Ms. Rowling says Ministry of Magic is the Blair and Bush Governments in Story Form

Keith Olbermann of Countdown television show fame is a big Harry Potter fan. He had the distinction of introducing Ms. Rowling to the crowd at Carnegie Hall and to speaking with her backstage before the event. As you might expect, they talked politics and they are kindred souls of the left. On his show Monday night this week, he shared this bon mot:

OLBERMANN: There was something even more startling [than the Dumbledore revelation], which she had told me, and then hinted at with the audience, the political subtext of the entire Harry Potter series…. Lost in all that [Dumbledore information], what Miss Rowling said backstage, then touched upon again to here young readers. First, she told me the parallels between the Mystery of Magic and its false sense of omniscience and the conduct of the American and British governments were no inferences. She had put them there. She then said on stage the books are, quote, a plea for an end to hatred, to bigotry and a lesson for kids and everybody else to question authority. You should not assume the establishment tells you the truth.

In his conversation with Chris Cillizza, he went on with this political lead:

OLBERMANN: But am I wrong in thinking that the other quote, and what she had said to me backstage, might actually be something that really does change the meaning of some of the work. This message, question authority, you should not assume establishment tells you the truth. So if somebody read a parallel between this smiling torturer in the book, the Orwellian character Dolores Umbridge and either Dick Cheney or Tony Blair, they perhaps weren’t imagining things?

CILLIZZA: Right, look, again, you talked to her, I didn’t. I’m not sure I want to go that far. But what I will say, Keith, is that of course this is based on her life experiences, her experiences when she was younger, her experiences when she was older, the way in which she interacts with the world. I think it would be beyond belief, frankly, that it wasn’t influenced by things like the war in Iraq, the Bush administration, however she feels about Tony Blair.

She’s writing these things in a context. She’s not in a hermetically sealed chamber of secrets—I couldn’t resist—writing. She’s writing this thing in the real world in real time. It makes sense that the context of the world around her influences what the books say.

OLBERMANN: And I’m, just for the record—I’m leaving a lot out of my conversation with her. I’m sticking to basically what she said in public, because I feel it is kind of incumbent upon me to get her OK without going further. It’s interesting, yes or no on this, will the politics of the Harry Potter series be explored now?

CILLIZZA: I think so. Any time you have something this popular, Keith—and we’re talking about, like I said before, I mean, popularity beyond anyone’s wildest – any publisher’s wildest imagination, I think we’re definitely going to see it explored. It is a cultural phenomenon and will be explored as such.

OLBERMANN: Fellow Potter nerd Chris Cillizza of the Fix at WashingtonPost.com. Great thanks for being our expert on the subject.

Two quick points:

(1) Like him or not (and I’m told there’s a lot to like about Keith Olbermann by the Potter Maven who sent me this link: hat tip, Linda!), Mr. Olbermann is Rita Skeeter, if there is an obvious analogy to be made. He misquotes Ms. Rowling shamelessly here to make his point that she is dissing the Bush/Blair regimes. You’ll remember that she told her Carnegie Hall audience to question authority, with the specific meaning that they shouldn’t “trust the establishment or the press to tell you the truth.” A la the Daily Prophet, Mr. Olbermann has his agenda and is not afraid to use Ms. Rowling to make his point. Much more obvious than a political parallel in the books is Ms. Rowling’s depiction of journalists as self-important, risible folk who willfully and intentionally misrepresent things. That Mr. Olbermann, consciously or unconsciously, deleted her mentioning the press as one of the bad guys not to trust, sadly, makes her point.

(2) More important, Mr. Olbermann has clued us in to Ms. Rowling’s next revelation. The Ministry of Magic and its mindless persecution of innocents were her characterizations of the Bush and Blair governments.

And is anyone here surprised, shocked, or dumbfounded? I hope not. That was only a little less obvious than the Skeeter pointer to Fleet Street. And a whole lot more obvious than the Dumbledore tragic infatuation…

The interesting thing to me is that the books, while in Swiftian brilliance they caricature government and press as power vehicles that are evil by nature, the novels do not deny that there is a greater evil in the world than government and press. I think it was Daniel Nexson of Georgetown University who, at the Prophecy 2007 luncheon for which I was the moderator, noted that Rowling managed to split the difference between right and left on the “War on Terror.” If Voldemort has been interpreted, as inevitably he must be, as a stand in for Islamicist Terror, the story says clearly (a) there is a real evil in the world that we must consciously face and resist and (b) how we choose to combat this evil will determine whether we become evil ourselves, win or lose in the war. This is no small balancing act and a lesson to both sides of the political aisle.

I hope very much, when the political discussion becomes more public than Ms. Rowling’s backstage talk with Mr. Olbermann (and that’s ‘when,’ not ‘if’), that she and along with her the Harry Potter stories don’t become a vehicle of press and politicians to score points in the public square. Bad enough that the discussion of these books has been detoured as much as it has this past week into culture war categories and ruts; we risk a sad and prolonged derailment if Ms. Rowling begins endorsing candidates and drawing parallels between the Fudge and Rufus Ministries and the George and Tony show.

