readers on a consumerist level, among others.

So I can see and agree with many of your points, but others seem a little off. Hermione, who was fundamentally a comedic one-note stock character, strikes me as much less of an author fantasy insert than Harry's mom, who is blameless and dead and vocally adored by every male character known to have met her. (Fortunately, being dead, she rarely has much to do with the plot.) Hermione also wasn't treated particularly well by the story; compared to the other heroes, she was favored more by authority figures but less by her peers, which seems appropriate given her behavior.

Ron as aristocrat seems even stranger: I read his family as a terribly British parable about the salt-of-the-Earth wonderfulness of the working poor. They're mentioned as being wizards for untold generations, but I never got the impression of nobility or wealth in their history. Sirius was the rebel aristocrat, and a pretty morally ambiguous character at times.

I'm not sure about the wizarding world being run by old white guys: there are a few, but they're mostly background characters or portrayed negatively — usually both. The obvious exception is Dumbledore, who is basically Santa Claus Father Christmas, more wish-fulfillment for kids who dream of permissive adults, and gay to boot. It should also be noted that England is, in fact, run by old white guys.

Finally, I can't agree that it's a bad idea for kids to learn to trust themselves more than the rules. Maybe it's because I'm closer to being a kid than making the rules, but this just seems like a good value system to have.

Good lord I had a lot to say about this.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@DoctorDisaster Oh gosh no, I don't think it's a bad idea for kids to learn to trust themselves. I'm saying these books don't teach that; the embrace of authority is all there, it's just the actual authority is the Order of the Phoenix/Dumbledore.

Old white guys: maybe you are right, there. But if you compare this political structure with like, Octavia Butler or Madeline L'Engle or Philip Pullman, it looks so super-Tory, more Tory even than the real Knifecrime Island.

Ron as aristocrat, point taken there, too, especially nurturingwise working people, though the Death Eaters wouldn't think of taking against the venerable Weasleys; they have authority beyond their socioeconomic status owing to their blood.

Rowling has said herself a lot of times that Hermione was based on herself as a girl, in kind of a 'warts and all' way. So. And HOW true about Harry Potter's mom with the blameless sacrifice like something out of a Victorian melodrama.

erikonymous (#3,231)

I agree. I'm usually ON BOARD with Bustillos, but this whole article is a stretch, and for every argument made, a perfectly good counter-argument exists in the Potter series. So much so that I find this kind of glossing over completely disingenuous. The Weasleys as aristocrats? Seriously? And like, the whole plot of Order of the Phoenix was about challenging the establishment, maaaaaaaan.
Also, in Rowlings' defense, it seems that THE MEDIA was way more responsible for perpetrating her rags-to-riches story than she was. Compared to how much money she has now, though, yes, before she wrote Potter she was dirt poor.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

It's true, HP does continue the myth that perfect authority figures exist with Dumbledore. But I can't help loving fictional perfect authority figures! It's my very own grown-up escapist fantasy. Tell me you don't wish Doctor Who would step out of a silly blue box and tell Congress to shut up and get out of the way while he fixes the economy with a deus ex sonic screwdriver, if you can.

barnhouse (#1,326)

I can't.

Moff (#28)

@DoctorDisaster: It doesn't really, though. Toward the end of the series, it's very explicitly laid out that Dumbledore is not perfect, and that in fact his recognition of that is what, ironically, makes him perfect.

spostaby (#1,081)

"I don't think it's a bad idea for kids to learn to trust themselves. I'm saying these books don't teach that; the embrace of authority is all there, it's just the actual authority is the Order of the Phoenix/Dumbledore."

There's a difference between blindly embracing whatever authority arbitrarily happens to be in power, and choosing to trust people who have proven to be worthy of their authority. The books teach that kids shouldn't always follow the authority of parents or teachers or the Ministry just because they're authority figures. The kids in the books trust themselves enough to question their authority figures and figure out who they agree with. However, HP doesn't endorse blindly rejecting all authority figures either, as it shouldn't. The kids are kids, and they're smart enough about their limitations to turn to wiser, more experienced adults to help them. Sure, that's an embrace of authority, but it's a smart embrace of authority.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@spostaby love this response; really excellent point. I don't think this is illustrated well by the books, though, because the wisdom of the higher-octane adults is so arbitrary and device-laden, and because there's such a Manichean divide between the wise and the not-wise.

