Because I prefer my pop culture moldy, I finally read Harry Potter this month. In 2017. And after months of reading jokes about how Trump is like Voldemort, I’m here to tell you that:
HOLY F**K YOU GUYS TRUMP IS LIKE VOLDEMORT.
Except he’s stupider. And has a nose (I think). And probably can’t talk to snakes (but if he could would the MSM be brave enough to report on it do we need frickin’ crowdfunding to maintain the basic functions of a democratic society’s media infrastructure that could accurately report on the presence of parselmouths in our government?!?!?!?!!?!?!??)
I have thought to myself many, many times these past magical weeks: Dang, it sure feels like Voldemort has taken over the Ministry of Magic.
Like most YA and fantasy novels, the series suggests a pretty easy and self-aggrandizing moral politics. Good is quirky, handsome and lovable; evil is greedy, ugly, and racist as all fuck. Noble versus petty. Love versus hate. The Force versus the Empire. Ragtag rebel Davids versus vicious marauding Goliaths.
But despite the cliches, the clunky exposition (there’s a Dumbledore-explains-it-all chapter every book, even after Dumbledore dies), and the simplified moralism, Rowling has written a compelling series. And perhaps that simplified moralism is what compels. After all, racism, our ultimate evil, refuses to stay in our past.
In book 4, at the Quidditch World Cup, a gang of black-hooded Death Eaters marches through the crowd of tailgaters while tossing and jerking mid-air an unconscious, flopping human family. This scene throws the barest fantasy scrim over shit the KKK would love to do right now. White Death Eaters are shooting black people to terrorize us. Last year. Last week. Rowling’s terrorist scene genuinely horrifies me.
Some of our morals are as simple as children’s books: Don’t be racist. Don’t humiliate others for sport. Don’t assault women or children. Don’t be a Nazi. Harry Potter books wash these truisms down like milk after cookies. But then we elected a guy who jampacked all of it into our government. The simplified moralism of Harry Potter feels far closer to our lives than YA fantasy ought to feel.
And closer, still: Harry’s magical powers exist because he has a little piece of Voldemort inside him. Throughout the novels, Harry and Voldy are twinned more deeply than most literary pairs. They literally share consciousness. Which means that maybe we have a little chunk of 45 in us, too. Which means we brought him to power, not the Death Eaters.
Harry’s existential plight also feels to me like the effects of trauma. Say, of the trauma of surviving one’s parents’ murder and growing up locked under the staircase; beaten, mocked, and starved by family.
In such a situation, children may grow up thinking they are either the most magical wizards in the world, or the most evil. We may distrust any attempts to draw a line between these two (only) possibilities. We may believe such moral differences are arbitrary. We may believe we live only because of luck. We may never believe in our own goodness, no matter how many teachers tell us we’re special. We may believe that it’s the evil inside us, not the good, that makes us who we are.
At the very end of the series, because Rowling’s logic is magical, the chunk of evil inside Harry is burned away by Voldemort himself, too ignorant and selfish to have realized that his mother’s love protects Harry from evil’s curse.
In our world, that chunk of evil gets burned away by psychiatric medications, a magic I am deeply grateful for.
In our world, we know that arbitrary magic or luck did not bring Voldytrump to power, nor did a little hypothetical bit of evil inside us all. A specific set of social and political conditions got him elected, and we can change those conditions to mitigate the harm he’s already doing to our nation and planet.
And in our world, if the magic of a mom or dad’s love were enough to protect babies from white supremacist evil, then we’d have a nation of black children alive again, foreheads scarred by lightning but allowed to wrinkle, over the many long years they should have ahead.