Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Harry Potter and the Fascist Ubermensch

This post was co-written with Withiel Black.

Harry Potter frightens me. In case you’ve been in your box for the past week, film number six is about to come out, and all Azkaban is breaking loose amongst children and adults desperate for another fix of the boy wizard’s fantastic escapades and Alan Rickman’s sexy voice. Now, I love Harry Potter, I do. I stayed up all night reading it on my eleventh birthday, and cried at the end because according to the rules of the book I was destined to be a Muggle forever, apart from a brief period in year 7 when some fundamentalist kids tried to burn me as a witch. But re-immersing myself in the franchise as an adult and a political animal, these phenomenally popular books throw up some serious issues. Just what kind of story is it that 21st century kids are getting hooked on?

JK Rowling is in the world-building business, constructing an extremely financially successful arena of the fantastic with deep roots in a nostalgised and mostly imaginary Great British Past of lofty private boarding schools and crumpets for tea. However, her body of work ignores the essentially murderous and imperialistic connotations of the particular era that it evokes and valorises. The entire premise of the franchise fetishises primogeniture, heredity and aristocracy: the Wizarding world is a glittering ubermensch, and those lucky enough to be born into it are destined for a life more resplendent and exciting than anything the rest of us Muggles (non-magical humans) can hope for. Even the talent of Muggle-born wizarding citizens like Hermione Granger is phrased as immutable and innate, rather than meritocratic: Hermione’s parents are Muggles, but she is and has always been a Witch. We are told, time and time again, that apart from his jolly old sporting prowess there is nothing that remarkable about Harry apart from the circumstances of his birth and of his parents’ death; he is born and fated to be The Chosen One, The Boy Who Lived, acting out sequential showdowns with His Scariness just in time for the summer holidays. The Potter fantasy of the British class system is fairly clear-cut, and relatively harmless, although anyone who has attended a boarding school will be quick to point out that it ain’t Hogwarts, baby. Far more damaging is the notion that to have a happy, free life, one has to be born special. Which is presumably the basis on which the author donates to the Labour party.

The world of Harry Potter displays some limited auto-critique. There is clear-cut, negatively-framed racism inherent in the system in its treatment of "mudbloods" – those of mixed wizard and Muggle heredity. However, this crumbling caste system is nothing compared to the lot of the general Muggle population. Think about it: the Minister for Magic is appointed by undemocratically selected community authority figures, and possesses supreme executive power. Even if we graciously ignore the fact that Wizarding Britain appears to have no clear legal code or human rights provision, the relationship between the Minister for Magic and the Prime Minister is deeply disturbing: to be brief, the former controls the latter's actions whenever he (there is no evidence of there ever having been a female Minister) deems it necessary, via direct mental coercion.

This subverts the process of Muggle democracy, and renders the entire country a dictatorship with a racist aristocracy determined entirely by birth – and entirely in secret. Rowling is operating a variety of fictional cultural hegemony here: children reading the books identify with Harry, and see the exciting magical world as an aspirational space. However, they would be far more likely to be born Muggles, and be subject to an ancient, corrupt system of political and racial oppression in which they do not even have the right to their own experiences – Muggles who are witness to magical events are subject to a Memory Charm which prevents them from recalling anything that might reveal the existence of the wizarding world. As with the reorganisation of wizarding society, the difference is one of scale: Voldemort and his followers want to exterminate Muggles, the Order of the Phoenix simply want to rule by secrecy.

Moreover, though Hogwarts is in some ways a sanitised version of the boarding school environment (lacking as it does the threat of the cane or homosexual experimentation in the showers after Quidditch) this does not follow for Rowling's through-a-glass-darkly version of Nostalgic England. Wizarding Britain is a nation in which the death penalty is enacted at the request of the Minister for Magic, in which the only prison is a place of unceasing psychological torture. One might argue that these aspects of Rowling's secondary world are not intended to be desirable – that these problems somehow mirror those of the real world. Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored that the Muggle world is entirely unattractive: one must choose between the middle-class invisibility of Hermione's parents, or the unceasing abuse and grim industrial torpor of the Dursleys. Not a single Muggle of the few that appear in the book is either enviable or positively presented, encouraging the reader to dismiss them as a bovine underclass, excluded by birth from the brilliance and excitement of the ubermensch lifestyle.

