Featured Image Caption: Harry Potter
This is an attempt to delve deeper into the diversity of belief latent in the equally diverse and fascinating magical world of Harry Potter, JK Rowling’s magnum opus spread across 7 exciting parts. The Harry Potter series emphasizes belief rather strongly in different concoctions be it the inherent and universal good-evil distinction, love, friendship, allegiance, loyalty, willpower, skill, miracles and sometimes even through hope.
Love, which saves Harry from Voldemort’s clutches and makes him The Boy Who Lived was born out of his mother’s last attempts to protect him and this stems a belief in righteousness and the honest path for Harry even when his obvious Slytherin-esque attributes surface (including his ability to converse in Parseltongue) and also when he is tempted by Voldemort. This is an instance of belief as a major motif throughout the entire series.
Diversity Spans Diverse Beliefs – A Case Study
JK Rowling has herself spoken strongly in favor of the diverse belief systems represented in the Harry Potter series. She recently spoke out saying the fictional school of witchcraft and wizardry reflects a diversity of belief systems and stated how the only religion that went unrepresented at Hogwarts was Wicca. Rowling stated that Wicca was a different concept of magic to the one laid out in the books, so I don’t really see how they can co-exist. Rowling also answered a query as to why Jewish students were not mentioned in her books. She replied stating how Anthony Goldstein, the Ravenclaw student, was a Jewish wizard. Goldstein was a part of the original 40 students that Rowling created for Harry Potter’s year at Hogwarts.
She also added To everyone asking whether their religion/belief/non-belief system is represented at Hogwarts: the only people I never imagined there are Wiccans. Rowling also drew media attention when she later revealed that Albus Dumbledore, the iconic headmaster at Hogwarts, was actually gay and experts including Andrew Slack (Harry Potter Alliance Head) later unearthed several textual clues as to the same. Rowling also stated how the entire series was actually a treatise of tolerance amidst diversity of beliefs after Dumbledore was killed. Dumbledore is the personification of this particular belief system and he was a champion for the rights of house elves, werewolves, centaurs, those who were Muggle born, giants and even merpeople just like the LGBT community has always been fighting for the equality of others using its own oppression as fuel.
When it came down to deciding whether the marriage between the full blooded witch Tonks and werewolf Professor Lupin was natural or not, Professor Minerva McGonagall stated Dumbledore would have been happier than anybody to think that there was a little more love in the world. Rowling also believed that Hermione Granger the character would be proud of the feminist speech delivered at the United Nations last September. All of these events and statements are vastly indicative of JK Rowling’s attempt to create diversity in terms of belief, religion, politics and society against the backdrop of Harry Potter’s amazing journey throughout her books.
Politics of Diversity
Politics plays a very important role in establishing diversity as a central modicum of the text. JK Rowling even explained how she wanted Harry to leave our world and find exactly the same problems in the wizarding world. If this is not an endorsement of diversity then what is? There is always a notion of purity which turns out to be a massive fallacy in the end while there is always the intention to impose a particular hierarchy in the world in addition to bigotry. Superiority is imposed by the inhabitants of the magical world as well and they often pride themselves on perceived purity. There is a very subtle parallel to Nazism here according to experts. Even before the Ministry of Magic is taken over, there are several parallels pointing to diverse regimes that we human beings have lived through and tolerated.
Cornelius Fudge, the Minister for Magic in the series, is compared to Neville Chamberlain by the Wall Street Journal which stated that both were too eager to enable their subjects/constituents avoid war by looking the other way. In the 30s, Neville Chamberlain conducted a campaign against Churchill by calling him a warmonger and denied the very existence of the threat from Germany. Rowling confirmed how Chamberlain inspired her and how Voldemort was basically a sort of Hitler which takes the diversity angle into more interesting territory.
Generational & Philosophical Diversity
Rowling has definitely contributed to the post 9/11 generation’s prevalent ideas regarding leadership, war, power consolidation and dictatorship, heroism and sacrifice and dissent as has been noted by Entertainment Weekly. Freedom of speech is something that has been a constant in the Harry Potter series. JK Rowling was even criticized by Bill O’Reilly who wondered whether Dumbledore was a means towards indoctrinating children as part of a gay agenda. However, these were labeled as shallow by several other noted names across the globe. Rowling has been accused of severely missing out on social, moral and political propaganda in her books and even sources of the Catholic Church have accused her of the same.
Explaining diversity in belief, Rowling stated how the characters of Dudley and Draco were both indoctrinated with the beliefs of their parents. Draco represents a value system where once he got what he perceived as his major desire, i.e. becoming a Death Eater and offered a mission by Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), he was struck by reality since his dream turned out to be different. She talked of how in spite of his moral cowardice, Draco Malfoy was not really bad. Racism finds subtle criticism in Rowling’s series. This comes through the distinctions and scathing contempt of pure bloods for half-bloods and mostly Muggle born wizards or Mudbloods. Rowling also talked of how in her opinion Hermione started her career at the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures after Hogwarts where she played a vital role in improving the lives of house elves and other magical creatures. Thereafter, she shifted to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement where she ensured progressive eradication of pro-pureblood laws which were inherently oppressive. JK Rowling also responded to other queries regarding ethnic cleansing metaphors.
The New York Times and Christopher Hitchens noted that the shape of the scar received by Harry due to Voldemort’s curse or the lightning bolt, represented the symbol of the British Union of Fascists led by Sir Oswald Mosley which was a known sympathizer of the Nazis. JK Rowling also mentions how Diana Mitford, sister of her heroine Jessica Mitford, was married to Mosley. Rowling named her daughter after Jessica, who never forgave the Nazi beliefs of her sister who to married at Nazi chief Joseph Goebbels’ home in Berlin with Adolf Hitler attending as a guest. Mitford’s other sister named Unity became Hitler’s favorite and was a staunch fascist.