Wait for it.

Comments

  1. John Mark Reynolds asks, “Is Dumbledore Labor?” and “Should we care?”

  2. Arabella Figg says:

    Do we just accept at face value what Olbermann says, which isn’t documented in any way? Isn’t this the Quick Quill Quotes of news reporting? We don’t know for a fact that Jo said this; he’s just claiming she did. For all we know he’s making it up because of an agenda or desire to have an “inside scoop.” And he makes it appear as if he’s got more luscious bits, if only Jo gives the okay to blab.

    Luscious Badboy smells something bad…

  3. Actually, I kind of hope that Tony Blair–or that amazing actor from “The Queen” who played Tony Blair–is the Prime Minister in the beginning of the next movie…..
    😉

  4. I’m beginning to hope that Ms. Rowling takes a sabbatical soon from interviews.

    About this present kerfuffle, since she didn’t do anything obvious IN THE TEXT to identify the MOM with the current or recent-past Anglosphere governments (as far as I know, she didn’t anagram their names or anything of the sort) I feel free to ignore this attempt at specific satire and take it as a more general sort of satire of the kind of risible but dangerous shenanigans that government, as an institution, is liable to.

  5. Did she have a crystal ball? She began the stories long ago in 1989 and they were in full swing when the Bush administration went into office. She lived a large part of her book writing in the Clinton admin. and don’t forget Blair was PM then, way before Bush. I just saw a timeline issue to address.

  6. I have really enjoyed reading your scholarly analysis of late. I for one love KO’s Countdown and yes he takes any and every opportunity to “diss” Bush. But he asks many questions that for one reason or another others are afraid to ask…perhaps for fear of the answer!

    As a political news addict, I cannot help but read the HP series with a polictal satire eye. I think particularly the last 3 books really laid bare the trappings of power, politics, and ideologues. The comparisons are painfully obvious! Painful perhaps because they are so obvious.

  7. ADT: If I understand the Olbermann comments, he is referring to the Ministry of Deathly Hallows specifically and Dolores Umbridge among others in this Pius Thicknesse led government.

  8. david3565 says:

    Olbermann has been caught lying on multiple occasions. It may be his “interpretation” of her statements just happens to fit his prejudices.

  9. I agree with rumor. For someone who supposedly had the 7 books fairly well mapped out in her head from the beginning, this sounds a bit like revisionist history, if Olberman is telling the truth. Sure, she may have seen parallels as she went along. But historical parallels, better ones, already existed.

  10. Perhaps it’s just me – no, it’s Salon (http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2007/10/23/dumbledore/index_np.html) as well – but perhaps it might be better if Jo Rowling stops talking for a while.

    zr

  11. JohnABaptist says:

    Of course, J.K. Rowling is not the first serious author to hold readings and lecture tours about his or her works while being publicly adored in a kind of Elvis-like haze. I wonder how our current situation might compare with say a Charles Dickens or Mark Twain tour?

    Were similar questions asked about extra-canonical items? Was there a fevered pressure to know the fore and back-stories of particularly beloved characters? Did the press of their day mold Dickens’ or Twain’s remarks to suit the prevailing socio-political winds? If so, how did Dickens or Twain respond?

    And how did the analysts and pundits of that day handle the situation? Was there a formal analytic process within academia at was affected by the remarks on those tours? Or were academics in those days content to wait until after authors were decently dead, buried and guaranteed silent before venturing their analysis?

    If someone has references, I would love to see any comparative studies.

  12. Is the connection between story and reality so broken that people actually
    have a hard time making the connection between the spirituality and the books?

    Is the connection between story and reality so broken that people actually
    have a hard time making the connection between the power politics and the governmental situation as of late?

    Poor Jo Rowling. There was a time when people loathed her cone of silence.
    Now, here we are, a bunch of hypocrites with no sense of irony, bemoaning her speaking out.

    To quote someone who really got strories and irony:
    “What a piece of work in man!”

  13. “is man….”

  14. John,

    I’m sorry, but I do not agree with your comparison of Keith Olbermann with Rita Skeeter.

    Nope.

    I am going to give Keith the benefit of the doubt and say that the reason I think Keith didn’t mention the bit about the press was that he was influenced more by the personal discussion he had backstage with Jo more than any transcript of the event he read afterwards.

    I would assume that Jo probably discussed the political implications with him and she might not have taken the time to mention lapses in the press.

    It might just have been a politeness part to not dump on the person’s profession as you are talking to them, or they could have had a real discussion. Which once you start talking about something the other party jumps in and gives their thoughts. So if she started talking about the Ministry of Magic being a parallel to Muggle governments in the Real World, they might have had a lot to talk about that in and of itself without the subject then moving onward to the Daily Prophet being a mouthpiece of a corrupt government.

    I also think it shows restraint on his part to have said this:

    “And I’m, just for the record—I’m leaving a lot out of my conversation with her. I’m sticking to basically what she said in public, because I feel it is kind of incumbent upon me to get her OK without going further. ”

    I don’t know how many reporters would have kept things secret that might have otherwise been considered to be a scoop. He did that out of respect for her because he was deferring on the side of caution by not knowing if it was off-the-record or not. I’m sure this was right before the show and there was possibly a lot of things going on, and he left shortly after his introduction to go across town for his nightly broadcast.