It might be argued that the revelations of the seventh novel redeem the books and reveal the system to be in need of restructuring. However, the only vision of the future society established by the newer generation of more tolerant wizards is established entirely on the grounds of marital and familial ties – there is no sign that Muggles are any less oppressed, or that the racial laws have been repealed. Nor is there any indication that free and democratic elections are now held for the Minister for Magic/Dictator of Britain, or indeed that anything much has changed other than the ages of the protagonists.

In the Harry Potter novels, racist conceptions of Othered humans are made into separate magical races -consider the long-nosed, conspiring, bank-owning goblins, for example. Even more outrageous is the fact that Rowling’s universe is phrased specifically as a racist slave economy: consider her portrayal of the obsequious, unfalteringly obedient house-elves, who seem to aspire as a race to no other existence than unpaid, unending servitude and physical torture. Dobby, the main house-elf character, is so traumatised when we meet him that he has begun to compulsively self harm, ironing his ears and fingers and flinging himself against walls for perceived misdeeds. Harry graciously frees Dobby after the elf has served his purpose in the story, but Dobby remains a liminal, damaged figure throughout the remainder of the series, transferring his slavish, servile affections to Harry, his inability to really assert his independence or form non-slavish relationship phrased as a quirk of his race rather than a tragic response to sustained abuse.

The house-elf revolution confirms Harry's, rather than Hermione's point of view on their servitude: actions are still inspired by inculcated loyalty rather than self-determination. The final section of the last novel set in the present concludes with Harry taking himself off to bed in the hope that the slave-elf Creacher will provide him with a sandwich. In the books, only Hermione Granger actually wants to free the elves from servitude. That this is phrased as absurd is, to an extent, a repulsive satire on the Civil Rights movement: after all, the elves clearly enjoy being slaves, and therefore the only reforms that can be made are those of better treatment. Hermione is ridiculed by her peers and by the world-creating writer because she does not understand the house-elves’ inherent genetic inferiority, and chooses to challenge their learned servility.

Just as integral to the world that Rowling has constructed is its complete lack of sexuality except for in the context of sterilised, heteronormative dating/marriage rituals. Rowling's controversial declaration of Albus Dumbledore's homosexuality, admitted only after her Far Right audiences have had a chance to buy and read her final book, does not redeem the Potter universe. Clearly, this author is either uncomfortable with dealing with relationships that do not end in marriage, or intends the sole queer exemplar in the text to be a former fascist sympathiser whose youthful indiscretions result in lifelong celibate penance.

The weird, heteronormative sexlessness of the Potterverse is one thing that fans of the books have directly challenged, through the medium of fanfiction and slashfiction. Hundreds of thousands of stories are held in online caches, most of them written by teenage girls, in which the characters they have grown up with multiply date, have sometimes really very graphic sex, explore homosexuality and bisexuality, exercise reproductive choice (the ‘contraceptive charm’ is one of the first and most enduring fan-inventions) and generally do all the things that they’re forbidden to do in the books. Of course, nobody reads children’s books to hear details of what goes in where – but the Potterverse is a throwback to an era of children’s literature before Pullman, Jarvis and Jacques, when the real issues of sex, gender and relationships that might affect children, issues like divorce, consent, contraception and sexual proclivity, were never discussed with them in or out of books.

Here we have a world in which people who are born special rise to the top, in which everyone gets married and has children, in which other races are subject to various degrees of legal and cultural oppression (but it's alright if you're nice to them), in which there are no gays at all (except secret ones that are very guilty about it), in which an aristocratic oligarchy has pretty much unlimited power, and in which family determines one's predispositions and destiny. Any way you slice it, 'Harry Potter' is a fethishised world of dodgy nostalgia built on the politics of reaction. The only question left to answer is: why does it matter?

Surely, Potter fans will contest, this is a children’s book and film franchise – it shouldn’t be subject to the same cultural critique as any other meme. On the contrary: we have a responsibility as readers to analyse the messages that this book sends precisely because its audience is so huge and so young. Harry Potter is exciting, in large part, because it allows everyone’s childish fantasies of oligarchy, order, genetic determinism and celibate adventure to run rampant. All young children are little fascists : they can’t help it, but in growing up,we learn healthier politics along with how to wipe our own bums and tie our shoelaces. The Potterverse – magical as it is – performs a calcifying spell upon that healthy, questioning politics. In conclusion: Accio Socialist Egalitarianism.

