I don’t often make blog posts as a result of getting peeved off, in fact I actively try to avoid doing so because while I do like to provide an emotive and personally-ingrained response to things I talk about (such as my last post about Halo 4, Cortana and Feminism) I try to keep a level head about topics so I don’t end up coming off as hot-headed or insulting. That really doesn’t help anyone or do much to substantiate one’s credibility in a debate, it’s generally why internet arguments are so difficult to take seriously. But this topic is a pet peeve of mine because I am still hearing it being said that the Harry Potter series is just for kids as a means of degrading both the reader for enjoying them and the series itself.
So let’s talk about why anybody who says “Harry Potter is just a book for children and lacks any sort of depth” has clearly paid no attention to the series.Before addressing the books individually, don’t you think that that’s a pretty shocking image to show to children? The film is, after all, rated a PG-13 and leaves little to the imagination as Bellatrix forcibly holds Hermione down to the floor and uses a knife to carve the word ‘mudblood’ into her arm… I will always direct people to this scene when they talk about Harry Potter being a series solely for the entertainment of children because this is a perfect illustration of the themes of racism and prejudice which is a major aspect of all the books and films.
But let’s look at each individual instalment of the series, shall we?
The Philosopher’s Stone opens with the aftermath of a horrific double-murder which has left a young boy orphaned, a tragic victim of war. He’s left to live away from the world in which he belongs because he’s internationally famous for Voldemort’s downfall, and the only family he has left turn out to be both physically and emotionally abusive who abuse Harry for all of his young life. Over the course of the story, bullying becomes a recurring theme through Harry’s experiences from both fellow students and staff with the likes of Drace Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, Filch and Snape. By the end of the story, the trio (eleven year old children) are fully prepared to sacrifice their lives as they pursue Voldemort as he seeks the Philosopher’s Stone – Harry and Ron end up grievously injured in the process.The Chamber of Secrets fully introduces the themes of racism through the specific targeting of Muggleborn children who are marked for death because Salazar Slytherin wanted to cleanse the school of those deemed unworthy to study magic. Slavery is also a prominent theme in the Chamber of Secrets, exemplified by Dobby who is subjected to vile physical abuse and even forced to self-harm. There’s also the theme of fraud surrounding Lockheart’s character arc, and the plot itself is driven by a handsome and manipulative male who grooms an 11 year old girl to do what he wants.In the Prisoner of Azkaban, Remus Lupin is one of the major characters – the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher who has himself has a dark secret. He’s a werewolf, and thus one might construe the third instalment to revolve around the theme of ableism with regards to Lupin’s condition. Lupin is a kind, caring and all-round decent human being who suffers from a condition he has no control or agency over, but the wizarding community treats him with revulsion and classes him as being practically sub-human which demonstrates societal injustice and oppression. This is further exemplified by the corruption in the Ministry as Lucius Malfoy gets Buckbeak executed, cruelty to innocent animals because one student refused to listen to instructions and as a result the innocent are treated as being guilty. Harry also has his first opportunity to be rescued from the abusive Dursleys as Sirius Black offers for Harry to live with him, though circumstance leads to this being prevented so Harry has to return to the torment of his life in Privet Drive.The Goblet of Fire is very much the Hunger Games of the Harry Potter series, as four contestants (including Harry, a 14 year old boy who is forced to participate because of the inflexibility of a binding contract) are made to put themselves in mortal peril for the entertainment of others of which the reward is fame and glory – another recurring theme, the fickleness of fame which is brought up in The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets. This is also where we see the Unforgivable Curses introduced and learn about Neville’s parents being tortured into insanity, and the whole subplot with Winky (sadly omitted from the film) is a further extension with what we saw with Dobby.The Order of the Phoenix… this has to be one of the darkest of the series, the tipping point really where any lingering illusion of this being a series designed solely for children totally dissipates. First of all, you’ve got Harry who suffers from post-traumatic stress following Voldemort’s resurrection, the murder of Cedric, the fact that he is treated as a liar and a madman by the wizarding community and even his own friends. Sirius Black is likewise a subject of depression as he’s forced to stay in his childhood home where he, like Harry, was abused by his family and subject to the prejudice and expectations of pureblood racists.Oh, and how about Professor Umbridge? I could write a whole blog post about her character alone. Umbridge tortured students. She made Harry carve ‘I must not tell lies’ into his hand (further to the theme of self-harm presented in The Chamber of Secrets), she sent Dementors after him prior to his fifth year at Hogwarts to suck out his soul, she has no hesitation in using the Cruciatus Curse on him simply because she used up all of Snape’s stores of veritaserum due to her own zealous incompetence. She’s also a racist who actively pursues the instatement of laws which degrade magical creatures and persons to a mere ‘beast’ status, the likes of Lupin and centaurs are subject to her oppression. Umbridge is the very embodiment of evil masquerading as somebody nice.
