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Harry Potter and the Political Left

Posted: 25/09/2012 01:00

With J.K. Rowling's first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy, due to be released on Thursday, speculation about its content (and quality) are rife. In an exclusive interview with the Guardian on Saturday, the author of the Harry Potter series revealed that her latest book deals with council estates, the British class system, teenage pregnancy and local politics. The Sunday Times, in a headline, suggested that J.K. Rowling was "turning her pen on snobbery". But has she ever been anything but staunchly left-wing? Is this really a case of "turning" her pen?

Anthony Holden, a judge on the Whitbread committee back in 2000, when Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was nominated for the prestigious prize, threatened to resign if the book won, calling it "essentially patronising, very conservative, highly derivative, dispiritingly nostalgic for a bygone Britain..."

Harry Potter conservative? Patronising? Nostalgic? For me, alarm bells sound. Surely the books I grew up on, the books that, more than anything else, shaped my childhood, couldn't possibly be as pedestrian as Holden seems to think? For me, they are obviously liberal, even radical in their critique of the festering attitudes in Britain towards multiculturalism, welfare, equalities, fanaticism...

Not only this, but Holden was concerned that 'it really doesn't take a high-minded killjoy to worry what these books are doing to the literary taste of millions of potential young readers'. I'm pretty sure that they did me no harm.

But is J.K. Rowling's new book really a new direction, both politically and in terms of her literary output? On the contrary. There's no wonder that the student protests of 2011 featured many Harry Potter inspired slogans: What would Dumbledore do? This shit wouldn't happen at Hogwarts etc. The moral and political slant of Harry Potter is as left-wing as they come.

Let's take a whistle-stop tour of the main themes, plots, and characters.

First off, there are the oppositions between the characters: the middle-class, conservative Dursleys headed up by the director of a drill firm versus the eccentric, lower-income Weasleys whose main income is derived from Mr. Weasley's job in the Department for the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts, a department largely concerned with promoting tolerance and understanding between the magical and non-magical worlds.

Next up is the pure-blood plot. In Harry Potter, pureblood families tend to occupy a sort of pseudo-aristocratic position, and are often associated with the intolerance of mudbloods (mixed-blood wizards and witches such as Hermione) and mocking the lower-income characters like the Weasleys or Neville Longbottom.

There's a huge drive for inclusion in the ethics of Hogwarts. When protestors say that "This shit wouldn't happen at Hogwarts", they're usually right. Salazar Slytherin, let's not forget, was kicked off the founding committee of the school for insisting that it became more selective.

And what about the house elves? Hermione sets up S.P.E.W. (the Society for the Protection of Elfish Welfare) as a sort of workers union through which the enslaved house elves can strike. The house elves themselves are the disenfranchised and socially disadvantaged servants of the pureblood families. The only method by which they can be emancipated or empowered is by being granted a piece of property by their owner: enfranchisement results in them becoming free and autonomous beings.

Dumbledore, the moral hero of the series, was always intended as gay, and Lord Voldemort, the main symbol of evil in the books, was arguably the product of his own maltreatment in an under-funded orphanage.

The series ends in uprising, with the people rebelling against their corrupted government.

Admittedly, this is a slightly facetious argument, but it's a serious one, too. There should be no surprise that The Casual Vacancy is so fraught with left-wing politics; the Harry Potter series set the precedent years before.

Having said that, people have read the support of devil worship into the Harry Potter books. Maybe I'm just a muggle in a muddle, but I'm inclined to think not.

 

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