Moff (#28)

@barnhouse: How is it arbitrary? How is it even Manichean exactly? I mean, to focus on Dumbledore (from whom most of the adult wisdom flows), he treats Harry and Tom Riddle pretty much exactly the same way, keeping an eye on them, making himself available as a mentor, but not pressing them to seek his counsel or forcing it upon them — and speaking openly and honestly about his past failures and motivations, and even his abilities. I suppose one could argue with some of Rowling's execution, but the overall picture seems to me to very clearly add up to: This is how you know when you've met an authority figure you can trust.

scrooge (#2,697)

Karate Kid is the prototype. Wipe on, wipe off

MollyculeTheory (#4,519)

It seems as if someone who grew up in England and set out to write a book that is much more plot-driven than "issues-based" might just be so steeped in the class system that some of these ideas end up in the structure/subtext of the book without any authorial intention of celebrating or criticizing them?

flossy (#1,402)

Ugh, Ann Althouse. I only want to shower benefits upon people for whom I have nothing but contempt. Get it right.

iplaudius (#1,066)

If an article like this had to be written here, Ms. Bustillos would be the chosen one for the task. Wizardry or alchemy, it is her special talent to transmute the gold of a literary education into a leaden world-view.

OK, OK. That’s not fair. But neither is her reductio ad malevolum argument! (Can I say that? Malevolum?) There is a lot of good in these books too.

Vulpes (#946)

Between this and Lehmann's weird anti-Amy Sedaris thing from yesterday, it's like The Awl contributors all decided to be really bitchy about beloved things this week. When is Abe to come in and yell at us all about liking cake because Real Americans eat pie?

Abe Sauer (#148)

Cake is delicious! (but only for birthdays!) Sorry I posted late, I was preparing an essay on how the common love for Milne's Winnie the Pooh is just the glamorization of the life of an obese diabetic British half-wit.

Pants McCracky (#2,292)

The idea that "success comes with hard work" is a conservative, not a liberal, notion. It's the bedrock of conservatives' contempt for the less fortunate — if you work hard, you achieve success, so if you're poor, it's because you deserve to be. The proper liberal stance, therefore, is to acknowledge that the system unfairly favors a few over the rest. Not only that, but it acknowledges the role of unearned advantages through privileged relationships (instead of the idea of the meritocracy — again, a deeply conservative notion).

Ironically, if the Harry Potter books were more "liberal" in the way that would satisfy Bustillos, they would be fantastic conservative propaganda. Hey, kids! You, too, can be a super-special wizard, if you just work at it hard enough! And everyone who gets special breaks from the establishment, gets them because they DESERVE them! And people don't just happen into fantastic wealth merely for being the child of wealthy parents — they obviously earned and are completely entitled to 100% of that wealth!

Personally, I'd rather my kids read books that show them the world as it is, rather than instilling in them some bogus capitalist fantasy world view.

A.R. Chrisman (#2,964)

Philip Pullman affected me in ways that have yet to see the light of day. Seriously, when kids kill God with a knife, shit gets real.

bennimaddi (#314)

I've thought about a lot of this and I'm pretty sure that these issues were on Rowling's mind while she was writing the books as well. It seems to me that she recognizes and seems half-embarrassed by a lot of the class problems in her own books and– especially in later installments– tries to address them while still maintaining the integrity of the series.
Sometimes she's successful in this and more often she's not, but it does usually feel thoughtful. For instance, in later books, the question of whether Harry or Neville is the "chosen" one raises issues of what it actually means to be chosen. The prophecy could apply to both characters but everyone just assumes Harry is The One because he's cuter and an effortless jock while Neville is a fat, slobbering klutz. Readers are clearly meant to question our own assumptions and also consider, for a moment, how obnoxious Harry would be if he were OUR classmate.
Of course, after raising these questions, Rowling cops out by making Harry the Chosen One after all. I remember being both disappointed and relieved by this: disappointed because it would have been cleverer and more interesting if Harry had never been chosen after all, but relieved because, I mean, come on.

Also: even more than Hermione, Harry is a Mary Sue (Gary Stu?) almost to the point of parody. Mary and Harry even rhyme!
Still, these books are really good and I have absolutely no patience for anyone who criticizes them on a level of literary style.

metoometoo (#230)

Well, the reason Harry is ultimately the chosen one is because Voldemort assumed he was the chosen one, and marked him as his equal. So it ended up just being sort of a quirk of fate, not based on anything inherent in Harry or Neville.

hprebel311 (#8,719)

"Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, too, is as seductive as ever. Just to hear his voice for me is easily worth the price of a movie ticket; really he could read the phone book aloud, for all I care."

