You've found Father McKenzie. But are you really looking for Eleanor Rigby?

Thursday, October 02, 2003

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER. I suppose whenever an author starts writing about bad guys, evil supervillains, and plots to enslave the world, readers start filling in the blanks with their own political preoccupations. Contrast the following two:

[1] "From: David Edelstein To: Polly Shulman Subject: Harry’s End Posted Wednesday, June 25, 2003, at 1:24 PM PT [...] Despite the fact that you and I put in some years at the Village Voice, I don’t think either of us has ever been too comfortable viewing works like Harry Potter through the prism of the author’s politics. Having said that, I might detect in Order of the Phoenix a certain vexation on the subject of the UK’s left-wing peaceniks, who would deny the threat of racial and religious supremacists in the shape of [fill in your favourite Middle Eastern Voldemort], and who would seek to limit money spent on Defence [Against the Dark Arts/aka WMD]. It is only because Harry and his fanatical brigade have trained unlawfully and in secret that they can take on the Death Eaters. But I’m obliged to point out that a smart reader, John Hubbard, takes the opposite stance: He sees Umbridge as representing “the power of closed government unchecked” and Minister Fudge as “our own president believing only what he wants to”. Hubbard is on firmer ground, I think, when he writes that “Rowling eloquently shows how our current discourse isn’t a debate of ideas, but rather a constant questioning of the morals and propriety of individuals”. That’s in line, too, with Rowling’s distrust of the establishment press: It’s a sick joke that one is more likely to read the truth in the dotty tabloid Quibbler than the Pravda-like Daily Prophet. […] Putting aside the one-dimensional villains, Rowling’s politics are either refreshingly nuanced or predictably middle-of-the-road. I find them comforting. She distrusts authoritarians – and yet she’s enamoured of the Great Father Dumbledore. She approves of religious freedom and seems to think miscegenation a good thing, yet she is a teensy bit skeptical of liberal do-gooders. The author clearly adores Hermione, but Hermione’s impulse to liberate the house elves is a mixed bag: It is grounded in just anger at their enslavement; it is also wondrously ignorant of how the elves actually live and what it is they want. (No, this is not an argument that slaves were happier on the plantation. Only that it’s one thing to liberate people and another to help them create liveable societies.)"

-- David Edelstein and Polly Shulman, “the book club: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, in Slate. com (updated Wednesday 25 June 2003)

(2) "In epic tales, good and evil divide the characters and their motives. In the political world, the opposing forces can be described as those who work for the good of all and those who work for the good of those like themselves. At the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore, the headmaster at Harry’s school, implores the students to choose “what is right” rather than “what is easy”. In many ways, the principles of liberal America fall in line not only with this teaching but also with other lessons found in the Harry Potter series. Although some reviewers have inexplicably branded the books “monoculturalistic” and even “sexist”, Rowling has admitted to being “left wing” personally and hoped that “every reader will bring his own agenda to the book”. […] With 9. 3 million copies of the book making their way into Americans’ hands, it’s worth asking: Does Harry Potter have liberal leanings? To begin, until the Ministry of Magic – the magic folks’ administration – takes over Harry’s school, Hogwarts, Harry and his friends are never scolded by the headmaster for their insatiable curiosity. Questioning authority and pursuing the truth are seen as positive, even patriotic. […] Hogwarts is not only a haven for the curious but a bastion of diversity, too. Unlike the novel’s more narrow-minded wizards, Dumbledore […] teaches that one should not be judged based on his or her family, breeding or race. […] The values of international cooperation and understanding, liberation of the oppressed, gender equality and interracial relationships are also evident in the series. […] Descriptions of the corrupted politicians at the Ministry of Magic and the Death Eaters (who are loyal to the Dark Lord Voldemort) clearly resemble some of our current American leaders. […] Fudge resembles right-wing politicians again as he legislates to benefit those who hold the purse strings. Lucius Malfoy is a dangerous member of the magic community with bad principles and a lot of money. When he moves, the gold coins clink in his robes, reminding those around him of his power to buy and sell at will."

-- Ashley Glacel, “Paranormal Progressivism The eerie similarities between Harry Potter’s politics and ours”, The American Prospect Online (22 August 2003)

Obviously Voldemort represents Dubya, and obviously Voldemort represents Saddam. You pays your Galleons and you makes your choice.

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