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Jack Graham

Jack Graham wrote about Doctor Who and Marxism, often at the same time. These days he co-hosts the I Don't Speak German podcast with Daniel Harper.Support Jack on Patreon.

15 Comments

  1. Anthony D Herrera
    March 10, 2017 @ 11:04 am

    I can’t believe you killed off my 4th favorite character.

    Reply

  2. Przemek
    March 10, 2017 @ 12:55 pm

    You’re right about everything, of course, and quite brilliantly at that. Which makes me sad because I grew up reading “Harry Potter” and I love it unconditionally. Sigh.

    This ideological and socio-political stagnation of the Wizarding World is interestingly explored in the fic “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality”. Even the most brilliant wizards like Dumbledore consider worldviews significantly different from their own to be mild curiosities at best and silly childish ideas at worst. Add this to the corrupt government, shockingly outdated and cruel legal system and the willful ignorance of the Muggle world and you get a powerful group of people who use their power solely to further isolate themselves from anyone not like them.

    Rowling largely avoids the question of “why don’t wizards use magic to help Muggles”, but there’s a powerful scene in that fic where Dumbledore talks to Harry about not really wanting to live past the age of 150 and Harry just bitterly thinks about his Muggle relatives who probably won’t even get to live to be half this age. The only canon answer to this question – “because then the Muggles would beg wizards to help them with everything” – is just as laughable as it is cruel. Maybe that’s why the wizards really choose to live in hiding from the Muggles: so that they don’t have to think about those unfortunate pariahs who don’t get to magically heal their wounds and provide themselves with food.

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    • Lambda
      March 10, 2017 @ 7:36 pm

      “why don’t wizards use magic to help Muggles” maps reasonably well to the situation where lots of Westerners have money, and it doesn’t take much of a charitable donation when targeted right to save a life in a poor country, but they spend it on something non-essential instead, and don’t get thought of as remotely similar to murderers despite having chosen that some people shall die but they can have their Ferrari. Which affects people who can afford to drive around in the metaphorical bones of thousands of dead African children the most, but even applies to ordinary Westerners a bit. And is the driving force for a lot of modern politics, unrestricted migration would allow some equalization of wealth between countries.

      Reply

      • Przemek
        March 10, 2017 @ 8:48 pm

        You’re right, although it’s dangerously easy to take this way of thinking too far – after all, what is really “essential”? Is paying for internet access so you can comment on this essay really more important than saving African lives?

        Then again the situation with wizards is even more egregious than its real world counterpart. Even the poorest wizard owns a wand capable of disarming people, healing injuries, creating items and manipulating heavy objects. To ignore Muggle suffering while wielding such power is unforgivable.

        Reply

  3. Etana Edelman
    March 10, 2017 @ 1:30 pm

    Something I find interesting in the books is that, aside from “The Tales of Beadle the Bard” there don’t seem to be any works of fiction in the Wizarding World. Even Hermione doesn’t read fiction. I find it highly unlikely that J.K. Rowling doesn’t enjoy reading. It’s possible that she may simply dislike non-fiction. But, the whole thing illustrates a problem with the Wizarding World: There’s not much in the way of entertainment. There’s a rock band called The Weird Sisters and little else. Even as a kid who grew up on these books and loved them, I found that a bit odd.
    It’s also interesting to compare the series’ attitude toward books to another series my generation grew up on: A Series of Unfortunate Events. In the world of ASouE, literacy is considered a virtue, probably the greatest virtue of them all. Every book features the protagonists discovering the help they need in a library. The bad guys either don’t like to read, or they have terrible taste in literature; in the 11th book, the protagonists wear uniforms with the face of Herman Melville, while the villains’ uniforms contain a portrait of the poet Edgar Guest, whom the author mocks as sentimental and tedious.

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  4. Yossarianduck
    March 10, 2017 @ 3:03 pm

    There’s a trend in Rowling’s post-Book writings on Pottermore which characterises the magical world as having an almost kleptomaniac relationship with the muggle world, casually stealing inventions as they come up after the hard labour is done, and diddling them with Magic ™ to bring them up to scratch to the wizarding market (this is similarly used as a tactic by the leaders of Columbia in the game Bioshock: Infinite, another story set in a world based on reactionary folkloric iconography and the magical reduced down to its most utilitarian and manufactured). The Hogwarts Express was supposedly a large scale Magical/Muggle engineering effort over several months, with muggle memories summarily erased afterwards to avoid any questions, including presumably, “Where’s my money?