You do realize Snape is only a Half-Blood, who rose from disgrace, to save Harry (and thereby the rest of the wizarding world) all for the sake of loving Harry's mother? He in no way embodies some elitist person, and Harry is further humbled (because Harry is always humble) when he learns that this man who grew up in poverty and was tormented by his peers gave his life to save him, all in the name of love.

The Weasley's couldn't give a damn about being pure blood, as is frequently made clear by the whole family, and neither could any of the good wizards. Even Draco, who is a "pure-blood" realizes that the people his family has been associating with have it wrong, in the very end.

Furthermore, Albus Dumbledore pointedly shelters Harry from his "chosenness" as long as possible, making him grow up with the Dursleys and literally zero knowledge of how important he is. Hermione may be a bit full of herself when she's younger, but as somebody who was very like that as a young age, and as Jo has said in multiple interviews, that confidence is really just covering up for a deep-seated insecurity. In what way exactly does Ron "keep Harry on the straight and narrow"? Ron is the one encouraging Harry to break the rules, half the time. There is no "keeping to being noble" with Ron, and Harry clearly eschews the "chosenness" from his first minutes at Hogwarts when he snubs Draco's offer to associate with wizarding families that are "better than others."

Harry's story is one of an average kid who has fame and the limelight thrust upon him simply for being born. Ron is a loyal friend, regardless of his family background, which had nothing to do with Harry befriending him. Hermione is far from a "chosen" one, being the geeky nerd that nobody befriends for the first 2 months at school.

Before you freak out on me, I have also read Philip Pullman's trilogy as well. It was good, but nowhere near as richly written as the Harry Potter universe. Do you realize that JKR has boxes and boxes full of background information on every character and location in her series? And, what, exactly, about Pullman's series "threaten[ing] the establishment view of religion and institutionalized coercion" makes it a superior series?

Sorry you're jealous of JKR, and that the best you could do for your 15 minutes of fame was wait until you knew Harry was back in the spotlight, and write a poor criticism of the series to gain some attention. We'll let the bestseller lists (and the fact that the Times had to create an entirely separate list to give other authors a chance, even though the Potter books clearly qualify also as adult literature, as evidenced by their adult covers in the UK) do the talking. You have fun trying to become successful by tearing down the most successful author of a generation.

soco (#8,225)

Man you sure took this personally.

Mar (#2,357)

"Wait until you knew Harry was back in the spotlight . . ." Yes, this sounds like a plan that a normal person would formulate.

"Most successful author of a generation": By your metric of success, I guess John Grisham, the "Dummies' Guide" people, and Stephenie Meyer are some of the greatest authors of all time.

soco (#8,225)

Nice start, but I was hoping the article would go a little farther. Fantasy stories as political myths is pretty interesting, but I think this just scratched the surface.

skahammer (#587)

This post was absolutely amazing. The best thing I've read on The Awl that didn't involve football.

checkonetwo (#3,234)

It should also probably be noted that JK Rowling has said she intended to kill one of the "Chosen" ones, but decided not to because she thought her readers loved them too much. There is no mention of the Weasleys as aristocracy in any of the books/movies, much of the "pureblood" world holds them in contempt for liking Muggles/Muggle-borns despite their blood. Total stretch there, though it is true that their power exceeds their wealth because of their blood. Voldemort&Co would have destroyed the Weasleys if they thought they could find a reason other Pureblood wizards would buy, it wasn't that they didn't dare.

What, exactly, is wrong with a 9 or 10-year-old secretly hoping for a letter from Hogwarts? What kid has never wished they had magical powers?

Character flaws are developed much further in the books, which I think is very common– it's easier to tell this type of story with a simple black/white good/evil storyline. Harry's arrogance, in particular, is far more apparent in the books.

There. I think my criticism is about as disjointed as the argument. Although hopefully more qualified, since I tried to point out a few actual facts instead of bending plotlines to meet my end.

Samantha Murray (#8,724)

First, the author has a hard time with the “chosenness” of the witches who get letters from Hogwarts. You are making it seem as though God handpicked these kids. They have magical blood, they weren’t chosen, magic is in their blood.

