In the wake of last weekend’s “March for Our Lives” — a call for increased gun control in response to the horrific high-school shooting in Parkland, Fla. — a surprising figure burst into the national conversation. You might know him, for he is widely loved. He has a head of thick, dark hair and a lightning-bolt scar on his forehead, and he boasts a storied history of battling pure evil.
I’m speaking, of course, of Harry Potter. Gather ’round, muggle friends: Harry and his fictional wizarding colleagues, some now insist, provide the leading political narrative for our age. “Harry Potter Inspired the Parkland Generation,” declares a recent headline at CNN. Over at the BBC, an earnest piece describes “How Harry Potter Became a Rallying Cry,” “motivating and mobilizing its legions of fans” to fight against the second item in the American Bill of Rights. When it comes to teen anti-gun protesters, wrote Time’s Charlotte Alter, “Harry Potter has almost become their playbook.”
At marches across the country — marches like the one in our nation’s capital, where, as the Washington Post recently reported, the average age of the adult participants was “just under 49 years old,” with just 10 percent teenage participation — Harry Potter–themed signs stole the show. “Voldemort was defeated by teenagers.” “If HOGWARTS students can defeat the DEATHEATERS, then U.S. STUDENTS can defeat the NRA.” “Dumbledore’s Army still recruiting.” “Hufflepuffs for gun control.” (Given the derision the poor house of Hufflepuff sometimes receives in the greater Harry Potter community, I do not know if that last one was serious or not.)
Perhaps the strangest among the signs, however, was this: “Hermione uses knowledge not guns.” Next to this pithy line was a hastily drawn picture of young Hermione Granger brandishing . . . wait for it . . . her wand.
It’s worth remembering that Hogwarts, as an entity, was armed to the freaking teeth.
Her wand! Oh, dear. Have you read or watched any of the Harry Potter installments? Those wands are serious business! For all of the earnest talk about the wonders of the “Expelliarmus” disarming spell — and yes, there are people talking about disarming spells in conjunction with politics these days — it’s worth remembering that Hogwarts, as an entity, was armed to the freaking teeth.
“Instead of guns, wizards in Harry Potter use wands for self-defense,” Alex Griswold recently pointed out at the Washington Free Beacon.
Every wizard is armed at eleven, taught to use dangerous spells, and released into a society where everyone’s packing heat and concealed carry is the norm. It’s an inspiring example the United States should strive towards. But the reader slowly discovers there is wand control in the Harry Potter universe, and that it’s a racist, corrupt and selectively enforced.
It’s a fair point, but whatever. Derrida may have argued, via his theory of deconstructionist literary criticism, that the text of a novel stands alone. In today’s political climate, that might not be possible. I can tell you one thing: I am certainly not here to argue with devoted Harry Potter fans about wand control and the inherent violence found in forceful disarming charms.
It is a bit weird, however, to speak of a generation of kids being “raised on Harry Potter,” as a recent CNN column does. I mean, the books have brought joy and entertainment to many people, but they’re not holy scripture. But wait: At New York magazine, one essay upped the ante, comparing “the Parkland activists” to “the Biblical prophets,” and likening young-adult novels such as the Harry Potter series to, yes, “Scripture.”
I don’t want to rain on the proverbial Quidditch match, but hoo boy.
With this week’s flood of Pottermania, perhaps it’s worthwhile to consider other fictional books that might be considered rallying cries for our age. Bunnicula, by Deborah and James Howe, for instance, deals with the dilemma of sorting out real peril from imagined chaos. Island of the Blue Dolphins, meanwhile, offers survival tidbits we can all use when Amazon’s Alexa gathers her robot army to take over the world.
But ultimately, this is a somewhat daunting and dangerous task. Take A Wrinkle in Time, which was recently reinterpreted in a movie that seemed more concerned with increasing the number of women in STEM careers than with fighting against collectivist groupthink. Even weirder, some young people seem to read famous books cautioning against an expansion of government power and promptly interpret them as an endorsement of that very thing.
“Reading The Hunger Games & 1984 & Animal Farm & Harry Potter & The Giver prepared me for this!” read one well-publicized sign at the march. As a reminder, this was a march whose participants focused almost exclusively on the NRA, which is composed of private citizens. The marchers widely ignored the sprawling government agencies that dropped the ball in multiple horrific and embarrassing ways when it came to preventing the Parkland tragedy. 1984? Animal Farm? The Hunger Games? Really? Did we even read the same books?
Never mind. I give up, at least for this week. It’s 2018, after all; everything is kind of weird! In the meantime, perhaps we can at least call a national moratorium on calling people we don’t like Voldemort. It should be simple: His nickname, after all, is “He Who Must Not Be Named.”