65 comments:

  1. All young children are facists?

    Ummmmmmm...ok. Crazy assertions order of the day? I want in!

    All young children are astronauts!

    All young children are Indiana Jones!

    Wow... It really does make one feel better.

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  2. @mark I am taking it in the sense coined in the late '70s as used in the phrase 'body fascist' for example rather than in the earlier Il Duce flavour. I could be wrong it is silly o'clock.
    I would also like to add that as well as these socio-political critisms the books are excruciating and tedious to read (the first couple are at least, gave up after that).
    But at least they don't have any vampires that fucking sparkle.

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  3. Forget about Rowling and read Phillip Pullman for telling fantastic fiction. I have never been able to understand why Rowling has been so fabulously successful. She isn't a great writer by any means.

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  4. Dumbeldore was GAY you Muggle-little hussy!

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  5. There is clearly a need for a book based on the revolution against our Wizard overlords.

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  6. You read like you have been reading too much FemoPoMo Theory. You seem to recoil from your conclusion, there is the faintest whiff of burning, or at least definitely should-not-read, book there. What exactly are you advocating people do with this? What is the critique FOR, other than your having fun writing the post?

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  7. 2007 called, they want their critique back.

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  8. Dude, I don't want to harsh your mellow or anything but HP fans have discussed these issues to death many, many, many times:

    http://community.liveournal.com/hp_essays/

    And considering that more in depth essays, discussion and fanficiton have been written than what you wrote above, I think that some research might be in order.

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  9. Very interesting post.

    Not sure I agree with the bit about the house-elves though. Magical races often do have genuine differences in a way human races don't, and if you're calling house-elves racist you have to say the same about any fantasy author who's ever had elves, dwarves, mermaids, trolls, etc and given them (as a group) distinct personality traits - and every sci-fi author who's done the same with alien races. They are often more like species than races (races is an unfortunate term for them, but was probably coined when people did believe human races innately differed that much, and has stuck).

    Indeed, I read Hermione's Society for the Protection of Elvish Welfare as a parody of the animal rights movement, not the civil rights movement.

    But it would have been better if Rowling had confirmed the point with a house-elf who had been brought up free and was still dissatisfied and wanted to serve, rather than one who'd previously been enslaved and ill-treated and whose inability to cope well with liberty could be explained by that.

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  10. tegeus-Cromis7 July 2009 10:34

    If you're really serious about literary adult fantastic fiction, Penny Red, read anything by M. John Harrison, particularly his Viriconium books available in Fantasy Materwork's paperback compendium called "The Pastel City".

    It will change you.

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  11. It was and always will be the fantasy of the middle classes, as they listen to ClassicFM and read the Daily Mail, content that a rigorous social hierarchy still exists in fantasy to please themselves that having such a system around them isn't a bad idea. In essence allows those chintz buying M&S zombies to carry on as much as they did before and have the private-ed oxbridge arrogance control our lives even more. And because it is an easy read with a very simple story that has the veneer of the modern world makes those zombies buy it for their spawn. But hey, you gotta laugh.

    Good, if heavy, critique but still doesn't address whether this is cause and effect or simply product of that world that loved it so much. And I agree with woodpijn about how many fantasy writers write in other sentient species as a norm, though I've often thought that few are able to do so without coming off wanting a slave trade or race war within their stories (E.g. Tolkien and his Orcs vs. Elves).

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  12. Isn't JK Rowling a Labour supporter though?

    Actually that might not be totally irreconcilable with being a fascist...

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  13. While, unlike Mark, I don't think you need to justify every throwaway line, I am intrigued as to why you think all young children are naturally fascist. I'd have thought more the opposite.

    Also, @woodpijn, it's more 'racist' to portray a race which is by nature fitted to serve others than to portrary a race with certain preferences and habits. The same as saying 'Japanese people are famous for their unrestrained emotion and passion' is less racist than 'the Japanese are fitted by nature to work as the servants of the Chinese, and will only be happy if they are thus in servitutde'. One directly justifies oppression as appropriate to the oppressed's nature, the other doesn't.

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  14. Haven't any of you noticed that "Mark" is an anagram of "Piss drinking right-wing cock sucker"?

