Subversion in Harry Potter

For those who are not familiar with the Harry Potter series, I won’t spoil it, but I will give a very brief stasis to my theory. There are 6 books to date; each following a year of Harry’s education into the wizarding world. Harry’s parents generation were haunted by the most powerful wizard in recent memory, who abused his powers and had the entire community in fear. Lord Voldomort was totally unstoppable by anyone or anything, his reach was everywhere. A bizarre accident killed him, when he tried to wipe out the only threat to him (according to a prophecy) Harry when he was a baby.

This turned Harry into a hero before his first birthday, and has blighted his life ever since. It allowed the Ministry of Magic to round up former supporters of Lord Voldomort and regain peace within the wizarding community. Lord Voldomort was not dead however, his skills and forethought allowed him to take measures to ensure his survival, and ever since he has been gradually finding his way back to what most would call “life”. This is being ignored by the Ministry of Magic because they don’t want to create panic among the magic community. They know how impotent they were the last time, and the chaos it caused.

In each Harry Potter novel, Lord Voldomort has made an effort to return through various proxy’s, until at the end of book 4 “The Goblet Of Fire” he finally succeeds. Harry and Cedric (another student) are the only witnesses to his return, and Cedric is killed; which means it’s Harry’s word against the Ministry’s. Instead of taking his news seriously, they seek to silence him; to discredit him etc.

In book 5 “The Order Of The Phoenix” they first force him to use magic out of school (underage wizards are expelled if they do this). At the hearing they try to give him a show trial where the evidence is stacked against him, times of hearings changed to make sure no witnesses etc can appear. When this fails the Ministry appoint an adviser Delores Umbridge to become a Professor at Hogwarts….her role changes as the book grows.

At first she is there to change the practical lessons into the “read in silence from books” variety which teaches no one anything and to clamp down on Harry’s “lies” about Lord Voldomort’s return. Any time he mentions it, he is punished; along with anyone seen to be accepting his version. She audits the other Professors on behalf of the Ministry to see their suitability for teaching Ministry propaganda. Their loyalty to Professor Dumbledore is their only judgment.

Professor Dumbledore is the only man willing and able to defy the Ministry and accept Harry’s story. The Minister also see’s Dumbledore as a threat to his job. He believes that Dumbledore is trying to make the Minister a laughing stock by causing all this chaos, to then take over his job. So he see’s Dumbledore as his enemy.

As Delores Umbridge’s authority reaches a peak on an incident, she gets in touch with the Minister and increases her powers with a new educational decree. This gradually turns Hogwarts into a dictatorship with no freedoms, and a squad of students as informers and police officers. This eventually drives away several Professors loyal to the school and Dumbledore, including Dumbledore himself; leaving Delores Umbridge as Head Mistress.

She uses her powers to dish out sadistic punishments like lines where the line “I will not tell lies” carves on the arm when it’s written on the page. Or setting up incidents whereby she can look one sided and blame the party she wants to attack. Dissent grows within the school to her rule, to the point that it becomes unmanageable. Professors turn a blind eye to incidents knowing that it’ll annoy Umbridge.

“The Order Of The Phoenix” is very much an “anti-establishment” story, where the government are seen as forcing a view the readers KNOW to be false onto the students for their own political gain. Where the reader gets behind the students when they strike back and revel in the anarchy of this situation. They see the heroes fighting for “right” being crushed by the people who are supposed to be heading the fight. The tables are finally turned on Delores Umbridge and a mind blowing set piece at the Ministry itself see’s the truth accepted and the Minister left speechless at his previous actions. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t read it…..I merely recommend that you do. Even the title refers to an underground organization set up to do the right thing but kept hidden from the Ministry.

Even the Ministry of Magic is a controlling element within Harry’s world. Unlike our own political systems and communities it seeps through everything. Since the existence of witches and wizards need to be kept secret from Muggles (non magical people) the few per capita in any given area make up a strong tightly knit community with their own enforced rules and regulations. Every family has relations and friends in the Ministry or in the communities specialist gathering places like Diagon Ally (a shopping district accessible only to the magical community situated within London).

Anyone who goes against the Ministry has the entire community against them. In general the Ministry is the magical equivalent of our own governments with pen pushers doing the menial work while the politicians give statements telling people not to panic, and issuing the occasional notice about a spate of faulty wands in circulation and a recall notice. So do you believe one kid who’s been through hell? Or the weight of the Ministry who will happily demote your uncle from his desk job; influence your mom’s employer to “let her go” and bring your grandfather up on charges over nothing if you speak out away from the party line?

Book 1 “The Philosopher’s Stone” and book 2 “The Chamber Of Secrets” show very little of the Ministry of Magic, but what exists is the usual incompetence and spin; but harmless in it’s way. Book 3 “The Prisoner Of Azkaban” brings them in as the inhuman government machine who rigidly stick to their own version of the truth over Sirius Black (Harry’s godfather and supposed Lord Voldomort supporter). Book 4 “The Goblet Of Fire” and book 5 “The Order Of The Phoenix” see the more insidious side of the Ministry start to surface with the treatment of Harry’s testimony on Lord Voldomort’s return. Book 6 “The Half Blood Prince” see’s the former Minister replaced and an attempt at resolution without realizing that disgraced former employees and past mistakes need resolving before bridges can be rebuilt.

As a way of introducing kids to political reality within a fantasy world, JK Rowling plays a blinder, and I applaud her for it. As I’ve said before; ANY novel which can get kids reading for fun MUST be applauded whether I like the result or not. As I’ve also said, I am a convert to the Harry Potter series; as a reader it hits the spot and as a writer I see the depth underneath a simple concept. In short….I wish I’d have thought of it.


One Response to “Subversion in Harry Potter”

  1. sulz Says:

    that’s a nice summation of hp there, though it’s more focussed on the politics of the ministry of magic. maybe you can write a post about hp’s character development through each book; many have complained about him being a whiny self-absorbed teenage in book 5, which is ironic because he is a teenager in the book…

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