I’m taking a break from the Magical World of Harry for a bit. It can be a draining series, especially after a marathon of reading. Especially before starting on Order of the Phoenix. But, I noticed somethings on my re-re-readings of the books. These are things I’m not sure J.K. Rowling was doing on purpose, but they might not be noticeable on cursory readings.
In the books and movies the magical world is stuck in the 19th century, with bits of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries mixed in (as seen in fashion, language, and points of culture). I was absolutely charmed by this, being a Victorian gothic nerd. But, when Hermione called muggle technology replacements for magic, it made me think about how and why the magical folks are stagnating in a dated society.
Up until the Industrial Revolution, magical people and non-magical people were at about the same place, technology wise. Then, the muggles started making things and they started to make the process for making things efficient and, therefore, made more things more accessible for everyone. More. Things. Cotton, books, stoves, cars, computers, iPods, iPads, etc. Witches and wizards, on the other hand, are baffled by muggle tech because the magical world is stuck in a pre-industry time and mind set. Hell, that’s why they still duel and call guns “a kind of metal wand that muggles use to kill each other.” This kind of ignorance shows how unwilling the entirety of the wizarding world is to adapt and evolve. Even Hermione– a pretty progressive thinker because of her muggle parentage– is dismissive of muggles and their technology. Arther Weasley is pretty into muggles and muggle tech, but he’s still condescending, thinking of muggles as things to be studied.
I wondered about what would contribute to that separation of worlds, which is really difficult to do and maintain (if you’ve read the books, you’ll know that). Hagrid says that if muggles knew about magic, the magical people would have to offer magical solutions to everything. Let’s forget that the magical people can always refuse, and let’s forget that witches and wizards use magic all the time to solve any problem. That kind of attitude indicates the condescending feeling all magical people seem to have for non-magical people. What further indicates this and may actually be the reason for those feelings is the label the magical community has for non-magical people: muggle (I’m going to focus on muggles because the same argument applies to squibs). I mean, geez. Is “muggle” even a proper noun?
The use of this word may have created the border separating the two cultures, it certainly strengthens it. It even changes how the magical citizens think of the non-magical people:
- Hermione thinks so little of her muggle parents that she never (but once) visits them over the holidays and she doesn’t trust them enough to allow them to keep their memories in The Deathly Hollows.
- Arthur Weasley is a very nice man, but he talks about muggles more as dumb animals as opposed to members of the same species as he is.
- Death Eaters torture and kill them.
Was that a leap? Kind of. But, think about how language works. Using a seemingly innocent word to describe an entire group of people robs that people of identity, on an individual and a group level. When that word is considered normal, it shapes how the marginalizING group thinks of those who are marginalized. This benign bigotry leads to malignant bigotry, then to organizations of particularly hateful bigots, with one scary and scary-powerful bigot leading them.
We’ve seen this before. It’s no secret that the Harry Potter series is parallel to the events leading to World War II and the war itself. It’s also no secret that the whole series is an allegory of the effects of bigotry on the individual and society as a whole.
I’m inclined to believe that J.K. is clever enough to include more complexity in her books. The importance of language on a people and knowledge of history, as explained above. And, there’s the good stuff about friendship, too. There’s also some interesting stuff about the nature of eternity. Maybe I’ll get into it.