Dumbledore’s deconstruction as a manipulative puppeteer begins in this story as well, he spends most of the time ignoring Harry’s PTSD which worsens Harry’s condition and state of mind which results in outbursts of anger to the point where Harry fears that he’s becoming like Voldemort. He ends up losing another father figure by the end as well, as the connection between him and Voldemort show him fabricated visions of Sirius being tortured. As if Harry hasn’t been subjected to enough emotional torment and abuse…The Half-Blood Prince introduced Horcruxes, and with it the fact that a soul can be damaged totally beyond repair. Lupin and Tonks have their own little subplot as well which illustrates how one’s own internalised prejudices from the way society has oppressed you lead to rejection of love and happiness out of the fear that you will taint them with your own condition. Love potions are likewise a pretty significant aspect of the plot, as they’re essentially widely distributed date rape drugs which leads to the conception of Voldemort – indeed, JK Rowling has said herself that Voldemort lacks any capacity for love because he was conceived under the effects of a love potion. People like to chalk The Half-Blood Prince down to being ‘that angsty teen one’, these people have totally missed just about everything this book has in terms of thematic value. Harry loses yet another family figure as he’s forced to make Dumbledore drink a potion which exposes his crippling guilt surrounding his past, he even begs Harry to euthenase him because of the pain it’s causing him. There’s something immensely powerful in showing how even the people we perceive as being the most incorruptible are the most tortured souls of all.And, lastly, The Deathly Hallows. Racism, racism everywhere. This is what the series has built up to, the themes of racism, classism, homophobia, slavery, prejudice and the like have all been building up to this convergence point where they’re finally on the surface for us to see. I believe that 72 people die overall in this book, as if you needed any further evidence of the theme of self-sacrifice for the pursuit of goodness and loved ones. The story comes full circle as well, as Lupin and Tonks are killed off, leaving their orphaned child to live with blood relatives – the difference being that there is a greater sense of hope compared to living with the Dursleys, as Andromeda Tonks is evidently a much better parent.So what values exactly does Harry Potter seek to teach people? Equality, not to judge others for what they are because it’s who they choose to be that matters – the world is not split between good and bad people, everybody has the potential to do good and bad acts. That young girls can be as strong, brave, and intelligent as Hermione Granger and still be feminine. The virtues of loyalty, courage and the importance of the bonds of friendship. The value of intellect, humility, respect, and confidence in one’s abilities. That you’re more than a product of your genetic heritage and it’s wrong to discriminate against people who are different to you. That you’re not defined by your sexuality, that love is a transcendent universal form of magic everybody has the capacity to wield and it can make you a better person. That you should do the right thing, even when you’re facing difficulties, never take the easy option… We could spend all day discussing this and the conclusion would be the same, adopting the moral values established in the Harry Potter series will make you a better person.
But because it’s classed as ‘children’s fiction’, the assumption is immediately made by a rather ignorant bunch that it’s devoid of depth or any kind of thematic value. This is what the deeply conservative Christian crowd wanted to do away with, these are books that they actively burned because they feared that it’d turn their children to witchcraft and that it’d turn them against their families. I’m not often in the business of actively insulting people on this blog, but I have to make an exception for these complete nutters who have the most backward, one-dimensional thought processes it genuinely astounds me as a human being. I am shaken by the knowledge that this sort of thing still goes on…
Even the former Pope, Ratzinger, had this to say to a German critic of the series who argued that the Harry Potter series corrupts children: “It is good, that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because those are subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly.”
There are still people who are shocked by the fact that Dumbledore is gay and that it’s immoral to have such a significant character in the series be homosexual. It’s important to teach people from a young age that the world is populated by lots of different people who live in different ways, think in different ways, and love in different ways to others. It’s important to teach people not to discriminate against others for being different, it’s important to tell them that you are not defined by your sexuality, you are not defined by the fact that you’re a minority. It’s also important to show that minorities can still have equal opportunities as the majority and the fact that they’re different should never be a handicap for them.
“And though we may come from different places and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one.”
And, as Stephen King beautifully put it:
“Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity.”
The day these cease to be valuable lessons to teach children will be a dark day, indeed. There are adults who still can’t seem to wrap their heads around a lot of these concepts, this is what happens when you are raised in a society which internalises so many prejudices and misconceptions about people who aren’t like you. I can only hope that the ‘Harry Potter generation’, as we’ve been described, will grow up to be the good people that our lowly children’s literature has encouraged us to be.
A major thank you to Lupinatic on Tumblr for providing the framework of the argument in regards to the seven books – your blog ever remains a source of humour, decency and common sense.