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  15. Okay, this is clearly something I need to explain more. When I say 'small children are fascists', I don't (of course) mean that kids are born racist, sexist and intolerant.
    What I mean is, simply, that kids crave order. They crave simple explanations for the world. They want there to be clearly defined goodies and baddies, and they want there to be someone powerful in charge. Kids have fantasies of hierarchy and revenge, and like to formalise their place in a pecking order, even if it's not at the top. Kids like routine; when people upset the order they crave, they want there to be punishment. Do you remember school at all?

    This isn't because little children are bad. It's because their psyches are developing; most of us become braver and more experimental in our politics as we get older. That's what mature politics are about. Comprende?

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  16. KP, you win the Penny Red crossword prize that I just invented just now. :)

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  17. Part of the books' interest for me lies in the capacity to decode them as (for one thing) a patrician Tory, rather than fascist, confection. Rowling's blend of influences is interesting. Do you reckon it's valid to engage with and/or appreciate the text in those terms, rather than, uh, thinking of the children?

    Come to that, why assume that children will read escapist fantasy and take away the least desirable message from it? My reading as a kid was heavy on CS Lewis but I managed to avoid fundamentalist Christian brainwashing as a consequence.

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  18. Young children are indeed little facists. And little communists (they share), and libertarians (they don't follow orders), and liberals (they trade things, but only when it's fair), and conservatives (they don't like change), and radicals (except when they do), as the mood takes them.

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  19. Good post. I had a friend at college who wrote a dissertation on Harry Potter fanfiction - you made more pertinent points about it in one paragraph than she made in 15,000 words.

    I agree that any phenomena this popular really needs to be analysed for the political message it carries - all the more so if people tend to read it uncritically, or as 'just a fantasy'.

    Tom Harris has just been added to my list of Labour idiots.

    I disagree with the suggestion that children are fascists. To your idea that they crave order, hierarchy and simple explanations, I would counterpose Freud's discovery of 'polymorphous perversity' in infants. School is a very specific institution, and kids don't even start there till they're 5, by which time a lot of enculturation has already taken place. Some children exploit the school discipline system pragmatically in their conflicts with their peers, but I would argue that few of them actually identify with it. As a middle-class boy who went to a state school in a predominantly working class area, there was a definite difference between my relatively authoritarian attitude, and the attitude of many of my contemporaries.

    Also, as a fan of Nietzsche and left-Nietzscheanism, I think it's unfortunate and slightly lazy that your title perpetuates the Nazi's false association of the concept of the ubermensch with fascism.

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  20. Don't know why this is on a chemistry website, but it's a good summary of the ubermensch in nietzsche:
    http://www.chemistrydaily.com/chemistry/%DCbermensch

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  21. @penny Seriously -- this is way off the scale. Who cares?

    Just remember one thing no-one is forcing anyone to read these books. You don't have to if you don't want to. And no parent or child has to.

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  22. "Artemisia Lufkin (1754-1825)
    First witch to become Minister for Magic"
    (www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/wotm.cfm)

    Kreacher is spelt with a K.

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  23. I dunno... that sounds like a pretty good description of most adults too, Ms. Red.

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  24. Although the article seems quite fun, it doesn't half remind me of this: http://timesonline.typepad.com/comment/2007/02/tom_and_jerry_t.html

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  25. I think these books are Conservative in a deeper sense than you know personally but I just popped into say I enjoyed your article ( and I am banned from Lib Con in view of my unacceptably right wing views).

    Some great touches , love the description of Dobby

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  26. I thought this was witty, intelligent and amusing. Good effort. I'm not sure that you're using the term fascist particularly rigorously - is the fascist negation of this ideology the Muggles or the dark side? - but there's enough po faced guff already out there. Made me smile on a rainy day, so thanks.

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  27. Very enjoyable critique of the Potterverse and the inner workings in a socio-political perspetive. You certainly hit the nail on the head regarding inherent desire to rule in The Order of the Pheonix. Personally I felt that while Dumbledore always had left-leaning principles, he was still an authoritarian prat who would rather be waterboarded then ever admit he was wrong (and even then...)

    Another large problem within the Wizarding world is the complete disregard for working towards turning out mentally healthy, fit and psychologically functional alumni. No one seemed to realise that thanks to the problems within Hogwarts and rampant bigotry, a number of Hogwarts graduates and students were nothing short of genocidal scumbags, or joining an organisation of said scumbags and could have been prevented from doing so if they had received the proper guidance or got a bit of help, such as Severus Snape (If you know his full backstory, you'll see what I mean).