A part of Jessica’s story may have provided fodder to take the Harry Potter series forward with Diana Mosley and Oswald Mosley becoming Narcissa Black and Lucius Malfoy, a Death Eater. Her sister Bellatrix (Unity Mitford) was a Death Eater and strong favorite of Voldemort (Adolf Hitler) while Andromeda (Jessica Mitford) married Ted Tonks against the wishes of her family (she was blasted out of the tapestry containing the family tree when she eloped with Esmond Romilly, her cousin). These were parallels recognized by several newspapers and experts on Harry Potter. Rowling also later confirmed the intentional similarities between Hitler and Lord Voldemort. Both had strong prejudices and were mixed-blood individuals in their own estimation. Both used political propaganda and fear mongering to make people submit to their wishes.
In another interpretation and a testament to its diversity, the Harry Potter series has been taken as a treatise on immigration rights by Aviva Chomsky who is the daughter of Noam Chomsky. She has stated how the books talk of the basing of citizenship, immigration and naturalization laws on the basis of natural origin explicitly. The place of birth determines whether one has the right to work, visit and live in a particular place according to Chomsky. The Harry Potter series also talks of the evils of war which Rowling herself confirmed, stating how children lose their families and innocents are cruelly slaughtered. Rowling’s Hogwarts is multicultural, progressive, secular and multi-racial and this was noted by Time magazine.
Another French Left-leaning paper called Liberation talked of Why Harry Potter is of the Left in their opinion and this publication marked the publishing of Deathly Hallows in French. Rowling also confirmed other details like how Dumbledore was in love with Grindelwald and was drawn to him hugely which became his tragedy. Again, Regina Doman, Catholic fantasy author, talks of how Rowling actually supports Catholic teachings on homosexuality in her piece In Defense of Dumbledore where Dumbledore’s relationship with the dark wizard Grindelwald creates terrible results since he assumes an interest in dark magic himself, letting go off his responsibilities towards his younger sister, thereby causing her untimely death. Other talk of other diverse philosophies in the Harry Potter series including lycanthropy being viewed as a chronic disease with werewolves being hugely discriminated just as if they had AIDS in the modern world. Tolerance, according to many, still remains the dominant theme of the Harry Potter books while for some it is a revolution against fascism and oppression.
Some Other Diverse Beliefs
Many also feel that the Harry Potter series basically demonstrates a critique of racial and social superiority. Hermione’s passion to rescue Dobby the house elf has been compared to Dobby Walker, the labour lawyer who introduced JK Rowling’s heroine Jessica Mitford to the Communist Party. Hermione is seen as starting a campaign for the emancipation of house elves which is strongly based on real world methods of political and social campaigns including badges with slogans. The house elves eventually join the struggle and make a vital contribution towards Harry’s final success and Voldemort’s defeat. Many also believe in a kind of subversive nature of the Harry Potter series with regard to the answers they give as to death. Voldemort believes in mastering and beating death while Harry accepts death as a necessity for the sake of love. The Washington Post’s Gerson, while highlighting the previous point, also mentioned how many people believe-not in spite of their faith but because of it-that half-bloods, werewolves and others should be treated with kindness and fairness. Above all, believers are called to love, even at the highest cost.
A political science professor at Brown University, James Morone, wrote in the American Prospect in the year 2001 that Albus Dumbledore used to award points literally for breaking rules. Hogwarts is slightly anarchic and unruly according to him. Even Hermione became more relaxed about breaking rules according to Rowling and she mentions how she was much nicer for it. There is a hint of anarchy according to Morone when the students sing their own tunes, make their own choices and are the guiding forces of their own lives who struggle with freedom and weigh judgments on their own. Le Monde’s Isabelle Smadja wrote how Harry Potter was the first noted fictional hero of the anti-capitalist, anti-globalist, pro-Third World generation and she also writes how there is a big critique of consumer society and the world of free enterprise in the books. Many other critics have judged the books very negatively talking of their patronizing nature, conservativeness and a dispassionate nostalgia for a Britain that was long gone. Even a Guardian review echoed these sentiments and talked of how the series is still conservative and a One-Nation Tory which was paternalistic in spite of its appeals to gender equality and multiculturalism. Literary scholar Ilias Yocaris also argued how the book unknowingly summarizes the educational and social aims of neoliberal capitalism since life at Hogwarts is dominated by a culture of competition. There is always completion for perfection amongst houses to get the most points, amongst sorcery schools to lift the Triwizard Cup and also the final competition between Good and Evil. The free market plays a big role in the series according to her and the state is shown as bureaucratic and inefficient.
Even educational reform has been noted in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and several teachers have talked of how it satirizes the years of politically influenced interference in education. The character of Dolores Umbridge, appointed by the Ministry and under-secretary to Cornelius Fudge, sides with the established order even when it is wrong. Umbridge likes power and will side with people who give her that very power to terrorize students. Even Hungarian Secretary of State for Education, Rozsa Hoffmann and her reforms, have been compared to Umbridge and her actions.
Belief, again, is an important undercurrent running throughout the entire Harry Potter series. Belief that is diverse, multicultural, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-motivated is what actually drives the story forward and the various political, social, sexual, racial, linguistic, educational, class, feminist and religious diversities mentioned in this paper are testament to the fact. There are no two ways of reading the Harry Potter series, there are a million! In fact, concluding with belief, one of the world’s highest selling and most successful book series’ for children was written by a down and out woman who had almost given up on anything but for her own belief in herself and her dream.
By Anuvab Chattopadhyay
– I am a writer, poet & musician. I run my own content startup and have worked extensively as a journalist and magazine editor.