    So, you want to know who I think in our modern media makes a better target to pin the “Rita Skeeter” tail on the donkey?

    Bill O’Reilly. The polar opposite to Keith Olbermann.

    To prove my point I had to do something I found to be personally painful.

    I watched a video snippet of Bill O’Reilly online. I would have far more preferred to find a transcript, but I didn’t see one.

    Here’s the link should you want to verify and/or see it for yourself:

    http://www.foxnews.com/oreilly/index.html

    (I watched it twice and scribbled notes, but this is not an exact transcript and I do not have the stomach to watch it a third time to make sure my quotes are accurate.)

    He interviewed Tina Jordan, Senior Editor of Entertainment Weekly who was in attendance at Carnegie Hall last Friday night.

    O’Reilly opened the segment by admitting that he has never read the series, but he read up on the controversy so he felt comfortable covering the story.

    He wanted to know “why if J.K. Rowling wanted to make a character gay why she didn’t just make the character gay rather than go to Carnegie Hall and announcing he was gay. I don’t get the strategy. Is it just publicity? Why have a gathering of Potter aficionados and drop the ‘gay bomb’? Why do that?”

    Tina Jordan replied that Jo Rowling was asked a question by a member of the audience.

    O’Reilly wanted to know if the question was “Is Dumbledore gay?”

    She replied no, the question was if Dumbledore had ever found true love or something like that.

    O’Reilly said she could have just answered yes or no, that she didn’t have to answer it in detail. He then went on a diatribe:

    “She did it to provoke. I think this woman is a provocateur. She’s a provocateur.”

    There was then a discussion saying that Jo had said that the series was a prolonged plea for tolerance and Ms. Jordan asserted that everyone knows gay people.

    O’Reilly spoke about the gay agenda and culture wars. He asked if it was clear that Dumbledore was gay and Ms. Jordan said no.

    O’Reilly concluded that “J.K. Rowling is a provocateur and she did it on purpose to let all hell break loose.”

    Yeah, he freely admits he’s ignorant of the subject, but that doesn’t stop him from pontificating. Sounds like Skeeter to me.

    As for political analogies in our world, I would also disagree with your parallels.

    I think that there is a malevolent force within our current government. That they used the acts of religious fanatics in order to justify their own plans to seize and concentrate power that runs counter to our Constitution. They started their wiretapping program of U.S. citizens in February 2001 and had plans in a drawer just waiting for the Pearl Harbor like moment.

    You want analogies – Dick Cheney is Darth Vader. So what if he’s not a character in the Potterverse, it fits and besides that his own cronies call him Darth Vader.

    Bush is Cornelius Fudge who does whatever his puppet masters tells him to do and thinks that he is in charge.

    And well, to find someone who is outside of government and is terribly powerful and evil to represent Voldemort …..Rupert Murdoch.

    How’s that for you?

    To me, Osama bin Laden and his minions are Muggles who have persecuted the Wizarding world because they find it abnormal and strange. Not unlike the boys who attacked Ariana.

    Fanaticism is dangerous, whether it be from Christians or Muslims or Hindus or Jews or even atheists.

    I cannot equate Osama bin Laden with Voldemort. For one thing, his forces haven’t infiltrated our government. Or if they have, that only means one thing: HUAC all over again.

    Please no, no, NOOOOOOOO.

    Linda

  15. JohnABaptist says:

    So does Rowling satirize Blair and Bush in which case her work will last a generation?

    Or does she satirize Power and the way it abuses both those who grant it and those who wield it, in which case her work will outlive the English language?

  16. chrystyan says:

    Golly, I thought it was not all the government’s fault…but was Voldemort’s fault. He had ruined all these families’ lives, bridges collapsing? Storms in the West Country? After all, the other side can do magic too! Let’s go back to the canon and see what it says in the first chapter of HBP. Scripture (book of James) says that war comes about from sin. Therefore, Voldemort is at fault.

  17. ZoeRose: I enjoyed your pun very much, and I think it is very true: The political tropes in the HP series were indeed “painfully obvious. Painful perhaps because they are so obvious.” What is fascinating is how that contrasts with the “Dumbledore is gay” revelation. The article you link (thank you for doing so) sets forth evidence for what the author considers to be the pervasive “intimations about the headmaster’s sexuality” in HPDH. But after rereading those sections in context, I find it possible in each case to see only friendship as the reference or to fail to see sexual connotations at all. This is not a case of being in “denial,” but rather a debate over textual exegesis and the hermeneutics of texts: That is, where is the meaning located? In the text or the author? That is much less true in the case of the political tropes in the HP series. There, the references are far more visible, even if we can still contest their meaning. (I am not arguing for a single, univocal meaning or interpretation, but that some interpretations are more probable or plausible based on the text itself.)