Secondly, I do not think that Harry and his friends were shown any special treatment by Dumbledore. Dumbledore grew to love Harry, he did not favour him in PS, he and Ron got into trouble big in CoS. I feel that everything Harry did had a good reason and Dumbledore saw those good reasons. The only time I can see blantant favourtism is when McGonagall gives Harry the Nimbus.

Third- Harry, Ron, Hermione, the Order of the Pheonix are a mismatched group filled with people from different backgrounds. They praise Dumbledore because he is like them. Of course they see him as all-knowing, he’s a teacher. I feel the idolization of Dumbledore is totally justified on Harry’s part. Rowling emphsizes being different because not many societal institutions do so. It gives kids who are different something to look up to.

The comment about all the heroes being pure-bloods themselves makes absolutely no sense.

Oh my God! The books are so obviously NOT created to show the brilliance of Hermione and thereby satisfy the ego of Rowling. Jo has said that when she wants information out, she uses Hermione. I feel like Hermione is the smartest in comparison to everyone, not just the other women in the series.

“In any case it is a horrible thing to be teaching children, that you have to be “chosen”; that the highest places in this world are gained by celestial fiat, rather than by working out how to get there yourself and then busting tail until you succeed.” This is complete garbage. Every single character worked so hard to get to where they were. It blows my mind that someone would misinterpret the series this badly.

I do not understand the connection the author makes between the death of Dobby and Liberal condescention. And since the author is talking about DH, the statement, “There’s nothing in this story of alleged iconoclasts and rebels that would present the slightest challenge to the establishment,” makes no sense! The Death Eaters took over the Ministry ie THE ESTABLISHMENT which Harry is now trying to destroy.

“The Rowling story of the Single Welfare Mom Who Made Good is not exactly accurate, either; her background is solidly middle class, her dad was a Rolls-Royce engineer, she read French and classics at Exeter, and the father of her first child (whom she divorced, rather than the other way around) was a Portuguese TV personality.” WHAT ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT??? This paragraph contradicts itself.

Finally, the language that the author uses is so condescending. It is so falsely whimsical that it insults the intelligence of the reader. Write normally please and maybe your points won’t sounds so pretentious. How did this person get published on a website. Their grammar is terrible, their research is poorly done, and their misinterpretation of the themes of the books is completely insane.

Craig Brownson (#4,257)

I plan on plagiarizing the final paragraph of this comment and using it all the time for everything. "Falsely whimsical!" I don't know what that means but I LOVE IT!

Polly Peachum (#8,145)

"elitist compassion-from-on-high"

I think that was actually more true of Nancy rather than Jessica Mitford. But it is true of the most irritating liberals.

Good piece. I've never read the books; the movies are a bloody mess. I just hang on to the cameos by the famous adult actors.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Rowling rowling rowling, keep those comments rowling

Clever Handle (#8,723)

Universal Internet Truth #3,990,675: Everyone has an opinion on Harry Potter. No exceptions.

Clever Handle (#8,723)

Man, you're going to champion Steve Vander Ark? 'Cause he was way less house elf and more fan looking to make a buck. I mean:

"As the editor of the Lexicon, I get email every so often from fans asking me to publish the Lexicon in book form, so I’ve dealt with this question before. Basically, it is illegal to sell a book like that. Jo has reserved all publishing rights to her intellectual property, which means that she’s the only one who may publish any book that is a guide or encyclopedia to her world. And since we’re fans and supporters of Jo, we wouldn’t do anything that would violate her rights, even if we could get away with it." – SVA in e-mail on May 15, 2005

And he pretty much did just that. Just because he invested time in it doesn't make it okay.

Scum (#1,847)

This is amazingly small minded. A work is rendered 'morally bankrupt' because it has the nerve to admit to its narrative elements which may, if so interpreted, conflict with your ideas about teaching? It's not like you are even kicking out at different ideas. You are kicking out at the mere possible suggestion of different ideas, a suggestion more a product of your scrutinising the text for any dissent from your views less you mistakenly enjoy something that is not ideologically pure than it is the text itself.

Why read fiction at all if you cannot tolerate such stuff? At the end of a hard day instead of settling down with a good book why not just just sink into a chair and turn your opinions over in your mind, warming yourself with the virtuousness of your character and plain truth of your ideas.

paddlepickle (#8,731)

Lordy, you are missing SO many things about the book (or glossing over them in order to make the argument). It's sort of necessary to the fiction that not everybody can be a wizard, so yes, technically only certain people are 'chosen'; but the point of fighting Voldemort that Muggles shouldn't be subjugated by wizards.

