There's overlap between traditional conservatives and critical theorists. How far does it go, and where does it end?
The Superversive World of Harry Potter
In reality, the best way to find reality is through fairyland.
Fairy tales of any sort are more truthful about the eternal verities of the human condition than many a tale told in the realistic style. Stories about a bold champion of Camelot or the enchantress of Aeaea, or the great dragon beneath the Lonely Mountain, will tell you more of sin and salvation, love and loss and love found again, than a yarn about a cuckold in turn-of-the-century Dublin, or a decadent drunk living in West Egg, Long Island. This is because so-called realistic tales deal only with the surface features of life, what we see with our eyes, so to speak; fairy tales touch the mystery and wonder at the core of life.
This is true even of tales that treat the matter of ancient epics and ballads lightly, as when a young orphan discovers he is not of our world but a wizard from the land of magic hidden from human eyes. Harry Potter somewhat cheekily, and with tongue in cheek, puts all the tropes of once-upon-a-time into modern garb, so that broom-riding witches play rugby in midair, and the sorcerer’s apprentice goes to boarding school straight out of Tom Brown’s School Days to face bullies as bad as Flashman. But even a lighthearted treatment of the eternal things will brush up against eternal themes: Harry must face a Dark Lord who is a dark reflection of his own soul, and he bears the wound of his mother’s love, which saved him as a babe, upon his brow.
Harry Potter is the most successful book of all time next to Pilgrim’s Progress and the Sear’s Catalogue. And so, naturally, there is a certain cult, known in his world as Deatheaters, and in our world as Political Correctness, that seeks repulsively to claim that success as their own.
A recent article in i09 reports that Anthony Gierzynski, a political scientist at the University of Vermont, found that Harry Potter fans are more open to diversity and are more politically tolerant than nonfans. The fans are also less likely to support the use of deadly force or torture, more politically active, and more likely to have had a negative view of the Bush administration.
From this the conclusion is put forth (in a leap of logic that would make the cow jumping over the moon blush with shame) that Harry Potter draws children toward the political Left.
What an utter load of rubbish.
I have inspected neither Gierzynski’s data nor his methods, but I know blast-ended skrewt dung when I smell it.
Asking on a questionnaire whether one is open to diversity is like asking whether one likes raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. And the caricature of conservatives as cretins who applaud deadly force and torture, intolerance and cruelty, is as much of a world make-believe as Voldemort himself.
Finding that no one in real life believes what bigoted leftists pretend conservatives believe does not mean most people lean left: it means leftists are bigots.
It is no surprise that more leftists buy books, including fairytale books, for their children, and pass along their political viewpoints as well. Leftists already live in Cloudcuckooland, which is next door to fairyland.
I suggest that some enterprising political scientist perform a similar study for any book-reading of any kind, not just books about schoolboy wizards, or, indeed, any idle pastime whatsoever. Leftism is found more among idle folk whose mental immune system is weak: among teens, among university professors, and among everyone else who does not work for a living. (And the People’s Republic of Vermont is as thick with the leftism-carrying vectors as a fever swamp with mosquito and tse-tse fly.)
As part of their ongoing attempt to politicize private life, and spread their cult, leftists since the 1930s at least have attempted to import their messages into movies, popular songs, television, everywhere. It is a particular badge of courage to them if they can get a conservative father to buy a book containing propaganda for his child unknowingly.
When a leftist critic calls a book “subversive.” he means it as a compliment. He means that the work undermines the expectations of art form but also that it undermines the current social order, because, to the Left, even art forms, even children’s books, can carry the plague vector of their worldview.
For better or worse, reality is conservative. Because of this, drama in any form tends to be conservative: readers still enjoy reading love stories and heroic adventures. Hence a book like Harry Potter, which is based on archetypes as old as cave paintings — wise men with long gray beards, evil serpents, trusted comrades, the unloved orphan (who, like Hercules or Moses, is chosen by fate to slay monsters or evil lords and save his people) — is innately conservative.
And so, ironically, the faithful leftist reading of Professor Gierzynski’s dimwitted paper, fooled by the pseudo-scientific smell the paper emits, will find the tables turned. It will be the conservatives who cackle when the unwitting leftist buys these magical books for his child. These books teach the most solid and conservative of messages imaginable.
