Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A Brief Critique of Harry Potter's World

I am still thinking over the world created by Ms. Rowling for her “Harry Potter” series, and I have noticed a troubling aspect; Justice does not seem to play a prominent role in it.

Consider, as an example, poor Harry’s run-ins with the Ministry of Magic. In one of the books, Dobby the house-elf comes to visit Harry and levitates a plate of food, for which the Ministry blames Harry and issues a stern warning. In a later book, when Harry loses his temper and inflates a relative like a balloon, he is clearly in the wrong, but this time receives no punishment at all from the Minister of Magic, who personally smooths things over for Harry. Still later, Harry is forced to use magic in self-defense against Dementors (which were, he later learns, sent after him by an employee of the Ministry of Magic), and for that the Ministry attempts to expel him from Hogwarts and destroy his wand.

The same thing exists with the legal system. The Ministry acts with no sort of due process, only a sham ritual which allows for no serious chance at a defense. For instance, when Hagrid’s Hippogriff attacks a student who insults it (after being warned that such an attack would happen if provoked), the Ministry decides to kill the animal even before the appeal is heard. Similarly, we find that Sirius Black was sentenced to Azkaban Prison with little in the way of a trial, and no legal defense for him at all. And later, even though Harry is honest about what he has seen or heard, the Death Eaters sent to Azkaban are also sentenced with no province for their defense. It is chilling to consider the scope of a governmental power with no respect for any sort of dissent, even a fair review of its own actions.

Hogwarts is much the same. Teachers are allowed to give or take points to or from the Houses for any success or foul, or even on a whim, as they please. Accordingly, it is difficult to believe that the much-vaunted House Cup has any true value, as it depends a great deal more on whom the staff likes, than on what the actual students do. The same thing for detention, which may be applied with no restrictions or standards of any kind.

In the course of the book, Harry Potter and his friends do a great many things which may be described as reckless and irresponsible. It appears that the world in which they live would have it no other way.


Ebon said...

About teachers giving house points and so on: This was actually a common feature of the English public school system (which Hogwarts is heavily based on). The theory was that as authority figures, the teachers were above personal animosity or favouritism. Of course, the reality was as depicted in the books, a system of corruption and playing favourites.

Justice: I suspect this is Rowling building a sense that Potter can only rely on himself and his friends and systematicly removing his support mechanisms (as you'll see at the end of book six which I won't spoil for you).

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