    John: I agree with your analysis. As I read the HP series, I recall feeling admiration for Rowling’s balanced fictional handling of the issues surrounding the war on terror: critiques of both what many perceive as (a) futile Draconian measures that do little truly to deal with the problem and (b) head-in-the-sand denials that a problem really exists. I think the parallels you sketch are there–I don’t think they have to be one-to-one; parallels can be asymmetrical and still carry force, but again the extent of these parallels are open to debate.

  18. Knuckles: I don’t see that those who wish Rowling would stop telling so much more than the books themselves do are being hypocritical. In the article ZoeRose linked, for example, I think the journalist’s point was simply that Rowling–by disclosing so much about the post-textual life of the Hogwarts characters and the textually unstated background she used to develop certain characters–is foreclosing some of the playful afterlife of the reading experience. In other words, part of the enjoyment, or even angst, after completing a fictional work is discussing precisely such points as, for example with the HP series, “Was Snape really evil?” “What did Harry do after Voldemort’s downfall?” And so on.

    Many writers, when asked questions about unwritten details about their works, will refuse to respond directly by saying, “I want the work to stand on its own” or “I want to let readers make of it what they wish.” Speculation about characters, whether their careers or relationships or whatever, is left to the imaginations of readers. We can decide what we want about any of these things. In that sense the work becomes a corporate possession, an appropriate level of ambiguity is maintained, and the work does not become aligned with any single ideology or interest group. Rowling, by divulging more and more details about the characters not explicitly expressed in the books (understandably as you say; people have been clamoring for it), is depriving us of this experience.

  19. Ugh. Take the Olberman-O’Reilly stuff to another board. As far as I’m concerned they are both Rita Skeeters. Which one offends you worst probably has more to do with your personal politics than an objective analysis of their obviously biased, truth-twisting and slanted reporting. A pox on both houses. And on JKR from taking a timeless work and trivializing it so.

    Tolkien steadfastly refused to take the bait when he was repeatedly asked to confirm that the One Ring really represented, or at least was a good parallel for, the atomic bomb. JKR could learn from his example.

  20. I didn’t like the gay revelation, I do like the Olbermann hinted revelation–so can I pick and choose? Some like those revelations in the reverse. I think John does a good job in the other article pointing out that it is worth considering how much an author can add to a story–or if they can add at all–after the fact.
    I was trying to think of something comparable, if for instance a letter by J.R.R. Tolkien was discovered stating that in his view Sam and Frodo were homosexual lovers, would I be forced to revise my viewpoint of those characters and the story based upon such a fictional letter? How about if Rowling revealed that the Islamic Fundamentalists are actually the counterpart to Harry and his friends who are bucking the established government in book 7? Would I have to accept that point of view and revise my own? It may be that a Fundamentalist somewhere in the world right now is reading Book 7 and thinking that very thing. Doesn’t every reader bring themselves, their views and biases into each story they read?
    I have long thought that the closer I get to an author, the more disappointed I become in them, and less enthusiastic I am about their work. There are, thankfully, exceptions, but I fear next we will have a book outlining all the philosophies and ideologies of Rowling and the cult can begin in earnest.
    I say we stick to the books and what is clearly revealed in them. I don’t like people revising my thinking for me, and Rowling says question authority, I say let’s begin with her.
    I will hold tightly to my original HP editions, some day we may get a revision that is nothing like the original Potter books.

  21. I kind of wish she’d let it be. Maybe it’s because I’m half-theatre-major, and my former advisor has so impressed me with his philosophy of the art– each person reads the text and, within the director’s vision, takes what it gives to him and puts it on stage– and every person in the audience gets his own show– As Paula Vogel (Pulitzer for drama) put it (paraphrased): ‘You sit in a theatre, and there are two hundred different plays that happen, one for everyone in the audience.’

    I have sought out extra information before, such as watching the Lord of the Rings DVD special features, but at a certain point, it makes it so familiar it’s not… special anymore; there’s no wonder of discovering those little things that are meaningful without it having been explained. I could watch a documentary about the themes of mercy and redemption in Tolkien, but it’s not as significant as when I have that moment where the art speaks just to me. I’ve had a rough time on my theatre thesis this term, really felt disrespected by the director, but watching the dress rehearsals for Othello, it has meant that when he slaps Desdemona, and she cries and says, “I have not deserved this,”– it resonates with me powerfully. Could any explication of the text do that?

    This is not, of course, to denigrate literary analysis– the difference is that that’s from the text. It is like meeting an old friend– here is this thing that I couldn’t put my finger on, but is familiar to me– why? Because I have read this too, and have this sense about it… whereas simply having everything handed out so freely.. well, it just seems to cheapen the experience. It is not the prize for having read– it is the journey in reading that is important, and that true and honest reaction to art.

    not particularly a great contribution to the discussion, but it flowed forth from my fingers and thus I post it.

    best,
    ~Nzie

  22. Much agreed, John.

    We’ve been thrown for a loop with the gay revelation and now the political Pandora’s box has been opened.

    I just don’t see much upside to any of this.

