In Defense of Harry Potter

I know, I know – does Harry Potter really need defending? Well, I’ll get to that.

First of all, hat tip to Jeffro for picking this up on his Google+ page. ClarkHat of former Popehat fame periodically includes nerdy bits and bobs like SFF books and movies in his tweets. Recently, he went off on Harry Potter.

You can read the whole chain here. Now that’s fine. And I have also noticed that there are many on the left who seem convinced not only that everything in politics can be accurately compared to Harry Potter or Star Wars, but that those who disagree with them are Voldemort/The Empire/The First Order.

I’m going to leave Star Wars alone for now, as my thoughts and feelings on that particular property are tangled and complex. As for Harry Potter – yes, JK Rowling is a leftist. That in and of itself isn’t, or shouldn’t, be disqualifying to those of us on the other side of the political spectrum.

After all, Asimov was a leftist and he wrote lots of great stuff. Ok, perhaps he’s a bad example, as Asimov is also much-maligned in certain conservative literary circles. How about Fritz Leiber or Michael Moorcock? Of course individual tastes vary, but these two are honored by broad swathes of pulp and classic SFF fans. And you know what? Lefties.

Now one might argue that Leiber and Moorcock didn’t push their politics in their works. I’ve only sampled a smattering of each, but I believe I can safely say the influence of their own values and beliefs was no more obliquely impactful on their storytelling than it was in Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

Hell, in Leiber’s Gather, Darkness!, the “good guys” are a bunch of faux-Satanist revolutionaries fighting against the evil Church. If you think Harry Potter is subversive and riddled with liberal messaging, I say this – at least the story is coherent and well-written, and the insidious messages well-couched.

For my part, I don’t think Harry Potter preaches liberal values. Sure, there are messages about inclusion and diversity, but these are only harmful ideas when taken to the extremes, which we can observe today in the modern Left. Dumbledore being gay? This was something Rowling commented on outside of the books. The great wizard’s sexuality was of no importance to the story and was rightly left alone in the text.

As to Clark’s takeaway, I fail to see how this is unique to Harry Potter. Children’s literature is littered with “special” children who have adventures. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe features four such. A Wrinkle in Time does, as well. It’s no sin to conjure up an imaginary world in which you are special, privy to some magical powers or swept up by fortuitous and extraordinary circumstances. And Rowling was hardly the first to image what a children’s school of magic would be like.

Harry Potter has such a long and fleshed out universe that you can look to draw any number of lessons from its text. There are plenty of conservative ones ripe for the picking, as well!

How about Ron’s twin brothers Fred and George, who drop out of school and start their own small business, which through hard work develops into a wild success?

And although Harry is financially well-to-do, thanks to his inheritance, and a celebrity to boot, what is it that he really wants? We’re shown that. Above all else, he wants a family. His wealth and “specialness” is beside the point. And as HP pointed out (see below), once you venture down that path, LoTR isn’t all about the “common man” as the hero, either.

From those hardcore fans of the pre-80’s stuff, we often hear that too much SFF today lacks action and romance. Well Harry Potter has both. Granted, the series blazes a path from children’s story to young adult, to (arguably) adult fantasy, so you won’t find too much romance in the earlier books. But as the story progresses, it’s there.

Incidentally, another complaint I’ve seen of late is that too many SFF covers feature people standing around just looking cool, without any kind of action or interesting activity going on. Well, there are a few of those in the HP series, granted. But then there have been a lot of dynamic ones.

picture12

I guess what I’m driving at is that I don’t really get the ideological divide on Harry Potter, and I think it’s a flawed perspective. Sure, we can pick apart the messages a given story may or may not tell; as readers and critics, that’s what we do. But not everything in a story is a hidden nugget of gold or a landmine to be discovered. Great writers concern themselves with telling good stories foremost. It’s natural that to some extent their values will shine through. But I also believe that truth is observable in the imperfect, and we can find conservative messages even in “liberal art.” Beyond that, I’m content to separate a creator’s politics and works.

Brian Niemmer offers a different viewpoint on this conversation over at his blog.

Update: After some conversation in the comment section, I just want to add a note to make sure I’m not misrepresenting Brian — he says that he agrees with Clark on a micro level regarding the tendencies of liberals to prefer Harry Potter and conservatives Tolkien, but is not suggesting that all Harry Potter fans are entitled snowflakes or anything of that nature. I probably should have engaged with him on social media to confirm that he wasn’t indeed adopting such a facile position, and for that, mea culpa. I don’t think Clark was really making such a broad generalization either, but I still think it’s a topic worthy of discussion.

