Harry Potter: a literary canon – Part 3
Read Part 1 and Part 2 in the previous issues of The Rowling Library Magazine.
One of the salient features of the Harry Potter series is the depiction of the realistic and true to life theme of power and its various forms. This comes into focus as an allegory to portray the different shades of the concept of power.
The Ministry of Magic is a governmental institution and is therefore supposed to have the supreme authority, but it rather changes into a symbol for dirty politics and corruption. From Cornelius Fudge to Pius Thicknesse, each Minister of Magic is a non-deserving man just using his power as a tool to disintegrate the government’s authenticity. The idea of the separation of powers – judicial, executive and legislative – is completely destroyed as each and every decision taken in the Ministry has the complete autonomy of the Minister of Magic and his associates. Even Wizengamot, the judicial body of the Wizarding World, is headed by the Minister. The freedom of speech and expression is totally curbed when The Daily Prophet changes from a certified and reliable newspaper to the mouthpiece of the Ministry promoting political propaganda. The reign of Dolores Umbridge as the High Inquisitor of Hogwarts is a just representation of the politicizing of education and the act of using it to force opinions on the youth. Lucius Malfoy is the ultimate characterization of the word ‘corruption’. He uses his affluence to commit nefarious acts such as threatening the governors on the council to remove Dumbledore as Headmaster, purchasing the latest model broomsticks for the whole Slytherin Quidditch team to get his son on the team, and indulging in practices of Dark Arts. He reflects the political lobbyists present in our society.
The antagonist, Lord Voldemort, is the prime figure in representing the darker aspects of power. He is a power-hungry megalomaniac who is obsessed with Harry’s pursuit and his own quest for immortality. His whole idea of splitting his soul into seven Horcruxes depicts the idea of the split personality of an individual. Just like an individual without a complete and unified soul loses the path of life, similarly, Voldemort too, with his split soul, is led to his doom. His pride and sense of superiority lead him to use the Ministry of Magic as a puppet to execute his vicious plans under the garb of law. His obsession with establishing an autocracy with him as the monarch results in his devastation. His prejudice towards Muggles, half-bloods, and everyone who is ‘not a pure-blood’ is a grim reminder of the discriminations and bigotry in today’s world.
This aspect of power to attain a hegemonic dominance is aptly summarized by J.K. Rowling as
“I think most of us if you were asked to name a very evil regime would think of Nazi Germany. … I wanted Harry to leave our world and find exactly the same problems in the Wizarding world. So you have the intent to impose a hierarchy, you have bigotry, and this notion of purity, which is a great fallacy, but it crops up all over the world. People like to think themselves superior and that if they can pride themselves on nothing else, they can pride themselves on perceived purity. … The Potter books in general are a prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry, and I think it’s one of the reasons that some people don’t like the books, but I think that it’s a very healthy message to pass on to younger people that you should question authority and you should not assume that the establishment or the press tells you all of the truth.”
Contrary to this ruthless exercise of power, the Harry Potter series also offers a far more sumptuous, optimistic and brighter course of this meal of ‘power’.
According to the European traditional Chivalric Code, a hero is one who – fights for what is right, protects the innocents especially women and children, never does anything that is unchivalrous, and never goes against inner conscience.
Harry Potter embodies each and every trait mentioned above, and can thus be treated as a ‘hero’. He is delineated as a strong leader, a robust strategist and a moral and persevering figure. He attracts and allures positivity and all those who stand for what is ‘right’ and ‘just’. With the aid of Hermione’s intelligence and Ron’s expertise in the Wizarding World history, Harry attains the perfect balance of insider-outsider knowledge which complements his actions towards victory. The characters of Neville Longbottom, Ginny Weasley and Luna Lovegood and the other members of Dumbledore’s Army, who grow under the mentorship and influence of Harry, unite the forces against Voldemort and provide Harry with an invincible army to fight the evil forces. With his hard work, loyalty, and perseverance, Harry transforms from a famished ordinary boy living in a cupboard under the stairs to the vanquisher of the malevolent Dark Lord. The root of this metamorphosis of Harry’s character and the eventual victory of good over evil is the transformative power of friendship and love. The core difference between Harry’s group and that of his nemesis is the idea of love and relationships. Voldemort doesn’t believe in the constructive power of love and friendship and rejects it as a fickle thing, whereas Harry and his supporters exemplify its importance. Dumbledore is the chief guiding figure for Harry who, even after his death, continues to escort Harry through his agents (such as Snape) and initiates the deliverance of victory. Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville, Luna and their families are a constant emotional support for Harry, thus filling in the void left by his own torturous childhood and the absence of family. Snape’s sacrifice for protecting his all-time love, Lily’s son, is another example of love as a catalytic force in bringing a positive change.
Therefore, power is a double-edged sword. At the end of the day, it all depends on the choice made by a person, as pointed out by Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire:
“[…] It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
“[…] it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be!”
Voldemort chose to pursue immortality whereas Harry accepted the truth that he needed to die in order to succeed. Dumbledore and Voldemort both had supreme powers but how they chose to utilize those powers made all the difference. Voldemort could have chosen either Harry or Neville as the boy mentioned in the prophecy – he chose Harry to “mark him as his equal”. Harry, Snape and Voldemort – all had a troubled childhood – but the choices made by each individual set them on different paths and consequences. Every choice has its consequences and repercussions – one wrong choice and everything can fall apart, or, one right choice and you can transform the world for the better.
Therefore, the Harry Potter series tells us to make a choice. Eventually, ‘the truth will triumph’ – it is we who have to choose on which side of the result we want to be.
Apart from the aforementioned facets of the Harry Potter series, the most important aspect that made it a revolution and brought a resurgence in the reading culture was the idea of ‘Hope’. The children and adults who read the Harry Potter series were, and still are, infused with a spirit of hope – hope that good will always win against evil, hope that truth will always be upheld, hope that darkness will always be followed by a ‘glimmering, glittering and shimmering’ ray of light, and hope that there will be a ‘happily ever after’.
Such is the proficiency and potentiality of the power of J. K. Rowling’s words that has triggered people to make the reading of Harry Potter series a traditional family practice and a way of life, passing on the “magical, enthralling, exciting, suspenseful, surprising, clever, and moving” knowledge of these books from generation to generation, thus, making them fit into the category of ‘literary canon’.
. “J.K. Rowling at Carnegie Hall Reveals Dumbledore is Gay; Neville Marries Hannah Abbott, and Much More.” The Leaky Cauldron.org, www.the-leaky-cauldron.org/2007/10/20/j-k-rowling-at-carnegie-hall-reveals-dumbledore-is-gay-neville-marries-hannah-abbott-and-scores-more/.