  23. JohnABaptist says:

    Shamelessly answering my own appeal as posted above (http://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/?p=201#comment-17519), I offer a link to an article by Matt Shinn printed in the Guardian in 2004 which addresses some of the same issues HogPros are currently discussing as they applied to Charles Dickens and his tours: http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,11710,1135476,00.html

    Dickens clearly extended the canon of several of his works into so-called “reading copies”, as excerpted here:

    “On top of the stand, Dickens kept the reading copies that he made of his texts – special versions of the Christmas books and passages from his novels, pasted into volumes with extra-wide margins, to allow for his scribbled alterations and stage directions to himself. Continually changing while in repertoire, these adaptations developed into new, free-standing versions of the old favourites. (The reading text of A Christmas Carol has just been reprinted, for the first time in nearly a century.)”

    And! no less a reader than Mark Twain was uncertain of the value of these appearances; being especially put off by Dickens’ tendency to adopt an English accent for his characters, presuming we might assume, that nothing in the canon had prepared Mr. Twain for this:

    “Not everyone fell under his spell so easily. Mark Twain was disappointed by the performance that he saw: Dickens, he said, was “a little Englishy” in his speech, pronouncing Steerforth as “St’yaw-futh”. But even he was taken with the sight of such a celebrity, fascinated to have in front of him the famous head, that “wonderful mechanism” that had governed the directions of so many literary characters. “I almost imagined I could see the wheels and pulleys work.””

    There are certainly precedents for our concerns, unfortunately the article gives no hint as to how we (or Twain) might work them out.

  24. Seamus Clay says:

    From reading her books and living her fandom, I would have figured Rowling for a limited-government, pro-defense libertarian like me; a far cry from the nanny-state neo-socialist of the Olbermann interview.

    I’m not usually surprised when fantasy fiction authors reveal they intend their work to take sides in politics or social commentary. I enjoy Herbert’s Dune series and McCaffrey’s Pern series, even though both have some overt homosexual and political themes I disagree with. They are “good” literature, but not “great” literature, partly for this very reason. The greats, in contrast, like Tolkien’s Rings and Lewis’ Narnia, manage to transcend the transient political and social issues of any particular time period, even when such issues are directly referenced.

    If only Rowling had employed editors to filter her spoken words as well as they must have filtered her published words, someone might be able to reasonably argue her Potter series could have the same potential for timelessness as Rings and Narnia. As it is, Rowling, who has claimed to aspire to comparisons with Lewis, seems to have limited herself to comparisons with McCaffrey.

    As one who engages in Pern fandom more frequently than Potter or Narnia fandom, I certainly do not intend any comparison with McCaffrey as an insult, just an observation. I find Rowling’s storytelling imminently more readable than McCaffrey’s, and thankfully, some of her more controversial themes were less overt; however, the categorization of the series as “children’s” literature is probably more questionable now than ever.

    In a day and age when young fans read far more text about a series on Web sites than is contained within the covers of all its book, the argument over whether an author’s statements should be considered canon is entirely academic. Potter fandom is social phenomenon; it doesn’t matter whether the book says Dumbledore is gay, the book’s author says he’s gay, so he’s gay. It doesn’t matter that the book makes a great case for rugged individualism and against the dogma of trusting government to solve big problems; if the book’s author says it’s spoofing particular hawkish administrations for political reasons, it’s spoofing those administrations for political reasons. (Even, as rumor hinted, this means Rowling would have been commenting on Bush’s administration of the State of Texas and the Texas Rangers for most of her series, if Olbermann isn’t Skeetering).

    According to Pottercast’s episode on the latest revelations, Potter fandom is almost entirely left-wing, and doesn’t consider homosexuality any more of a moral issue than “stamp collecting”. If they’re correct (and they run one of her largest fan clubs, so they could be right), then Rowling may have massively expanded sales of movie tickets and books to children of progressivist politicos, without alienating any audience leaning more to the right or center. Time will tell.

    If I had a time-turner, I’d go back to the days when Jim Dale’s voice could read me to sleep. Alas, here in reality, genies won’t go back into their bottles so easily. It’s time to move on to Paolini’s Eragon series and others, anyway. Good-bye, Potter fandom. It was fun while it lasted.

  25. There was a time when stories didn’t belong to people. A lone balladeer wandered the land, telling his wisdom in verse, blind but fully aware.
    Communities gathered together to tell the tale of their hero, died but now alive–mirabile dictu–in the face of their own persecution. And the stories changed, took on new meanings, new words–even came into new languages.

    Story is transformative. That is indeed the point–and only Story can do that.
    And it is still only a Story, and it can change.

    These revelations in the past weeks reveal mainly two types of people who read Harry Potter:

    The Hermiones: Over-analytical, or confused when their created, transcendent framework changes and overwhelms the set understanding, thus casting dispersions on their loyalty to the Story (Which horcrux did Hermione eventually destroy?) or to the Author

    The Rons: Those who don’t “get a lot” out of things, refusing to have any framework of analysis at all, those who lack the eyes to see the full message
    (Which Horcrux did Ron eventually destroy?) of the Author, claiming there is nothing to be learned

    Both miss the point. Neither have the courage to encounter Story.