And Hermione is the only smart, kickass woman? What about Luna? Professor McGonagall? Tonks? Bellatrix? None of this is tokenism at all.

I would be much more interested in this if the author wasn't making shit up to fit a general "Rowling-is-evil" idea.

Edgeoforever (#8,772)

True. This observations are – it seems- based on watching the movies.
Which is the lazy way of trying to be cool and unconventional by kicking someone most people like.

I don't think anyone else has brought up this point regarding being "special, chosen and gifted": Neville. He was born into a wizarding family and completely lacked talent, even though he had all the benefits of growing up in that world. But he worked very hard, and by the final book, he's pulling swords out of hats and saving the day, just like Harry. One of my favorite things in the books was the whole prophecy thing, where it was revealed that Neville had a 50/50 shot of being "the chosen one", and it all came down to Voldemort's guess. Neville Longbottom and the Goblet of Fire would have been a seriously awesome book.

barnhouse (#1,326)

It really would. (Loved this post.)

jennie (#25)

i hated the pullman books. what a gnostic outright sadistic mess. rowling started writing these books on the dole. so good for her, she is the richest lady on the planet.

and yes to l'engle. yes yes yes.

bshep (#746)

The only way I can make sense of this post is to assume the author accidentally read one of those Chinese knock-offs. Maybe Harry Potter and the Leopard Walk-up-to-Dragon"? Because, sure, they are by no means great works of literature, but I don't think she read the same books I read?

NFK (#8,747)

Goblin Rebellions man, I want to hear more about the Goblin Rebellions.

oopsiedoop (#8,755)

This is why I am no longer a Communist. Let me explain Harry Potter to you, Karl Muggle. People are not chosen the way you say. Rather, the Owl comes when their gifts are recognized. See the difference? Muggles are the ones who support the status quo, because they have no gifts. They are interested in keeping law and order so that they can be sure that no one makes them look bad. It's true, I don't remember even one sympathetic Muggle, which leads me to think that everyone who's not afraid of others being more gifted than they are IS chosen to go to Hogwarts, and all of those who are not quite gifted enough in this way — the really bad guys — end up causing chaos, death and destruction there, but ultimately lose (because it's a fairy tale).

Edgeoforever (#8,772)

First of all, when you talk about "the reality of Harry Potter", you do know it's a fantasy, right?
Second, it helps to read the books – and know the whole story before making judgments on things such as the reasons Dumbledore "shows favoritism" to Harry – it has a bit to do with him knowing his fate which is not exactly Minister of Magic.
One can simply enjoy this fiction, or endeavor in metaphysical debate on the symbolism (splitting one's soul through evil acts to become immortal, or sucking of the soul by depression creatures). But to debate the social realities in a fantasy, it's akin to the SpongeBob fans discussing the feasibility of draining the bathtub. Under water. While considering taking of baths a valid premise. Under water.

wneleh (#8,773)

You raise some interesting points, but I'm astounded by how poor your research regarding Rowling and her relationship to fanfic is. There are approximately 23 zillion Harry Potter stories on the internet (see, for example, http://www.fanfiction.net/book/Harry_Potter/), and all JKR asks is that porn be limited to sites that keep kids out.

I can't tell which book you're referencing in your link to Wikipedia; the Vander Ark book, which actually grew a court case, isn't fanfic; and aside from the mention in The Scotsman I've never been able to determine that JKR (or her minions) cared at all about the Lippert "book", except to deny its specialness. AFAICT, Lippert is just a shameless self-promoter, his fic no different than the above-mentioned other zillions of fic also online.

Maybe look beyond Wikipedia, hmm?

barnhouse (#1,326)

@wneleh thanks for your note. Sure I am aware that there is a lot of HP fanfic out there. I am a supporter of the Organization for Transformative Works and more generally of the relaxation of our newly draconian US copyright laws, and of the enlargement and protection of the public domain. I readily admit that I hyperbolized a bit, there, in rather the same way that you claim (delightfully, and I don't doubt you) that there are 23 zillion Harry Potter stories on the Internet, because I find it really stunning that Rowling or really, any artist skilled and/or lucky enough to attract such a following and to enjoy so much material success would be so … protectionist, or possessive, for lack of a better word, and to such a minute degree, as to go after Lippert.

Not getting any sales of your books, are ya? This won't help you either.