    However, I thought it would have been absolutely perfect and indisputable proof that there is a God and he loves me if it turned out that Snape's big dark Secret was that he was an old school goth, with the Bauhaus vynil, pre-rafelite art, classical horror fiction and signed Siouxsie Sioux photos to prove it. If HP got people putting their kids in boarding schools, I can confidently say that Snape being a tradgoth would have lead to a massive goth revival. And it would have been glorious ;-)

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  28. This was really interesting, but I did think some of it was a bit far-fetched, and I think you downplay the critique of racism in the book to make your point. Also, maybe it was meant to be really dark and we are meant to finish the series thinking "Shit, I'm a muggle! I'm screwed forever."
    And why does it matter that Rowling only admitted Dumbledore was gay after the seventh book was released? Would you rather she had made him some kind of flamboyant, camp caricature of a gay person so it was blindingly obvious what she was getting at throughout the books?
    I personally think the Twilight series is way more dangerous propaganda to feed to kids than Harry Potter.

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  29. There is another possibility, of course, which is that JK knows what is really going on, and the Harry Potter books are a coded way of telling us. That, too, would help explain her public closeness with Pa Broon.

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  30. I have to say I find the 'kids are fascists' thing unconvincing. First of, 'order' is one of those words (like 'freedom') that everybody supports because it means a hundred different things - heck, I 'crave order' and I'm an anarchist. A lot of autistic people 'crave order' but that doesn't link them in any way to fascism.

    Similarly for 'wanting clearly defined' anything - that's just being simplistic. And while 'loving hierarchy' gets a bit closer (although it still makes 'fascism' a very broad thing) I don't accept that children love hierarchy more than adults do, or that any light is shed on this question by looking at what (some of them) do in schools, which are for better or worse a very very hierarchical setting.

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  31. I don't think that I ever consciously wanted to 'formalise my place in a pecking order,' but that may have been because I was loser with no friends...

    Maybe I'm being v.stupid, but I thought the elves were meant to be another species, not just another race?

    And what about the whole liberation-of-Buckbeak thing? Maybe JKR is one of those types who prefers animals to humans...

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  32. Ah, but the thing is, Buckbeak is quite clearly *an animal*, a sentient being but without higher reasoning. The House Elves are *people*, albeit not human people. Interesting points have been made above about how Sci-Fi and fantasy authors deal with other higher reasoning races. Lots of more in-depth rantage on this has gone on within the fannish community. Here's a couple of examples of discussion of race in Star Trek, which to my mind is the most important place this happens: http://www.ibiblio.org/jwsnyder/wisdom/trek.html and http://www.stardestroyer.net/Empire/Essays/Racism.html. Or, if you've got a spare afternoon and want to see what the internet says to itself about race-in-literature-in-general, take a look at some of the posts on 'RaceFail' - http://rydra-wong.livejournal.com/146697.html

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  33. Ta for that! :-D

    And LMAO @ KP's comment.

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  34. Penny Red, you are such a complete fake. You post on the guardian sometiems saying you are gay, sometimes straight, sometimes bi. Your little info bit on this website about toast eaters, no regrets and so on is so ridiculously pretentious that I actually laughed out loud and couldn't brign myself you read your articles.

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  35. When on earth do I post on the guardian claiming to be exclusively gay or straight? I'm bisexual, although I have identified as straight when I was much younger.

    And I won't apologise for being a tad pretentious. On this blog I'm a caricature of myself, and that's a conscious decision - that's why I write as 'Penny Red', not 'Laurie Penny'. Penny Red is a louder, cleverer, less tactful, less subtle, more confident version of me, with stompier boots and spikier hair and fewer insecurities, and I bring her out of the box when I've got something to say.

    I like to feel that in spite of all that I'm generally honest in my writing, both about my own experience and when I'm researching. I call it as I see it, and if you don't like it, you don't have to get involved.

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  36. This is the clever version?

    Fucking hell. The mind boggles.





    Bitchy version of Mark, out.

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  37. C S Lewis said that he wrote the books he wanted to read.

    I'm not a fan of Narnia, but I think he was spot on about that particular thing.

    I'm not saying that you should necessarily write your own fantasy tale, incorporating your ideals, but it's a thought ...

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  38. Thanks for the article, I haven't chuckled so much at a blog post for a quite a while.