Anyway, a certain comment on Brian’s blog posted by anome stood out to me:

comment

Exactly. We decry the expulsion of many of the great classic and pulp writers from modern SFF. Is the answer, therefore, to shun and batter down the stories told by those we don’t like, regardless of the quality of their works? I too am wary of being thrust into the “gatekeeper” role, and of those who would install themselves into it. But I suppose when you write reviews and share your opinions, it can become a tricky act.

The bottom line for me is this – there’s no accounting for taste, and we all like what we like. There are some who prefer newer or older works, or confine themselves to a particular genre or subgenre. To each his own. I just personally find it in poor taste to categorically dismiss something without having given it a chance, or to mock those who enjoy something you don’t (within reason, of course; feel free to mock me for the many hours I’ve squandered playing Mount and Blade).

I have a feeling I’m going to garner a reputation for being that contrarian jackass who rips on his allies as often as his antagonists. Sorry, friends. Brace yourselves for the post in which I explain why you’re all wrong about Star Trek Voyager, which was actually the best of the Star Trek series. It’s coming.

 

-Bushi

bushi

 

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34 thoughts on “In Defense of Harry Potter

      1. Yeah, that’s about where it picks up. The fifth one gets kind of dark and angsty, and then after that it’s basically war. Not for everyone, though. You won’t like it if you hate fun and magic.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Most of that dreaded “politicization of [ ]” isn’t about the content of the art but the politicization made by critics and commentators. What I’m trying to say is that people are pissed off at idiots using a silly children’s book as their main political analogy, which is silly in itself but it also taints the product for anyone who does not share such (usually silly) beliefs. But I’m sure that with a little imagination you could transform Harry into a little rebellious lolbertarian or something like that.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, fair point. I’ve probably let certain outspoken political speech influence my views on things like Star Wars and Stranger Things and the like. But I try not to preach at people who do enjoy those things, which I think is the difference. But you’re right – there are a lot of idiots foisting Harry Potter upon us.

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  2. “…I’m content to separate a creator’s politics and works. Brian Niemmer offers a different viewpoint on this topic over at his blog…”

    Protip: make sure to proofread your blog posts, because your meaning could easily be misconstrued, there.

    Nobody’s telling people to filter their reading choices based on the authors’ politics. Instead, Clark came up with a model to explain why so many SJWs are framing their electoral and cultural defeats in terms of Harry Potter memes. Could he be wrong? Sure. But to my knowledge, nobody’s offered a better explanation.

    Clark then contrasted the worldview of SJWs who use the HP memes with people who prefer LotR. A reader asked him for the sci-fi version,and Clark came up with Heinlein vs. CHORF-fic. He never said, “Don’t read Rowling or Scalzi because you’ll get Leftist cooties.” He said, “Leftists tend to prefer books by author X while Conservatives tend to prefer books by author Y, and this observation is a useful predictor of the reader’s politics.”

    I agreed with Clark on the micro scale, but I pointed out that his model breaks down at the macro level because a) Heinlein’s work is much closer to Scalzi’s on the sci-fi spectrum than it is to Tolkien’s on the fantasy spectrum, and b) pretty much all sci-fi writers going back to the pulps accepted basic (classical) Liberal understandings that Tolkien rejected (his favored form of government was monarchy, and failing that, anarchy–and yes, it comes through in his works).

    Again, at no point is there a call to shun certain works based on the authors’ politics. I argue that Tolkien and the pulps are superior on merit. That’s criticism; not gatekeeping. Amazon has made gatekeepig forever irrelevant. Neither Clark, nor I, nor anyone in the Pulp Revolution or Superversive movements have the power to keep anyone from being published. Nor would I want to. I want everybody to read and write what they want.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey Brian, thanks for dropping a comment.

      As to the first point, I do proofread my posts, but I see what you mean there – another line break would serve me well, and I’ll make an edit.

      Your point is well-taken, and I apologize if this came across as a scolding of you or something you wrote. Rather I think there are a few things at play here – one being that I may not have fully grasped parts of the intended meanings behind what you and Clark wrote. I read Clark’s train of thought as an indictment of HP and a general relegation of HP fans to the entitled and the snowflakes. And I read your agreement on the micro as an echoing of that sentiment. If this isn’t the case, I’ll update my post.