Copepod (#8,778)

"the sad, brave little creature Dobby literally expires with the name of Harry Potter on his lips. It’s like freedom is the gift of the chosen ones to bestow, and those thus benefited can die of gratitude and be 'properly buried,' which really, there is this long burial scene complete with Harry Potter and shovel."

Obama speech: "I got a letter — I got a note today from one of my staff — they forwarded it to me — from a woman in St. Louis who had been part of our campaign, very active, who had passed away from breast cancer. She didn't have insurance. She couldn't afford it, so she had put off having the kind of exams that she needed. And she had fought a tough battle for four years. All through the campaign she was fighting it, but finally she succumbed to it. And she insisted she's going to be buried in an Obama t-shirt."

BTW – I'm a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, but not a fan of narcissistic elitist politicians.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Ah yes that story. Breitbart loved it! Why not watch the whole video of that speech so you can see what was actually intended by that remark? You could skip to around 8:30 and still get it.

Copepod (#8,778)

You appear to (incorrectly) assume that I hadn't already watched the entire speech. Ostensibly, this section of the speech is about health care reform – but notice how he always manages to turn everything back so that it's about him. "The chosen one" – unique vessel of our (the little people) hopes and dreams. (BTW – I agree with Jane Hamsher – the resulting healthcare bill has some positive features, but on balance it does more harm than good.) As South Park parodied in the Coon vs. Coon & Friends episode: "He [Cthulhu] promised everything would change if we worshiped him, but we're still sitting here smoking cigarettes like before. It's like Obama all over again."

barnhouse (#1,326)

@Copepod I apologize for making this assumption. I've got my beefs with the administration, but they're different from yours, I guess. The man himself, his personality, has never struck me as particularly egocentric, at least not as presidents go … you've got to be a little crazy to want that job, maybe. In any case, as these comments clearly show, you can take very very different messages away from the same artifact (ha).

Edgeoforever (#8,772)

At least Dobby did get something from Harry, which is more than I can say about the woman in San Louis and the Heritage Foundation boon to the insurers bill.

wneleh (#8,773)

@barnhouse – my beef about the Lippert case is that it isn't obvious to me (and I looked into this quite a bit a few years ago) that JKR ever *did* go after him. See, for example, http://bookpublishingnews.blogspot.com/2008/07/americans-underground-james-potter.html. If that's not shameless self-promotion, what is??

Mostly the gender dynamics of this drive me up a wall. Millions (okay, probably still exaggerating, but I get confused when I run out of fingers and toes) of women and girls write HP fanfic and, by and large, try to be reasonably secretive about their hobby. Some guy writes HP fanfic, conjures up a fight with JKR, and then sends out a press release when she says she doesn't care.

barnhouse (#1,326)

@wneleh Yes, I saw that there was some question about that. On balance though, if there really were nothing in it, surely The Scotsman would have been forced to issue a retraction? Sounded more like a settlement of some kind, to me. (You're too right about the guy seeming like a grandstander.)

Corinne Conley (#8,785)

Harry's mother was a muggleborn witch, and it was shown many times that she was very skilled at magic.

Underwear (#8,486)

Little Tommy used to talk about Harry Potter all the time. Said he wished he would get a letter in the mail, too.

…then we found the tortured cats…

and now, he's a satan worshipper (republican).

shawtyhaggins (#6,921)

Oh just f******* offfffffffff !!!!

zooeyprose (#8,788)

For magic, a fully-realized world, and just plain good writing, the Earthsea trilogy by Le Guin blows them all out of the water.

Dan Kois (#646)

I disagree with nearly everything in this piece, yet totally loved it.

Nathalie Rivers (#8,802)

Best complete rubbish rant by someone who has no clue what she's talking about I've seen in a while, speaks volumes for the frustration of Maria Bustillos, bravo! All thumbs up! You should team up with the Snapewives, I'm sure they can give you some more dirt on this dastardly Rowling woman and all the blood money she's made by killing expendable, misunderstood, and loved characters.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Wow, Snapewives, it's a real(ish) thing.

stpineda (#8,996)

this was one of the most obnoxious critiques i've read in some time – i really struggled to even finish reading all that nonsensical and snarky dribble.
save your faux-populist outrage for bravo's real housewives series, please.

LOLcatz (#8,997)

"It just breaks your heart, the integrity and gentleness of this man, the love he bears these wretched books, the way he was so wrongly disgraced."