    And then there are a minority of Harrys. These are the people that read the story and try to become something different because of them. The stories change them and they do not complain about “their” set expectations versus the author’s, they argue not about literary criticism nor about “reading into” things too much. They simply read and enjoy, because they know the story IS NOT ABOUT THEM. That is because they know the story can and will change them. At that it is simply a story, a story with an inevitable ending.

    There are those who read in order to take for themselves (the Deathly Hallows), clinging to their ideas and understandings;
    and there are those who read in order to be changed (becoming the Philosopher’s Stone) for the sake of others. It has been my experience that the further along one is on their alchemical process, or their journey, the more stories they read, create, and tell. They need not hold on to details, argue cultural mores and label other people. The less one is on the journey, the more obsessive one becomes about story qua story, and one’s place in the telling of it, to whom it belongs.

    Now our stories belong to ME, to my ego-self, to my experience of them, to the corporate canon, to belittling the experience with details, and belittling the details with experience, to the arguments of heady Ivory Towers, to those who refuse to see more there….to control.

    Another great storyteller said, “Let they who have ears–let them hear.”
    We’re still arguing about his stories, too, even the one about the sower and his seeds. He understood the power of story in our own lives, but not the rules of the story become our only pre-occupation. So did Homer. So did Beedle the Bard.

    Instead, I am reminded of the ending of “Lady in the Water”, when a Narf (Muse) named Story is given freedom, and the hapless protagonist’s fears are taken by the gods of peace. And in the rain, he simply cries, standing outside of himself in ekstasis, and says:

    “Thank you for changing my life.”

  26. I’ve been listening and thinking and praying over the past week. I do also wish JKR would move on to a new book (that I could like or dislike on it’s own merits). As far as Potter fandom being left wing… I don’t know. I know a number who lean to the right who really like it… probably because within the books she’s dealing with Truths about life and people… in a very broad way. What she was reportedly specifically thinking does not come through, but rather something more basic that speaks to the heart about good and evil.

    I come back to what I felt early on… the story is Good (and I hope it is not further mutilated). But the press, and stuff surrounding the story, can get truly bizarre.

    So I think I’ll wait… in time, much of this external commentary ought to be gone… and the story, as written, will still be there. Bigger, maybe, than the author’s intent (whatever it is).

    If Rowling does not diminish it’s power by getting more and more specific.

    Like the Pern/Tolkien analogy. Rowling has something that could be Great. I hope she does not diminish it.

  27. JohnABaptist says:

    I wonder what answer J.K. Rowling would give if she were to attend a seance and the spirit of Titus Livius (Livy) were to ask her if Fudge, Scrimgeour and Thicknesse represent Pompey, Caesar and Mark Anthony as they parlay short-sightedness and personal interest into the fall of the Roman Republic?

    And does Kingsley Shacklebolt represent Octavian coming to the rescue by replacing the hopelessly sundered Republic with an Empire?

    Who wants to bet she would say, “Yes, you can find that written in there as well.”

    Any takers on the “Kingsley Augustus” line?

  28. I’m not sure where in the texts Seamus Clay got the idea that JKR is libertarian, for limited government, hawkish, etc. I see the books promoting a desire for fairness and equal treatment for all, as well as a love for the downtrodden. They are written from a sort of common-sense liberal point of view which is quite different from either the right or the left. Indeed, she enjoys lambasting politicians, public officials, and journalists–something that left- or right- wingers would never do because they have no sense of humor. The worst of them have been known to execute people for drawing mustaches on their portraits. (But then Stalin already had one.)

  29. Arabella Figg says:

    Nzie and others, I like what you’ve written, most eloquently, about too much extension harming the impact of a powerful story. This is why I never watch movies with the commentary tracks. They take something magic and make it pedestrian, sucking all the greatness of it, like seeing the little man behind the curtain with his levers and buttons.

    Charles Dickens WAS British, so he naturally would have pronounced names differently. Batstone would be Batstun, Featherstonehaugh would be Fanshaw, etc. This “too Englishy” comment seems satirical. Twain loved to squash people. He’d been to Europe and was no dope. Read The Innocents Abroad for some true hilarity. This quote gives us little more than a possibly humorous remark about Dickens and admiration for same from Twain.

    It’s interesting that online LOR fans practically ran the show when LOR was being filmed. Did we get a better film? Who is to say? The story is Rowling’s, the interpretations and meaning we take from it is ours. I like the future projections and Epilogue filling-out (which she wanted to do in the book) she’s done. I’m not happy about the DD outing because of the negative effects, but it doesn’t change my love for and appreciation of the character. She’s created this marvelous and complex figure for us and, only after we’ve come to love him and then appreciate his complexity, does she reveal, oh, yeah, he’s gay. Perhaps this is her Pride & Predjudice influence at work–the twist that shows us ourselves.

    Or perhaps I’m just rambling on.