      Further, some of my post is a pushback on tangentially related opinions I’ve seen voiced within some of the circles within which we travel. You’re right in that I don’t think anyone on “our” side is trying to keep people from being published, and I don’t believe I said as much. But I do see a lot of “So-and-so isn’t a true SFF writer; he’s a liberal hack” or “most SFF written today (outside of a select circle of writers) is garbage” kind of talk. Not in those exact words, but that’s been my takeaway. There’s also been a lot of hate towards Harry Potter as a prop of the left (see Emperor’s comment).

      None of this is to say I dislike or wish to malign the select group of writers I refer to or the people who make these sorts of comments. It’s not personal. I simply disagree with the sentiments. It turns me off just the same as people who can only read hard SFF and rail against planetary romance. There’s plenty of room in the genre!

      I really think Harry Potter is a great fantasy work. Not everyone has to agree with me, for sure. I just hate to see enjoyment of it or a slew of other works chalked up to ideology, and that’s what I have been seeing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No worries. Always happy to engage in dialog with reasonable men.

        While Clark can speak for himself, I definitely wasn’t accusing HP fans in general of being entitled snowflakes.

        Your other points on HP and its fandom are outside my area of competence, so I’ll recuse myself and leave the rest to you.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah, I thought she had just the right mix of charisma and kickass. Was diplomatic but knew when it was time to shut up and fight. As much as I hate the way the term “strong woman” is thrown around, she was one.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah Voyager gets a lot of hate, but I think it’s really underrated. I remember enjoying DS9, I just can never remember any of the plot other than the major Dominion stuff, and I never really feel like going back to rewatch it (though I did once). Never gripped me the same way as the other series did, especially Voyager. Don’t worry, Alex, I’ll write all about it and you can do a counter-post about how wrong I am!

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  3. FWIW, I’ve always enjoyed the work of Steven Brust, Will Shetterly, and Emma Bull, but I absolutely detest their politics.
    I follow them all on twitter, and sometimes I have to bite my tongue, but they really are all very good writers.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve never read Harry Potter, but I greatly admire J.K. Rowling’s work. The decade prior to the publication of her first HP book (1998 in the US, I believe) was incredibly frustrating and depressing for anyone who was trying to get children to read. The school system in the US had apparently been successful in draining all of the fun out of reading (something that ERB had noticed years before), and nothing seemed to interest children (ages 9-12 especially) in books.

    That seemed to change overnight with the publication of that first Harry Potter book; suddenly, there were children not only reading, but actually memorizing entire passages and falling asleep with those books in their arms. And not just children either.

    So, bless J.K. Rowling and her little Potter boy too.

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    1. Well said, sir. If you ever have a chance and a curiosity, I’d recommend it (in case you couldn’t tell). They’re great fantasy stories because, like ERB’s stuff, they’re fun.

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  5. Scalzi gets a lot of grief from people in this general area of the web, and I think it’s mostly well-deserved. I enjoyed Old Man’s War quite a bit. I read it long before I’d ever heard of Vox or Sad Puppies. People say its derivative. OK, but I still think its a good story. Thing is he hasn’t come close to it since. Ghost Brigades was good idea that went nowhere from what I dimly recall. Redshirts was just a rejected script from Next Gen. But if he wrote another book that people I trusted said was good, I’d give it a try.

    Harry Potter started strong, but lost its sense of wonder as the novels progressed and the characters marched to the eventual showdown. It’s prose is very accessible, and it’s themes are easy to relate to. It starts quickly with relatively little downtime until the last book with the wandering around in the woods.

    Tolkien is a slog at times. Fellowship doesn’t really get off the ground until around a hundred pages in. You really have to want to read it.

    Voyager just never did it for me. Even Jeri Ryan’s cat suit and heels couldn’t keep me interested.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leiff,

      Some good observations. I’ve never read Scalzi, though I have one of his books somewhere. I think it’s about an outbreak that kills a bunch of people.

      I think Harry Potter did become less about wondrous and fantastical things and more about a magical war of good against evil. I’d guess maybe that happened as a result of her target audience aging. I think I actually enjoyed the later books more than the earlier ones, but I can see it not being everyone’s cup of tea.

      And YES about Tolkien. I’d really like to revisit LoTR one of these days, but it’s such a time and energy commitment.

      As for Voyager…well, once again, there’s no accounting for taste!

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  6. I can’t wait for your Star Trek post; I was at the first Star Trek convention in the Commodore Hotel in Manhattan in 1973, and I’ve got a story for you.

    Liked by 1 person

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