LOL! Research fail!

Someone didn't even bother to read past the 300-word news articles on the subject.

He was not sued for creating an online encyclopedia. And in fact, he was not sued AT ALL even though he sure could have been. JKR sued his publisher, though she easily could have gone for him. And it didn't cost him a cent, because Stanford defended the publisher and he was-NOT-sued.

Why? Not because of the online encylopedia. That's the easiest thing in the world to find out. It was because he took that encyclopedia and turned it into a book – which WOULD have been fine had most of the text not been VERBATIM from the Harry Potter books without quotes, referencing, or even any indication that he did not write the descriptions that JKR put in the books. You yourself said a smaller version of the book saw light of day in 2009- you know why? Because DURING the trial, while saying over and over again that the book he had "written" was fine, legal, and there's nothing he did wrong, was secretly rewriting it along the legal guidelines he recognized were more proper. By the time the case concluded a new, magically copyright free, book had been produced, by people who clearly knew better.

As for gentle and whatnot… LOL. You clearly are very quick to believe news articles. Do a little research, it takes a small amount of googling, and discover all his snarky, bitchy, backstabby attitudes that have been well documented online and in fact discovered through this suit itself. A fine actor, perhaps. A poor woebetrodden fan, no. He's amazing at making himself seem exactly the way you so gullibly have decided he is. AMAZING.

Do a little due diligence before being so snarktastic. You don't like Harry Potter, fine – here's a marvel concept: don't discourage ANYONE from reading books that clearly DO have worth to people – tell them to read both! Tell them to decide for themselves which they like better! Why does it have to be "don't read this – read that"? Read Twilight, read HP, read Pullman – read it all! That's how you form a critical opinion, a valuable one – by NOT indicating that you should ignore certain texts.

Areya Simmons (#8,999)

Wow, I could easily point out and correct all of the inaccuracies in reference to the Harry Potter books that you base your arguments upon, but I would be here until next week. There are so many jumps to conclusions and lapses in judgement in this diatribe of yours that I do not even know where to start.

Instead, I will simply say this. All of your false notions that the Harry Potter series rewards 'the chosen ones' and throws everyone else out the window make me wonder whether you are projecting your false sense of privilege and fears of inadequacy onto a fantasy writer. The Harry Potter story is all about choices, and the conquering of love over fear. You can go on and on about the talents of the main characters automatically making those characters 'chosen' by some higher power and therefore fating them to succeed all you like, but in the end, it is the choices of the heroes and the villains that determine their destinies. Bottom line.

Furthermore, your assertion that the 'Purebloods' rule everything is flawed. The Ministry of Magic is run by 'pure-as-you-can-get' witches and wizards (there are no 'true Purebloods') as well as witches and wizards whose backgrounds are filled with Muggle blood. The heroes, as well as the villains, are NOT all noblemen, which gives J.K. Rowling's story more moral credibility because everyone, on the good side and bad, is mixed. No one is black and white. Everyone has talents, positive traits and negative traits.

There is no reason whatsoever for you to be concerned about those 12-year olds. First of all, ALL magical children who are 11 or are about to turn 11 receive that acceptance letter from Hogwarts. They are ALL chosen. There is no screening process to determine who is worthy of acceptance and who isn't. It is the same as a child automatically being accepted to a public Kindergarten. It is then that child's and his/her family's decision as to whether s/he will actually attend. Second of all, those children in the back seat of your car were simply reflecting back on their earlier childhood, and fantasizing about what it would be like to receive a Hogwarts letter. They're kids, and kids fantasize. Sometimes, adults fantasize even more, and all of the age groups who have read and enjoyed Harry Potter have imagined the same thing. We all know it's fiction and won't really happen, but we pretend for a moment that it will because it's FUN to do so. It's called imagination. It's what reading is all about: imagining ourselves within the world in which we read and coming out of that world wiser and having learned something. I seriously doubt that those 12-year olds believed for one moment that their lives would not be fulfilled if they did not get a Hogwarts letter from an owl.

Children are much more intelligent and mature than you give them credit for. Whenever you come across children who don't think they will succeed simply because they believe they don't have talent, that is a fault of their parents, NOT J.K. Rowling. In fact, Harry Potter teaches children that they can be anything they want to be, whether they recognize their individual talents yet or not. Neville Longbottom, for example, didn't seem to have any talent at the beginning of the series and he was often taunted. However, he garnered confidence through the support of Dumbledore's Army and was then able to utilize the talents he always had. He's the one who became a formidable force in the final battle, and that wasn't because of his blood.