    Fullatricks wants The Hammer ride again–being swung back and forth in an 8-gallon wastbasket, up, down, whee! (True story of former and current kitty)…

  30. JohnABaptist says:

    Concurring whole-hearted with Arabella’s analysis above: “This quote gives us little more than a possibly humorous remark about Dickens and admiration for same from Twain.” I would only add that Twain’s humor was rarely pointless.

    In this case I believe his point was that regardless of the wild vagaries of accent that Dickens put in the quoted dialog of his characters, Twain had always, subconsciously, read the non-quoted text in the flat Missouri accent of his youth, and that it was–no matter how intellectually predictable–nonetheless a shock to hear it come out of the author in decidedly British intonations.

    J.K. Rowling is also British, and Anglican Church in Scotland, and of a political party, and of any number of other socio-political convictions. I feel it a tribute to her mastery of her craft that all of the broad ethical, moral and theological principles that are consonant with those roots come through in her writings; while little if any of the catechismic details of them are preached.

    Twain reminds us that in face-to-face confrontations, these distanceings are often impossible to maintain. So if we wish to confront the author in person, we must accept that we will occasionally be reminded that Story and Author are not the same.

  31. I have a reason to distrust the informations of Mr Olbermann from backstage.

    I am sure I saw or read a British interview with Joanne Rowling some time in July or August. She was asked what house at Hogwarts Mr Gordon Brown would have been a member of and what house Mr Cameron would have been belonging to.

    She replied something like this: The colour of Griffindor is red, so I think Gordon Brown would have been in Griffindor. And the colour of Ravenclaw is blue, so I think Mr Cameron would have been in Ravenclaw.

    This is, I think, a nice act of political balancing art on her side. She could have shown political colours of her own, but she focused on the colours of the two political leaders in a basically respectful way towards both of them.

    So I don’t think she would have agreed to identify Bush and Blair in the ways of Mr Olbermann. That is not the way she uses to profile herself in public. What she thinks in private, is her own business (lik it is to all of us!).

    Yours: Odd Sverre Hove
    Bergen, Norway

  32. I think JK Rowling did a marvelous job of introducing political themes in a comic, satirical and fairly evenhanded fashion. Anyone from across the political spectrum who wishes to claim JK Rowling for their side can find bits of evidence in the text to support their viewpoint. JK Rowling may have very definite political leanings outside of the Harry Potter universe, but in the books themselves, there is much to agree on, and very little to offend or marginalize. After all, nearly everyone can embrace the concepts of fairness, equality, and tolerance, as long as these terms are properly defined.

    Personally, I find it interesting that she chooses to satirize the media, the educational system, and government bureaucracies, while she leaves the church, the family, and private businesses alone. (Okay, the Dursleys are an exception – talk about a dysfunctional family! But the positive portrayal of the Weasleys more than makes up for it.) Rowling’s descriptions of bureaucrats writing reports about the thickness of cauldron bottoms, and discussing regulations for the importation of magic carpets, are hilarious, and not far off the mark when it comes to how the European Union operates. Nothing in the books suggests nanny-state liberalism to me!

  33. HallowsFan says:

    Along the same lines as others have gone down, I would say that the true strength of Rowlings work AS WRITTEN is the “political universality” of the specifics. There are elements where she slips into her “looney left-wing” prejudices, but overall, the political tone is one of common sense and general decency.

    I wrote a short editorial after the “revelation” that I entitled, “Queer Eye for the Muggle Guy??”, in which I explored the question: If an element has no textual evidence to support it, does it exist in a story just because the author says it does, after the fact?

    I think that question applies to the political stuff as well. Authoritarian regimes are bad. That’s all that one can glean from the text. A universal truth that doesn’t need some cheap “real world” analogy from our own times. If Olbermann was being honest, then I think it’s a shame that JKR is trying to degrade her work to the level of petty political satire.

    Far be it from me to judge what is going on in her mind… but, to me it seems that she feels guilty about the Christian elements in the book. After mentioning the “obvious” Christian symbolism and meaning in the books, she wasted no time in attempting to also turn the books into a Left-Wing Love Fest.

    Rowling: “Yes… there are Christian elements… but… er… look what else is there! See, you can keep inviting me to your leftist elitist soirees!”

    😉

  34. This is my first post, but I have enjoyed reading since right after the publication of DH. My daughter had discovered “Looking for God in Harry Potter” to write a paper on why HP was not the evil thing many Christians claimed when she was in 6th grade. The paper never happened, but we thoroughly enjoyed the book and the insights we got from it. We both read HBP and DH with a completely different mindset after that. It made them both a completely different experience for us because we were looking for ourselves as we read.

    With this whole MOM/Bush/Blair thing, I have a couple of problems with that concept. One (which appeared to me to be a problem as soon as I read the post) was touched on earlier by rumor that the timeline doesn’t fit. She had the storyline mapped out years before either were in office and long before the war on terror began. Second, the MOM was primarily in denial that there was a problem that had to be addressed. The official line was that LV was gone never to return, and anything to the contrary was dismissed as lies and delusions. Umbridge’s authoritarian ways were all about that view of things, not about fighting the enemy, and at times, frankly, seemed to be on the enemy’s side with her actions. (Ultimately, I think she just worked to protect her job under whoever the administration was, which is probably a pretty sharp political criticism in itself, but that’s not my main point here.) I think someone would be hard pressed to accuse Bush or Blair of being in denial over the existance of a problem or an enemy that needed to be faced. I certainly do not deny that there are political statements being made throughout the books, but there has been an entire history of the world for the parallels to have been pulled from that are better suited to this situation than Bush/Blair. So I’m kind of leaning toward HallowsFan’s idea that she is trying somewhat to get back on the leftists’ good side by saying this.

