In a recent column, to the dismay of some of my dearest Bohemian readers, I disparaged the elitist worldview of Harry Potter's creator, J. K. Rowling. Please allow me to elaborate.
In Potter-dom, technology is monopolized by wizard humans who lord it over genetically inferior humans known by the ugly sobriquet "Muggles." Through magical violence, wizard warriors dominate such nonhuman "races" as goblins and elves. According to the neo-Nietzschean Rowling, positive social change emanates solely from the acts of supermen. Critics of my analysis of the noblesse-obliging Potter gestalt are eager to salvage a modicum of hope from Rowling's framing of reality as forever capitalistic and racially determined—and, sadly, they fail.
The Potter works are powerful because they reflect reality. But if you want to fight the Dark Side, you must first recognize it. Bohemian reader Forest Staggs (see Letters, p6) writes that Rowling is "stirring up powerful latent magic of creative transformation." The archetype-wielding author does tap our lust for social change, but Staggs errs in defining Muggles as "obedient consumers" driving SUVs. More aptly, carbon-burning American consumers are members of Wizard Nation; it is exploited Third World workers and peasants who are Muggled.
Wizard society is divided into upper and lower classes, with wealth being key to social position. Its comfy lifestyle is maintained by control over the ownership of wands, which are both the means of production and punishment. Weapon-wielding wizards deny systematically uneducated Muggles opportunities to change the real social order of which they are kept oblivious; Muggles who witness magic are mind-wiped. Their "democratically elected" officials are political puppets of the wizards. Please note that Rowling approves of social engineering in secret.
Another critic, John Rose (also Letters this week), finds the Potter corpus to be "possibly the most subversive and influential book since the Bible." Nonsense. Karl Marx's Capital or Charles Darwin's Origin of Species or Upton Sinclair's The Jungle fit that bill. The Old and New Testaments do not favor liberating the wretched of the earth, quite the opposite. Today, it is used to legitimize slaughter in occupied Iraq and occupied Palestine. Rowling, on the other hand, may actually oppose torture and chattel slavery, but that does not make her subversive, just another angst-ridden liberal mired in the mud of neocolonialism.
Averting his eyes from the true cause of suffering—that is, economic exploitation—Potter refights WW II ad nauseam. A "good" ruling class faction battles "bad" rich guys and saves the world for "freedom" and wizardly business as usual. Sorry, but we have heard that bit before. America and England won WW II, and look at the bloody messes they have made of things. Wake up Potter heads: Rowling favors plutocracy over genuine democracy.
And she is a racialist. Informed people understand that "race" is not biological; it is a political concept, a social construct, a phenomenologically induced fallacy that keeps the poor fighting the poor. The racialist Rowling defines humans, goblins and elves as separate "races" marked by biologically determined characteristics. Her unclean Goblins are born greedy, obsessed by love of gold and money. They are untrustworthy, they have bad table manners. They are employed by their wand-wielding Caucasian conquerors as bankers to the nobility. This grotesquely Shylockian metaphor is deeply rooted in British literature and European socioeconomics and Christian culture starting from the Middle Ages. In other words, Rowling's dirty goblins are Jews.
House elves are good Negroes. They are cast as domestic slaves to white wizards, the wisest of whom sport blue eyes. Lucky house elves belong to liberal slave-owning wizards who have the option to "free" them by giving them a stinky sock. Dobby, who is Potter's manumitted house elf (where, pray tell, are the field elves, out of sight picking cotton?) is so ridiculously grateful to his teenage master that he cheerfully sacrifices his life for him. Uncle Dobby's Cabin, anyone?
Although human, the laboring Muggles are biologically and socially inferior to wizards. One out of a billion Muggles carries the genetic mutation (magic gene: smart gene) necessary to qualify for promotion into the wizard world. That slim chance of upward mobility apparently justifies the turning of a blind eye toward Rowling's system of Muggle apartheid by her hand-wringing liberal devotees in the fascism-exporting countries.
Rowling's social vision is so narrow, so constrained, so corporate-approved that to promote her tales as a source of political inspiration for liberation from tyranny makes as much sense as believing that Democrats will magically save us from military-industrialism.
Disgustingly, at the end of the final Potter book, Rowling's flagrantly exposes her ideological agenda. Potter becomes a Christ cliché and wizardry is saved from its sins by his crucifixion and resurrection. Fundamentalist Christians can rejoice: Potter is Jesus. Barf.
The Byrne Report welcomes feedback. Write firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Peter Byrne or send a letter to the editor about this story.