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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Harry Potter and Muggles

While I was not the targeted audience for Harry Potter when it was first released, I did eventually read the books, and one of my fondest memories is sitting outside the local coffee shop with two friends discussing horauxes.  Yet, I always felt some disquiet or something off when reading Harry Potter.  Part of it had to do with Hermione, but that wasn’t the real reason. 

(Bing Images)

  I could never really but my finger on it.  And then I realized that while Harry Potter starts as an outsider, the true outsiders of the book are the readers.

                In fact, this is true for many books.  Yet with Potter it means something different.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione work in part because they start as outsiders, as the un-cools, though as the series progresses that status shifts, as it must be considering what happens in each book.  Ron does, however, function as the least of the trilogy and thereby a latch key to the group.  But in the realm of the book, the readers are muggles, and muggles are really not that important, to anyone.

                Yes, anyone.

                Even those wizards that come from muggle families seem to have a lack of interest.  Reading the back stories of some characters such as McGonagall or Remus, one learns that those wizards who are part muggle are far more common.  Yet, Hermione seems to be the one character who exhibits any influenced by muggle society and this in her desire to free the house elves.   The view of most of the wizarding world is that muggles are to be tolerated and sometimes they come up with something good – such as a train – but otherwise just pat them on the head and keep them out of the business.  Perhaps the most disturbing story of muggles in the Harry Potter universe has to do with the development of the train to Hogwarts, built by muggles who had their memories wiped – perhaps unpaid muggles who also would have lost wages, at the very least tax money would have been used.  It is hardly surprising, considering this, that Voldemort had so many recruiters.

                Even Dumbledore is less than stellar here for look at his treatment of Petunia.  Actually, I really am starting to feel sorry for her.  It is awful to be the other sibling of a much beloved person.  And Petunia lacked magic, she wasn’t special in anyway.  Lily may have been sweet, but that doesn’t remove the treatment of parents, of almost indifference that Dumbledore shows – because surely Petunia can’t have been the only non-magical sibling ever.  Dumbledore’s letter, while an attempt to be kind, no doubt rubbed salt in the wound.  Then years later, imagine being made responsible for your nephew, who someone tried to kill.  This doesn’t justify her treatment of Potter, but she is at least worth feeling sorry for.

(Evans Sisters by Wishing On A Star.  Wattpad)

                The reader is a muggle and in most cases, at some point, in the re-reading of Potter, the reader will wonder what would be their life in the world.  Undoubtedly most of these musings have an owl appear in them, but as the reader ages, perhaps this changes.  While we still want to be Harry, Ron or, especially, Hermione, but a sneakily suspicions dawns that we might be a young and not mean Petunia.  It is hard not to take the slights to muggles in the book just in passing.  The outsider status is still there.  The wizards look less cool and more like holier than thou idiots – honesty, if the wizards are secret what could be the reason for that – hmm – they lost a war against muggles, perhaps.  Give a person a frying pan, hit wizard, break wand, war won.  Right?  Of course, there are larger questions – like what would a wizard do during a war, considering house elves would wizards side with the Confederacy?  What about the Holocaust?  What does it say about wizard morality if they didn’t get involved in the Holocaust?  These are heavy questions and not many, if any, readers are going to ask them

                But the reader is still a muggle, is still an outsider.

                And that is brilliant.

                Whether intentionally or not, Rowling highlights the importance of representation in books.  It’s truly the Potter books are largely white with most of the major actors being male.  This is something that she breaks in her Causal Vacancy (her best work, btw), and something that for all its wrongness Cursed Child also did.  And Vacancy too is about being an outsider in the real world, of being too different, of being the other, of being the outsider because of the family, of color, of size, of class.  Harry Potter puts the reader in the position of other – any reader, really. 

                Because of this, it is a hint, only a hint, the barest hint, of what it would be like to constantly read (or see for that matter) stories where what the reader is always secondary, if present at all.  So even if Harry Potter isn’t perfect in terms of representation, it still contributes to the conversation in a vital way.  That is true magic of Rowling’s work.

(Two Great Witches - Source BBC America)

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