And, no, I do not mean that they teach that intolerance is good and torture is even better. I mean these books show clear and edifying examples of core conservative values in action. Let us list a few:
- The families in Potter consist of mothers and fathers, not various partners of various genders engaged in various acts of free love. Ron’s family is a shining example of a loving family, with a father who works and a mother who is willing to face mad witches if need be for her large and well-loved brood. Harry Potter himself is saved by his mother’s love and protected from the evil spells of her murderer.
- The government in Harry Potter’s world, as in ours, in inept, corrupt, and regarded as an obstacle rather than the source of salvation. Each boy relies on his own wit and courage and friendships to save himself and to save the world.
- The press in Harry Potter’s world, as in ours, is inept, corrupt, and a source of outrageous falsehoods. The main reporter-witch can assume the form of a mosquito.
- The moral universe in Harry’s world rejects any form of relativism. There are no shades of gray here, or examples of a thing being right for one group and wrong for another. The ends do not justify the means here either: knowing that Voldemort is also an orphan raised in poverty does not automatically make him one of the oppressed and therefore excused in anything he does, as it would in the left-wing world.
- Dumbledore is gay! And the one example in the book of Dumbledore’s love is an evil man who manipulated him. Aside from that, as best the text can show, Dumbledore lives chastely.
- Do I even need to say anything about the alleged occultism in Potter? We Christians invented the medieval romance from which the modern novel takes its form, and modern fantasies slavishly copy, including this one. Romance is as Roman as Rome. If you think Sir Orfeo or Orlando Furioso or Le Morte D’Arthur is occult, go find the nearest exorcist: you’re possessed by the imp of stupid.
- They keep score in Quidditch. I just thought I would throw that in.
- There is no cult of victimology here. Anyone who gets ahead, even the Chosen One, is because he works hard. The Twins open a joke shop when they graduate; they do not go on the dole.
- “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” Harry conquers death by submitting to it at Voldemort’s hand, and destroys the Dark Lord by being reborn. He sees the Dark Lord’s soul as the shriveled and pathetic thing it is, not glorious.
- Salvation requires sacrifice.
- Rules are made to be broken.
A word on this last point. One might think that we conservatives, who are law-and-order types, would object to a book in which the hero defies a government order and trains in secret with his fellow students against a day of war. However, conservatism, if it is anything, is the belief in limited government. We like rebels when the authority oversteps it role and turns corrupt, as it does in Harry Potter, with the various fussy bureaucrats, traitors, and cowards occupying the Ministry of Magic.
Leftism by its nature is totalitarian, since it extends its reach to every element and aspect of life. For leftists, life is politics and politics is life. For them, everything is a political issue, from the weather in the Arctic to the size of your bank account to the volume of your toilet tank to the chemicals in a hairspray bottle to the pronouns you use when the antecedent is unknown to whether a Catholic can refuse to bake a wedding cake for a ceremony that desecrates a sacrament. In other words, leftists applaud revolution only when it is directed to the overthrow of whatever stands in the way of their socialist utopia. No leftist of which I am aware has ever expressed sympathy and solidarity for Lech Walesa, for the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, for the protesters of Tiananmen Square, for the protest novels of Solzhenitsyn. They applaud Malcolm X and Saul Alinsky. Leftism is statism; whenever the state is growing, leftists frown on rebels. It is only small and healthy states they want rebels to overthrow.
The first thing I ever heard about Harry Potter, back before I had read it, and the thing that most strongly recommended it to me, was that liberals thought it was a bad example to give kids because the young hero defied authority.
Had I known that the book also offered up rather clear examples of Christ-like self sacrifice, self-reliance, and moral clarity, not to mention a pro-family hence antipress and antiauthoritarian message, I would have rushed out even quicker to buy it.
So, adding this all up, I would say these books are about as left-wing as a portrait of George Washington crossing the Delaware meeting Saint Peter walking on the water coming the other way, with Merlin the Magician in the background talking to Aslan the Great Lion.
This book is the opposite of subversive. To subvert means to overturn from below, and make noble things seem base. This story uplifts from above, and uses the dark material of witch and warlocks to fashion a tale of light. Harry Potter overturns expectations of the low, crude, selfish, and replaces them with the good, noble, self-sacrificing. If I may coin a term, the story of Harry Potter is superversive.
John C. Wright is a Nebula Award–nominated science fiction author whose work has received noteworthy critical and popular acclaim. Publishers Weekly called him “This fledgling century’s most important new SF talent.” He is the author, most recently, of Awake in the Night Land and The Judge of Ages (Count to a Trillion).
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