What in the World: The Left’s infatuation with Harry Potter

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The Progressive Left adores Harry Potter, analogizing nigh endlessly from the books and it is easy to see why. Open-carrying deadly weapons, a select subset of children attend a highly traditional and successful private school with barely a speck of government oversight. These lucky few inhabit an exceptional realm cut off from the rest of the world by a physical wall, lest those from the outside wish to share in the benefits of a magical society.  

When the government does introduce itself in the third book, it proves itself a feckless and overly rigid one. Eventually, the wizarding bureaucracy succumbs to infiltration by malign forces, becoming a minority-oppressing, authoritarian police-state from the fifth book through the end of the seventh. Only by violent resistance is this reprehensible government is deposed and replaced. What’s more, the author of the book series, J.K. Rowling, maintains that that those born with male anatomy are men and that those born with female anatomy are women. Truly a progressive’s utopia, this world of Harry Potter seems to be. 

Even the parts of the books that, at first glance, seem ideologically progressive can be shown to be less so. Hermione Granger, the bushy-haired friend of Harry, looks to effectively unionize the house-elves because she considers their living situation—wearing airy loin-clothes and working for no pay—oppressed. In true “progressive ally” fashion, Hermione ceaselessly attempts to force the elves to be something they are explicitly unwilling to become, going so far as trying to trick them into freedom. What this says about the so-called “ally” may be left to the reader, but suffice it to say that both the description of the elves as enjoying indentured servitude and the white savior’s being rebuffed seems hardly to be a narrative that would be much popular on the Left. Let it be said that Dumbledore’s treatment of the elves was inspired. Those elves who wished for freedom and pay received it, while those who thought it undesirable to work for pay were treated fairly and left to live as they pleased.  

The two most despicable characters in the series, Dolores Umbridge and Voldemort, have a couple of things in common. They both desire absolute power and use an acquiescent government—one with no apparent foundational document enumerating the rights of all people—as the mechanism by which to effect their desired outcomes.  

Oddly, Umbridge is cast as the most contemptible of the two characters. While the reader is shown that Voldemort was once a charming and promising young man whose hunger for power consumed him, Umbridge is only described as a loathsome assault upon one’s faculties without a sympathetic trait to be found. A life-long bureaucrat, she lives to write oppressive, vindictive legislation and delights in the suffering of those upon who her decrees fall most heavily.  

Given the series’ questionable progressive bona fides, why does the Left insist upon using the series to explain events in the real world? The charitable explanation would sound something like this: the Harry Potter series is a cultural touchstone for many people between the ages of ten and forty who read it as youths and young adults. The analogies that can be drawn from the series are easy to follow with minimal explanation. In effect, Harry Potter supplants the Bible and Shakespeare as the analogous font from which writers draw to explain current happenings for their readers.  

Swapping in the Harry Potter series for the Bible makes some practical sense as the plot is in many ways a simplified, secular retelling of Christ’s story, specifically of the crucifixion, resurrection and Pentecost. During an interview in 2007, Rowling confirmed that the Christian imagery in Harry Potter was intentional. This is deeply ironic, considering a series that garnered such irate howls from fundamentalist Christian groups, in the end, intentionally reinforces the axioms they most desire to be espoused. Rowling’s repackaging job has made a religious account—with all the attendant baggage—wholly more palatable for a religiously-diverse international audience.  

This, then, is the strongest argument for the use of Harry Potter as a source of literary analogy compared to more mature alternatives: that the Left are intentionally looking for the most widely-read and understood books with which to make their point, albeit through an imprecise, muddled medium given the relative immaturity of the series. It asks too much of a young adult’s work of fiction to explain the world’s complexities. 

The less charitable explanation for the use of Harry Potter is it may well be the last, or most morally complex, book the writer or celebrity has ever read; laughable were it not so depressing. Furthermore, it denotes a lack of reading comprehension. To take a book series that repeatedly promotes the value of tradition, familial expectation and anti-authoritarian revolt and turn it into a vehicle for opposing mild immigration restrictions requires admirable mental elasticity.  

The issue here is neither Harry Potter’s message, nor the Left’s desire to use literature to illustrate their points better. Instead, it is the flagrant misrepresentation and use of a young adult book series in a quest for political power that cannot hold up to any degree of scrutiny or patience.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know at abell@lawrence.edu. Cheers!