Sunday, November 20, 2005

J. K. Rowling as Political Observer

There is a very interesting article written by a university law professor and printed in the Michigan Law Review. The link goes to an abstract of the paper (the full PDF file, if you care to download it, is 146 KB) so you can get an idea of what the author is driving at. And that is that the author of the Harry Potter books seems to take a very dim view of government. The author provides a number of examples in the abstract which made me sit up and take notice.
The critique is even more devastating because the governmental actors and actions in the book look and feel so authentic and familiar. Cornelius Fudge, the original Minister of Magic, perfectly fits our notion of a bumbling politician just trying to hang onto his job. Delores Umbridge is the classic small-minded bureaucrat who only cares about rules, discipline, and her own power. Rufus Scrimgeour is a George Bush-like war leader, inspiring confidence through his steely resolve. The Ministry itself is made up of various sub-ministries with goofy names (e.g., The Goblin Liaison Office or the Ludicrous Patents Office) enforcing silly sounding regulations (e.g., The Decree for the Treatment of Non-Wizard Part-Humans or The Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery). These descriptions of government jibe with our own sarcastic views of bureaucracy and bureaucrats: bureaucrats tend to be amusing characters that propagate and enforce laws of limited utility with unwieldy names. When you combine the light-hearted satire with the above list of government activities, however, Rowling's critique of government becomes substantially darker and more powerful.

The reach of the Harry Potter books is fantastic. To have children grow up reading them and coming to the realization that most government is part incompetent fumbling, part self-sustaining and self-interested bureaucracy, and part jobs program for social climbers is not at all bad.


Ellie said...

Love that last sentence!

Steve Erbach said...

Thank you. I've posted a bit of the abstract as well.


Anonymous said...

We took Lexie to see the latest Harry Potter film yesterday and I do admit -- the Ministry of Magic was a wishy-washy silly little man. :) I can't comment on the other comparisons because (committing heresy I guess) I am not a Harry Potter groupie. This was my first movie and I've not read a one of the books. The only reason we saw HP was because the film we actually went to see was having technical difficulties. :( HP's Goblet of Fire is about as dark and menacing as I can stand, and I'm an adult. Lexie loved it.


Steve Erbach said...


Janet had to take Eleanor out of the theatre when Voldemort was reborn. Personally, I loved it, though not quite as much as Prisoner of Azkaban. I should post my review over on IMDB.