The Left’s Infatuation with Harry Potter

People line up to purchase Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at a bookstore in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2007. (Zainal Abd Halim/Reuters)
Given the series’ questionable progressive bona fides, why does the Left insist upon using the series to explain events in the real world?

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE T he progressive Left adores Harry Potter, analogizing nigh endlessly from the books. Why, of all the literary comparisons, they should choose this book series is completely bewildering . . . perhaps even bamboozling. Open-carrying deadly weapons; children of parents who pay no taxes attend a highly traditional and successful private school with nary a speck of government oversight. These lucky few inhabit an exceptional realm cut off from the rest of the world by a physical wall, lest those outside wish to share in the benefits of a magical society. What is more, the author of the book series, J. K. Rowling, contends that men are men and women are women. Truly a progressive utopia, this world of Harry Potter seems to be.

Even the parts of the books that would at first blush actually seem progressive are shown to be less so. Hermione Granger, the bushy-haired friend of Harry, looks to unionize the house elves because she considers their living situation — wearing airy loin-clothes and working for no pay — demeaning. In true “progressive ally” fashion, Hermione ceaselessly attempts to force the elves to be something they are obviously unwilling to become, going so far as trying to trick them into freedom. What this says about the so-called ally will be left to the reader, but suffice it to say both the description of the elves as enjoying indentured servitude and the white savior’s being rebuffed seems hardly to be a narrative that would gain much popularity on the left.

Arguably the most despicable character in the series is Dolores Umbridge, not Voldemort — Harry’s primary nemesis. A life-long bureaucrat, Umbridge lives to write oppressive, vindictive legislation and delights in the suffering of those upon whom her decrees fall most heavily. Odd that the Left would dislike a fuchsia, paper-pushing, middle-aged, big-government-loving toadie seeing how often they elect similar individuals to office.

Given the series’ questionable progressive bona fides, why does the Left insist upon using the series to explain events in the real world? The charitable explanation would sound something like: The Harry Potter series is a cultural touchstone for many people between the ages of ten and 40, having read it as youths and young adults, and the analogies drawn from the series are easy to follow with minimal explanation. In effect, Harry Potter supplants the Bible and Shakespeare as the analogous font from which writers draw to better explain current happenings. HP is in many ways a simplified, secular re-telling of the Christ story; specifically of the crucifixion, resurrection, and Pentecost. During an interview in 2007, Rowling confirmed the Christian imagery was intentional. Rowling’s repackaging job has made a religious account — with all the attendant baggage — wholly more palatable for a religiously diverse international audience.

The less charitable explanation for using Harry Potter is it may well be the last, or most morally complex, book the writer or celebrity has ever read; laughable were it not so depressing. Furthermore, it denotes a lack of reading comprehension. To take a book series that repeatedly promotes the value of tradition, familial expectation, and anti-authoritarian revolt and turn it into a vehicle for opposing mild immigration restrictions requires admirable mental elasticity.

The issue here is neither Harry Potter’s message nor the Left’s desire to use literature to better illustrate their points. It is instead the flagrant misrepresentation and use of a young-adult book series in a quest for political power that cannot hold up to any degree of scrutiny or patience.

This then is the steel-man argument for the use of Harry Potter as a source of literary analogy compared to more mature alternatives, that the Left is intentionally looking for the most wide-read and understood books with which to make their arguments albeit through an imprecise, muddled medium given the relative immaturity of the series. Simply put, it is asking too much of a young adult’s work of fiction to explain the complexities of our world.

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