J.K. Rowling is perhaps one of the worst authors of all time. Despite legal cases of plagiarism, plagiarism, and more plagiarism (the 1984 books titled, “Larry Potter and His Best Friend Lilly,” and “The Legend of Rah and the Muggles” by N.K. Stuffer are often associated with legal cases concerning Rowling), the Harry Potter franchise has enjoyed nearly absolute appraise. Every hero in the Harry Potter universe is an entirely unoriginal ripoff from great literary predecessors. In addition to the indiscrete process of plagiarizing characters and themes, Rowling is also a laughingstock of the publishing community. Rowling’s vehement and aggressive defense of any resemblance of copyright infringement – including the extremely rigorous offense against the publication of anything “unofficial” concerning the Harry Potter universe – has been intensely criticized by Orson Scott Card, who publically stated,
“She let herself be talked into being outraged over a perfectly normal publishing activity, one that she had actually made use of herself during its web incarnation. Now she is suing somebody who has devoted years to promoting her work and making no money from his efforts — which actually helped her make some of her bazillions of dollars. Talent does not excuse Rowling’s ingratitude, her vanity, her greed, her bullying of the little guy, and her pathetic claims of emotional distress.”
Despite Rowling’s entirely unrespectable behavior concerning her handling of the Harry Potter franchise, her series still boasts a considerable fanbase around the world. One of the biggest in history, in fact. Its first installment has sold over 120 million copies, making it one of the top-selling novels of all time, defeated only by the likes of The Lord of the Rings (ranking in at 150 million), A Tale of Two Cities (more than 200 million), and Don Quoite (500 million since 1605). Considering that the entire seven-book series of Harry Potter is reported to have sold over 400 million copies word-wide and has been translated into 68 languages, J.K. Rowling’s universe is one of the most influential entities in the world today.
But what, exactly, does this entail?
Harry Potter’s literary and cinematic is an extremely defining factor in the lives of many young adults. As such, I am convinced that the young adults of today view the entire world through Harry Potter lenses. Allow me to explain.
In July 2007, Ron Charles, a critic at Washington Post, wrote an illuminating summary of the social implications that the Harry Potter universe had for the youth of today:
“The vast majority of adults who tell me they love ‘Harry Potter’ never move on to Susanna Clarke’s enchanting ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell,’ with its haunting exploration of history and sexual longing, or Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials,’ a dazzling fantasy series that explores philosophical themes (including a scathing assault on organized religion) that make Rowling’s little world of good vs. evil look, well, childish. And what about the dozens of other brilliant fantasy authors who could take them places that little Harry never dreamed of? Or the wider world of Muggle literary fiction beyond?”
There is a phenomenon taking place in the 21st century, and Charles was one of the first to predict it, and that is the application of Rowling’s absolute “good-evil” distinction into every sphere of social and political activity. The youth of today have been heavily influenced by the Harry Potter universe, where the world is filled with Dumbledores and Voldemorts, Lupins and Umbridges, Harrys and Dracos.
There is the existence of Severus Snape in the series, which many fans believe is a type of tragic hero, but they are mistaken. Snape’s relationship with Harry’s mother, Lily Potter, was incredibly toxic, and he expected her to love him because of his niceness. Snape was exclusively not a bullied victim to be pitied, as Lupin made it clear that Snape gave just as well and often as he received vindictive bullying. Snape was an evil character in a good environment, and acted exclusively out of self interest, not ethical honorability.
The Harry Potter fandom, which comprises an enormous quantity of the global population, has been environmentally engineered by Rowling’s universe to interpret any given scenario of conflict as either absolutely good or absolutely evil. In every instance of conflict, millennials are on the lookout for archetypal heroes and villains while creating ideologies and movements that are to be viewed in shades of pitch black and snow white.
But, as any adult will know, life is not a fairy tale. Harry Potter is not to be understood as a manual for understanding societal norms. The Ministry of Magic is not to be deconstructed and interpreted as the essence of authority, and Dumbledore’s Army is not, and never has been, intended to be a sort of prototype of Antifa. Rowling’s work sets an extremely (albeit intentional) childish theme that should never be taken as a legitimate framework wherein to interpret themes of good and evil.
Life is filled with moral struggle, ethical dilemmas, and individual existentialism. In the real world, there are no Dumbledores or Voldemorts – there are simply people who have the capacity to do good and bad things. In the real world, every person possesses some form of virtue and some form of vice. There are no absolutely good heroes, and there are no absolutely malevolent villains.
Yet, this is how rhetoric is developed by young adults in the contemporary world. Anybody who expresses an opposing opinion cannot, according to much of the Harry Potter fandom, exist in some ethically grey area; rather, everybody must be good or evil. Thus, polemical statements such as, “Trump is literally Hitler,” and the conflation of anybody more conservative than Karl Marx is a “fascist.” This is employed so that the young adults of today can identify with one of the world’s most iconic protagonists, Harry Potter, who is pitted against forces of absolute evil.
There are positive things that one can take away from the Harry Potter universe, such as the importance of love and friendship, the victory of virtue, and the dedication that the characters have to achieve their goals, never “settling” to reach “barely enough.” But, this is a far cry from misconstruing every person in the public sphere into one of two positions: good or evil.
Past literature has always done well to avoid the perfection of moral or immoral character in both the protagonist and antagonist, respectively. In Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, lead character Rodion Raskolnikov is an impoverished student who murders a pawnbroker, intending to use her money for noble causes, justifying the evil of murder. In defense of this murder, he believes that he should not be bound by conventional modes of morality and convinces himself that he is some type of extraordinary man. This is the healthier protagonist; that is, one who struggles and pushes the boundaries of good and evil rather than quaintly planting themselves in one of the two boxes.
With the birth of Harry Potter came the death of respect of opposition. No longer are persons individuals capable of moral agency – through the lens of the regressive left, individuals are either a friend or enemy. The world to these contemporary readers is a massive ball of dualism, incapable of harboring any middle-ground or discrepancies.