    I'm looking forward to the follow-up, which I hope will be a critical analysis of both the anomie and class struggle themes in the current 'Torchwood' mini-series.

    As well as large segments of the above article appearing in the Pseuds Corner column in Private Eye...

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  39. Vanilla, you wrote:

    'your own fantasy tale, incorporating your ideals'

    Some of us are already doing it in a new medium. Does it matter if you get paid or not? Does it matter how it goes down? To me this is much more fun than just writing a novel.

    Sorry about going a touch batty in earlier posts .. it was those white tights.

    Been out in the woods looking for logs to chainsaw. It's cold here and the fire needs fuel. Deep in the woods, if I see any dwarf-giants or Lulu lollipops I inform the local Harry Potter fan club. Once I thought I saw a bunch of Toffee-Tigers but that was way in the woods and I had my chainsaw going full pelt and my protective steamy sunnies.

    Fortunately I've managed to keep all my limbs or digits. I can be very clumsy .. wish me best for the future.

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  40. If as you suggest, Rowling's books create a nostalgised imaginary past, then I think the more interesting question is why is that so popular today? Is it a rejection of our modern, progressive culture by young people?
    Perhaps children like a world with stable families, clear gender roles, stay at home mums and hierarchy.

    I'd be more interested to see you do a review of the Koran.

    I don't see why you equate a love of order with fascism. Fascism, as Mussolini said, is the merger of state and corporate power. As another poster said, children like order, but not always, they might benefit from structure in school, but not necessarily outside of it.

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  41. This blog is full of nothing but communistic rantings. What a joke.

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  42. Police Constable Atilla Rees12 July 2009 08:22

    This was for the most part very silly, Penny Red. My word but you're a serious little creature aren't you now? Or possibly a mischievous one. It's rather difficult to tell.

    What is your next deconstruction going to be about? An analysis of the "date rape" subtext hidden in the Brothers Grimm version of the fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty"? The implicit bestiality hidden in "Goldilocks and the Three Bears"? Shocking achondroplasic revelations about the rampant nymphomania Snow White exhibited while living with seven dwarfs in a cottage in the woods?

    Sometimes a story is just a story!

    Now go and have a strong sugary cup of tea.

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  43. This blog is full of nothing but communistic rantings. What a joke! Yea

    'Sometimes a story is just a story!'

    But why shouldn't Penny Red write an analysis about any story in her own words? And lets face it she was bloody good at it. The way she used her words made you want to read it to the end. And other people read it and commented on it. Many people enjoyed the labours of Penny Red.

    Well done Penny Red for a great piece of writing.

    Now Police Constable Wee Wee Face go and have a joint and chill.

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  44. a louder and more clever caricature? that can only be if you are either pretending to be dumb in the Huffington Post or if you think that being able to pander to the audience is the same as being right. Which is it?

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  45. Police Constable Atilla Rees12 July 2009 14:30

    @ Mr. Divine

    I think Penny Red should relaunch an alter-ego of herself called Catheter. Didn't you feel her crawling up your urethra before mercilessly draining a sea of frothing yellow urine from your swollen and overfull bladder? Although she provided you with a service I'm sure, like me, Penny Red would agree that dicks should be somewhat bigger to be of use to man or beast.

    Oh! Before I go! I much prefer a sprinkling of Snow to Grass!

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  46. Police Constable Fell For It

    Thank you for sending me another 'you've got a small penis' insult. I'll file it with the rest of the penis insults. I've heard that one before, I think. Penny Red, have you heard that one before? It's got a familiar ring about it .. the catheter especially. Maybe I got it from another blog. I got insulted through the roof at this American Atheist blog for nearly two weeks. They call me heaps of names. And it was sometimes five of them onto me. I finally got banned but I never wrote any bad language!

    Anway I thought I'd write a little 'wind up (wee wee face!)' to see what sort of insult you would throw at me. Is it possible that you have any kind remarks to Penny?

    PS
    Snow is nothing in comparison to a psychotic episode.

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  47. Police Constable Atilla Rees13 July 2009 12:00

    @ Mr. Divine

    If you were literate you'd have recognised my alias as the name of a character in Dylan Thomas' "play for voices" Under Milk Wood and then understood the humour.

    Alas. It was not to be. Pity. If you had been able to "get it" take it from me "it" was very funny indeed! You're probably only teasing me anyway because I happen to hail from Jamaica and happen to be black.

