Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Cloaked in Magic: Real-World Issues Disguised in the Wizarding World

J.K. Rowling has an expansive imagination, but some parts of the wizarding world aren't too far from our own reality.  ♦ 
Sitting in a café in Edinburgh, J.K. Rowling put pen to parchment and created a magical world we all still dream of becoming part of. The wizarding world keeps multiplying, much like a Gemino curse, allowing fans to continually reengage with magic—but also with their own reality. The themes within the books transcend time and continue to remind us that even the most magical societies still are poisoned with anger and hatred.

On the surface, the Harry Potter series appears to be a children’s tale filled with triumph over evil and entrancing new narratives, but below the shiny surface there are many issues that connect the muggle world to the wizarding world. The themes the books explore are mature beyond their years and serve as a mirror to the world around us.

Issues of racism, classism, and outright discrimination are all very much present in Harry’s universe. In the books we see Voldemort rise to power, bringing hate and anger close behind him. Consider the Magic is Might monument which sits in the center of the Ministry of Magic, an executive hub for magical beings everywhere. It depicts a witch and wizard sitting comfortably atop a human chariot, a group of muggles painfully struggling under the weight, showing witches and wizards as individuals who see non-magic folk as inferior, as slaves. Consider Hermione’s social justice organization, SPEW, a group put together to literally advocate for the abolition of house elf slavery, drawing attention to the problems of human trafficking and slavery, still very much a part of our real world. What about discriminatory slurs, such as Draco calling Hermione a mudblood, Draco calling the Weasleys out for being poor, for being “blood traitors” and not honoring their “pure bloodline”? There are so many moments of hatred and prejudice throughout the books.

The Weasleys are portrayed as the good guys, but even they are not exempt from holding their own prejudices—Ron is disgusted when he finds out Hagrid is a half-giant and is terrified when he discovers Professor Lupin is a werewolf. Ron, while at his core pure-hearted, has been socially conditioned to believe those different than him are inherently lesser or “bad.” Readers get to watch Ron grow and overcome his biases through positive experiences. Perhaps we as readers see ourselves in Ron (and Draco), realizing we need to addresses some of our own prejudices. Rowling did not create a perfect world, but one that is flawed and dynamic. When you strip away the fantastical aspect of witches and wizards, you are left with reality: entire groups of people facing systematic oppression enforced by people in positions of power.

Sooner or later, everyone learns what pulls the carriage to Hogwarts. Death is arguably one of the largest real-world themes throughout the Harry Potter series. This should be no surprise though, seeing as to how large a role death plays in our own lives. All the characters penned by Rowling have gone through various stages of grief and loss of either a friend, a family member, or a loved one. Readers both young and old use these characters as mirrors for themselves, finding new ways to heal and cope. The series begins with the merciless murder of Harry’s parents, of course that’s going to affect him for the rest of his life. When Harry comes face to face with the Mirror of the Erised, his parents are once again smiling by his side—but this is not a possible reality, even with magic.

Harry Potter is just as relevant now as it was twenty years ago. So long as there are people willing to speak out against injustice, the stories will be there to illuminate our paths, with Harry, Ron, and Hermione leading the way, standing up against slavery, against discrimination, against hatred, and instead helping those who are silenced or underrepresented. Harry Potter will continue to excite and engage fans because it challenges them to think about the world they live in, and if change can be enacted for the better because of it, then that’s magic enough.

  • About the Author
    Paige Landers is a junior Creative Writing major with a minor in Disability Studies at Miami University. Paige competes with the Miami University Equestrian Team and volunteers her time training future service dogs through 4 Paws for Ability; she is also a Disney College Program alumni. You can normally catch her out and about with a puppy by her side and a coffee in her hand!

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