    Also, in the absence of toilets Wizards shit and piss in their robes, and magic it away. All kinds of readings from that…

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    • Jack Graham
      March 10, 2017 @ 3:28 pm

      Now I want to write fanfic in which the Wizards start to integrate with Muggles and Vox Day gets really upset about it because of their poo habits.

      Reply

  5. Jesse
    March 10, 2017 @ 3:28 pm

    I’d suggest that Rowling’s “cruel and judgmental view of people” reflects the POV of the books’ child protagonist. The stories are told through the viewpoint of a boy from age 11 to 17 who has had an extraordinarily cruel and loveless upbringing. It’s no wonder that he quickly forms judgments about people as a protective mechanism of sorts.

    I’ve not read her adult novel so if the same view pervades that then I may be offbase on this, but I think the books’ children’s literature heritage goes a long way to explain this perspective.

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  6. Froborr
    March 10, 2017 @ 4:07 pm

    Now this has me thinking about other settings where magic is an accepted norm in an otherwise modern-ish world, and how they treat the occult. Fullmetal Alchemist in particular comes to mind, and how it presents alchemy on the surface as working like standard-issue video-game-style magic, has characters claim it’s entirely a science, and yet there are occult layers lying underneath that come out over the course of the series. That may just because I wrote 16K words about alchemy in FMA last month, though.

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  7. Scurra
    March 10, 2017 @ 6:00 pm

    To be fair to Rowling, the lack of a plausible source of “things” is largely true of many fantasy fictional worlds, especially ones that are classed as being YA – I recall getting into a discussion about where Lobelia Sackville-Baggins got her umbrella from many years ago. But again, like the existence of toilets, it is presumed by default. In passing, I would note that Chamber of Secrets is built around a bathroom (and that’s quite a good joke in its own right.)

    Not that I disagree with your basic premise (although much of this was thrashed out in the HP fanfic communities years ago.) But set against that is the considerable evidence that Rowling knows that her world is inherently ridiculous; why else would she have deliberately created a “monetary” system that can’t possible make any sense unless there is no actual economy to worry about? Every volume of the book makes the superstructure of the Wizarding World sillier and sillier, even as it also becomes more and more authoritarian; these two elements may be linked…

    (For me, this is why “Methods of Rationality” is a complete failure on almost every level. Not only does it take itself too seriously, but it also prefers to create its own problems, and then pretend to fix them, rather than address anything in the actual Potterverse. But that’s a different discussion.)

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    • bombasticus
      March 11, 2017 @ 6:22 pm

      Those fanfic communities are an almost bottomless vault of treasure. ♥♥♥

      They live in a world of almost casual gratification limited only by big scarcity constraints (those regulated by Gamp’s Law as well as magical commodities that are just inefficient to transmute). As such as long as you have enough wizard money to buy healthy food all other economic activity — consumption and production alike — really boils down to the vagaries of personal taste and performative status, both of which JKR enjoys satirizing even as it reveals her own preferences.

      Reply

  8. John Galbraith
    March 11, 2017 @ 1:50 am

    A wizard world that segregates children as the first step in their secondary education don’t forget.

    Here I recommend the Mitchell and Webb sketch “Welcome to Hufflepuff” that I would link to on YouTube if I had the know how. Alas, I too am an appalling duffer.

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  9. Devin
    March 12, 2017 @ 11:13 pm

    I always took the “writer’s sadism” thing as an explanation of one method. It does, demonstrably, work, but of course it’s not the only method.

    Writers I’ve seen claim that approach seem to be those who are otherwise deeply fond of their characters, too. It’s not really a “just fucking hate these figments” thing, not if it’s going to work. It has to be “turn off your caring and drop this figment you love dearly into hell to see how they get out.”

    That might apply to Harry, Dumbledore, or Ronnie the Bear, but Rowling already seems to be squinting a little too hard at even Hermione to apply that method, let alone minor, ambiguous, or antagonistic characters.

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  10. liminal fruitbat
    March 13, 2017 @ 9:24 am

    It is entirely in keeping with Rowling’s tendency to emphasize the agency of inanimate objects over humans, without recognising that she is doing so

    Even the wands don’t have much agency when it comes to it. For all that Rowling insists “the wand chooses the wizard” and that there’s some special mystical aspect to the relationship, there isn’t really any choice at all: if you beat up a witch or wizard and steal their wand, the wand automatically switches allegiance to you. Ollivander’s counter-narrative, like the idea that the second-class status of elves, goblins, giants etc needed fixing, just got abandoned as soon as it might have become a complication.

    Reply

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