    As for Penny Red I just wish the girl would "come out" and admit that she is in reality a full-blown (not supposed to be a pun) lipstick lesbian! Better to be 100% of what you really are than pretend to be 50% of something that you're not! Still you might yet be in with a chance of scoring with Red my friend. If she stuck her tiny hand down the front of your pants in a club or darkened alleyway your diminutive genitalia might fox her into believing that you were both XX genetically and so be willing to let you slip her some tongue in heaven and in hell if you get my drift!


    There was a young man from Rangoon
    who took Penny Red up to his room
    but when they got there
    they couldn't decide
    as to who should do what
    and to whom!


    So long my little wombats!

    Live free and let it breathe!

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  48. I find it fascinating that the 'Weasleys' are meant to be desperately poor, so poor they can barely buy school books, even though the older brathers work in good jobs and Mr Weasley is a Wizarding Civil Servant in a secure government job. But I try not to think about such tosh too much.

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  49. @ Mr Divine: no, the issue isn't whether one gets paid or not. It's just that people like me can find it difficult to distinguish between real people and internet personae ...

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  50. Vanilla Rose
    I was thinking of a separation of real you and internet personae on the lines of a internet relationship with me. We could become boy and girlfriend. As I'm half way across the world noting actually would take place. But there would be a romance between the two of us that people reading can't work out if it is real or not. We just certain words now and again.
    I'll leave it up to you .. do you wanna go out with me?

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  51. Police Constable Dylan Thomas/Hustler
    There is no doubt that you are a real artist in taking the piss using sexual references. There is no way I could match you both for superb language and humour.

    It seems such a pity to waste your skills on someone like me who couldn't care how many times and in what way you mention that my penis is small. Here, go forth to this website I got banned from and give them heaps.. don't forget to mention my name at the end.


    bluelinchpin.com.wordpress.com/


    PS We'll laugh about it later

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  52. Hello! *waves*
    I'm new to your blog, but was directed over here by Owen (who read this, and replied to it at his blog - http://thethirdestate.net/2009/07/the-muggles-are-alright/).
    And yes, I liked your article, although it seems like James’ point that whilst children have Fascistic tendencies (as perhaps, do we all) asserting that these tendencies are central to all children if a bit much. My cousins are certainly more anarchists than anything!
    I’m very aware that I might be taking this a tad over-seriously ;-) (but it's my break and writing about HP is marginally more valuable than looking at lolcats);
    My main problem with Harry Potter, that you touch on, but don't really say, is that it has tends to treat moral issues fairly childishly.
    What I mean by this is that, although Snape, as ever is an exception to this (as well as Alan Rickman's sexy voice - also the most interesting character in the whole series), pretty much everyone else can be divided into the BAD camp and the GOOD camp. Even worse, quite a lot of the people in these camps are born into them or bred into them. Harry is shiningly, wonderfully noble pretty much from the off, despite a complete (as far as we know) absence of moral education or childhood kindness (nor is his ‘goodness’ ever really that damaged by the continual battering that he undergoes). Tom Riddle is utterly evil right from the off, with no chance of redemption. Part of the problem with Azkaban as a notion is that it's entirely for punishing 'bad' people as opposed to, say rehabilitating people who have done wrong but are not, themselves, intrinsically evil.
    Similarly, when it comes to the action of the characters, as long as they don't do bad things or use 'dark' magic (I wish at some point she'd explained quite what made particular brands of magic dark) the way they're acting is good.

    It seems to that this might matter since the books childish treatment of ethical issues is one that, unsurprisingly, is attractive to children and which, if they are develop a more complex and nuanced approach – one which reflects the actual world, if not the attitudes of many of the people within it – active moral education away from their basic perspective is required.
    Not that we should decide which books contribute positively to the correct moral education of our kids and restrict them to only reading those (heck, no) but still – it’s a shame that the world that Rowling’s characters inhabit is so….Daily Mail in it’s treatment of complex issues.

    (must not reply to Torchwood post, must get back to work….)

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  53. Thank you for this post, I found it thought-provoking. I hope that the popularity of these books does encourage young people to explore such things as the "western inner tradition" hermeticism, paganism, the occult, etc.

    I tend to agree with the points that you make regarding the sub-text though I believe its not a deliberate effort on the part of the author who is simply making it all up.

