What’s next for Harry Potter?
Now that our boy wizard has vanquished evil and defeated “He who must not be named,” what is next?
Harry Potter and the Deathly Climate Hallows? Harry Potter and the Planet of Fire? Harry Potter and the Scientist’s Stone?
I have been a fan since book one. My daughter had just turned eight and she was reading out loud to me as I drove us back to Halifax (I was teaching that year at Dalhousie) from Cape Breton Island. I remember the moment when I decided I loved J.K. Rowling. The sentence was “The atmosphere in the classroom was torpid.” “Torpid.” I realized Harry Potter was to be a series that would not pander to children, that did not presume their vocabulary should be limited to what can be read on the side of a Happy Meal package.
I also found in Harry Potter a societal analysis a la Jonathon Swift. J.K.Rowling used satire to pierce aspects of modern society, Rita Skeeter, reporter for the magical Daily Prophet, would have been quite at home working for Rupert Murdoch. The Death Eaters, followers of Voldemort, were racists and fascists bringing to mind the neo-Nazis in their quest for the pure blooded wizard line and their desire to stamp out mixed blood wizardry. It was as though Rowling was inoculating a generation against racial prejudice. Hogwarts was a decidedly, and deliberately, ethnically diverse place with students who were black, South Asian, Chinese. Despite some crazies who thought Harry Potter was about the occult, Hogwarts students celebrated Christmas and Easter. The dominant moral of all seven books is that good must triumph over evil. Sacrifice and selflessness will be involved.
Rowling also provided a powerful critique on mindless consumer culture. This was the world of the Muggles. The non-magical people, some Muggles were recognized as magical and offered places at Hogwarts. Those without any magic lived in places like Little Whinging, where Harry’s appalling aunt and uncle, the Durseleys lived. The Durseleys shop and eat and boast. They are cruel to the orphan Harry, but crueler still to their own son by lavishing loving, fawning attention. Dudley becomes a grotesque spoiled brat who wants more gifts, more toys and more to eat. Lost to consumerism and condemned to never have a single magical thought.
One of my favourite writers and activists, Bill McKibben, has written a few pieces that draw the comparison to Muggles and consumerism. I cannot find the longest of those pieces, from Sierra magazine, although I remember it well. The following comes from an essay, “The mental environment,” in Adbusters in June of 2010.
“The human mind and heart are not dead yet; indeed there are signs that we’ve reached the moment of resistance, that a million Vaclav Havels, albeit often tongue-tied and unsure precisely of their mission, are rising from different corners to challenge this assault. If you ask me what I remember from the WTO battle in Seattle, it is not the sting of rubber bullets or the choke of gas; it is a jaunty balloon rising above the melee with this message painted on its side: ‘Wake Up Muggles.’ If you’ve read Harry Potter, then you know: Muggles are all of us, living in a world of magic but unable to see it, focused as we are on television and mall. But we are waking, in sufficient numbers to ensure there will be the same kind of fight for the mental environment as there has been for the physical one. And, of course, the fights will overlap.”
The fight to address the climate crisis does overlap with the fight for justice. Both overlap with the quest for meaning, for a life lived, for a deeper awareness of the mysterious and miraculous that makes life possible.
Muggles, wake up !