You are also missing the ultimate message of the entire series, that love is the most powerful force, regardless of background, magical blood, or abilities. We are constantly told in the books that it is our choices that define our fate. It was Lily's love, Lily's choice, Lily's sacrifice that ultimately led to Voldemort's downfall (along with his own bad choices). If you read the books, you'll know that Lily is Muggle-born, and one of the true heroes of the series. She wasn't 'chosen' to commit that act of selfless, unconditional love. Her child was chosen by Voldemort to be murdered because his knowledge of the prophecy was incomplete and Voldemort jumped to conclusions. Lily, on the other hand, CHOSE to not stand aside because of her love for her son and that is the protection that lives inside Harry throughout the series. Without that decision, Harry would have died that night.

Pureblood supremacy is thoroughly condemned throughout the series, and it is 'pure-as-you-can-get' and Muggle-born witches and wizards alike who come together as one to defeat the great evil in their world. I don't know about you, but I see nothing but positive messages to be learned from such a story.

grnmntpika (#8,994)

Cracking good comments thread. Directed here by a Daily Dish post.

As the mother of two HP-obsessed children, I've done my share of thinking about the subtexts of the novels, and I appreciate Bustillos for articulating unpopular opinions forcibly.

No doubt, Rowling's universe is problematic for parents seeking to provide children an alternate way of imagining socioeconomic structures. The subservience of the house elves feels like a monumental fail no matter how I turn it. As an American still committed to tax-funded public education, the mythologizing of the British boarding school system could drive me nuts. The whiteness of the cast(e), the gender imbalance despite Hermione, Luna, Tonks, McGonagall, even the fairly outrageous stereotyping of Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students — problems, all. And the perpetuation of the chosen-hero motif, even with the Neville twist, is definitely worth thinking about.

But here's why I'm thrilled my two girls are HP experts: we have the best conversations. The house elves? We talked about the Civil War and the fact that the song "Lincoln Freed Me Today" exists. Whiteness? Contrasted walk-on parts of Parvarti and Padma with storytelling from the p.o.v. of contemporary Brit Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham). The taboo-ing of Voldemort's name? Historical instances of fascism but also the creeping surveillance state — including my rule of having my children's Internet passwords to Club Penguin and to the elder's e-mail account. Dumbledore in all his white, male, elite perfection? They see fallibility, the danger of ambition, and — as @Areya Simmons so described — the importance of love.

About the last: my 7-year-old and I just finished reading Wrinkle in Time, and said 7-year-old saw the role of love in saving Charles Wallace and staving off the dark coming a mile away. I'm pretty sure she thinks L'Engle ripped off Rowling even though I've explained the chronology. Ditto George Lucas.

Maybe the beauty of fictional universes rich enough to entrance kids lies partly in their finite-ness. Kids can get them — and they're savvy enough to see their inconsistencies and their problems, too — and from a position of security begin to try to make sense of their less than ideal reality. The fictional world doesn't have to be Utopia; it just has to get us and our kids asking questions about what's right, what's important, and how we can ease the pain of someone like the young Petunia Evans in a fundamentally unfair world. But my liberal slip is rather showing.

About the Vander Ark lawsuit: it led us to get hold of Willy the Wizard and then talk about Shakespeare, how storytellers work, and whether it matters that Rowling is so wealthy & Vander Ark and Adrian Jacobs are/were not.

None of this disputes Bustillos's points, and I don't want to argue that all stories can be turned to the good with enough work. But I think it's worth noting that, theoretical objections notwithstanding, HP plays a great role in our home. And I bet not only ours.

danielsn (#9,031)

I can't believe nobody has mentioned this piece of (absolutely brilliant, I swear) fanfic, which asks the question "What if Harry Potter had been brought up by scientists, instead of kept under the stairs?

http://www.fanfiction.net/s/5782108/1/Harry_Potter_and_the_Methods_of_Rationality

I grew up in the "Harry Potter Generation", and I can assure you that the moral lessons one learns when voluntarily engrossed and captivated nestle themselves far deeper than those that an adult tells you you ought to learn. This whole article is unprofessionally frustrated, unadulterated tripe written by someone with a meager knowledge of the books; nonsense. If I could be bothered to write more I would but it seems a few learned people have got there first.

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