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  54. You've probably already heard of it, but I think you'll appreciate the 'Death to Capslock' LJ community, which on the surface is a load of humorous rips into the HP series, chapter by chapter, but there are always good discussions that come up, all too often along the lines of this post, in fact.

    Anyway, it's nice to see another fan who isn't completely brainwashed by the hype! As for 'why does [the issues you've raised) matter?' It's because it was not intended to be children's literature. JKR stated time and time again that the HP books were meant to grow up as Harry did and were never 'just children's fantasy' (the only people who say that are either fans who don't like hearing others criticise the series on levels beyond mere shipping, or those who don't really get literary criticism, especially when done by mere fans as opposed to professors).

    When the hetreonormative, elitist, bourgeois (etc etc) fantasy is portrayed in a more 'mature' work of fiction without being suitable challenged within the fiction, then that is indeed a problem.

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  55. It is possibly worth noting that a lot of the nastier stuff comes through the opinions of characters, many of them either not very nice or children. It was my impression reading the books that Rowling didn't entirely agree with the attitude of her characters.

    I'm reminded of the debate over Robert Heinlein's attitude to homosexuals; in 'Stranger in a Strange Land' extremely negative attitudes are expressed, but in books written a few years after they are quite positive. In this case the point was that the attitudes in 'Stranger in a Strange Land' were expressed purely by one character, and not a terribly intelligent or sympathetic one at that.

    On a lighter note, the magical control of Prime Ministers bit would certainly explain why Maggie's voice got disconcertingly deeper and deeper as her reign wore on; obviously the Prime Minister control spell wasn't really designed for _female_ Prime Ministers, and was slipping. :)

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  56. I realize I'm late to the party, and some one may have touched on this, but you seem so worried about rooting out the stench of heteronormative behavior that you overlooked human behavior. Rowling's wizards may be an oligarchy (I got the feeling the Minister for Magic stayed out of the Prime Minister's way unless he really needed to do something to protect wizards and muggles, and that the series covered a period when he was particularly active in that sense), but they are much nicer to muggles than real wizards would be to real humans -- or than humans are to humans. Wizards would be better, as in more capable, and therefore more fit to survive. Therefore, if they are essentially human with expanded capabilities, we would be lucky to live under the graces of their benevolent oligarchy/dictatorship. In real life, they would have wiped us out or reduced us to the status enjoyed by dogs in our society. The reason the fascists lost is that they were not more capable and they threatened the survival of others who were their equals. Had they held an advantage similar to what wizards would hold over us, the few survivors among us would be happy to be speaking German now. So the wizards in Rowling's world are, in that way, a much nicer group of people, more benevolent and wiser than any group of humans outside of, perhaps, the Dali Lama's immediate inner circle.

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  57. has nothing to do with the book and its ideas. The critic just shows her narrow-mindedness, her lack of imaginationa and understanding, not to mention her inferiority complex.

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  58. Harry Potter is sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! EVERYONE says i'm obsessed with it. IT TOTALLY IS TOO for kidz!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  59. Hi,
    I like this article but..
    last night i went to the midnight premiere of harry potter and the half blood prince! I was honestly so disappointed! was it just me or did it seem very choppy and for some reason didn't feel like it was a harry potter movie. Don't get me wrong some of the parts in it were either really funny or somewhat scary but i really was not satisfied. I don't know, what did you think?? Am i wrong? Give me your opinions..

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  60. "Not a single Muggle of the few that appear in the book is either enviable or positively presented, encouraging the reader to dismiss them as a bovine underclass, excluded by birth from the brilliance and excitement of the ubermensch lifestyle."

    This is pretty much true for the entire span of 7 books.
    With added weight on the 'dismiss' part.

    I mean, muggle has their own 'brilliance' which wizarding worlds lacking. Space travel for instance. Or, on the grim side, our capability for violence and atrocities, which could even make The reign of Voldermort look like an episode of sunday morning cartoon.

    And yet, none of the wizard/witch, even the muggleborn ones(Hermione, I am pointing at you), ever mention any of this. And everyone's still struggling to say the word 'Vodkamort'. Except for our hero, of course.

    It's as if the minute a person declared as wizard or witch, automatically, they view anything muggle's not worth noting.

    What's up with that ?

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  61. You seem to recoil from your conclusion, there is the faintest whiff of burning, or at least definitely should-not-read, book there. What exactly are you advocating people do with this? What is the critique FOR, other than your having fun writing the post get facebook fans

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