    Marian

  35. Personally, I think that Voldemort stands for communism, and Harry for freedom and democracy. It is in very general terms so that you could apply it to any fascist government or dictator. Also, we must understand that with Christianity, comes freedom. Without those two together, we have communist ideas, which are Godless. That is why America is hated through the world. I think this is the underlying theme in Rowlings books, which is why Christian messages are inportant. Free will and choice, even to be stupid. My view is a Catholic one, but Protestants in America can relate too.

  36. Arabella Figg says:

    Well, you could also say in this “pin the likeness on the Ministry” that the Voldemort represents the threat of Rome, the Mom is the Pharisee, walking the fine line and keeping everyone “in order” to be safe, and Umbridge is the Sadducee, the comfort-zone unbeliever/accomodator. Dumbledore would represent Jesus, speaking uncomfortable truths, Harry would be the zealot. The Goblins are the Essenes, withdrawn but hostile and the House Elves are the timeless slaves. Y’all can have fun tearing this analogy apart.

    Meanwhile, this slave must go serve the kitties, who represent the intelligent Greeks…

  37. JohnABaptist says:

    Actually Arabella, I think you have a mighty fine analogy going there!

    Especially since the levels and departments of the Ministry of Magic seem to have a fairly good correlation with the various courts and divisions of Herod’s Temple. Starting from the Auror’s offices(Fortress Antonia) and High Priest’s residence (Ministry offices) toward the outside, then moving into various other “courts”, such as Gentile’s (Muggles), on down to the innermost place of Judgement (Holy of Holies) which can only be reached by a flight of stairs from the Dept of Mysteries Level (Holy Place). For a reference, check here: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.bible-history.com/jewishtemple/JEWISH_TEMPLE00000018.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.bible-history.com/jewishtemple/JEWISH_TEMPLEHerods_Temple_Illustration.htm&h=414&w=750&sz=66&tbnid=_eTgRbywOe6b_M:&tbnh=78&tbnw=141&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dherod%2527s%2Btemple%26um%3D1&start=1&sa=X&oi=images&ct=image&cd=1

    In the same vein, the four houses of Hogwarts would seem among other things to mirror the theological divisions of Israel at the time of Christ:

    1. Pharisees. With a firm belief in the Covenant of Abraham and “genetic salvation” as Sons of Abraham, they generally opposed intermarriage or the acceptance into Judiasm of any who were not of “pure-blood” Jewish ancestry. Considered the ancestors of modern Orthodox Judaism. Seems to mirror the worldview of Slytherin House.

    2. Scribes. The group of highly intelligent Rabbis and scholars who were busily codifying and debating the oral law which would later be used to form the Mishna. Much of their outlook can be found in Conservative Judaism today. Sound like Ravenclaws to me.

    3. Sadducee. Actually more of a political party than a theological sect, they nonetheless held power in the Temple at this time…Caiaphas was a Sadducee. They were for inclusive policies, didn’t believe in the hereafter, and hence thought the more the merrier when it came to accepting converts, as this helped to preserve the political force and vitality of the Jewish Nation. Generally faded away after the destruction of the Temple and dispersion of the Jews, but have close counterparts in modern Reformed Judaism. Hufflepuffs if I don’t miss my guess.

    4. Disciples of John & Jesus. Bold seekers of the Messiah. Proto-Christians ready to follow. Willing to break with the rules and traditions of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes. Their modern counterparts would be Messianic Judaism. Gryffindors anyone?

  38. Arabella Figg says:

    And just for giggles and grins, could Rita Skeeter be the controversial Flavius Josephus?

    Kitties giggle, we just can’t hear it…

  39. I don’t think there’s any denying that JKR has taken swipes at actual political figures in her books from time to time. John’s already written much about how Aunt Marge is a satirical look at Lady Margaret Thatcher. And I really don’t see how else the line “He [the Prime Minister] was waiting for a call from the President of a far distant country, and between wondering when the wretched man would telephone …” on the first page of HBP could be read except to mean George W. Bush as the “wretched man”. (This was written in 2004, after all.)

    From whom she takes swipes at and the way she depicts them, we can glean some guess-timate at her political leanings. We can still enjoy her stories even if we don’t share her view points … and maybe we might come to rethink things a bit in the process. But politics is a part of her story. It’s not a big part, but it is there nonetheless.

    It’s going way beyond the scope of the books, however, to assign specific political affiliations to the characters involved (although we might be able to discern how Uncle Vernon is likely to vote…).

    Something like Voldemort does not fit neatly into the American red/blue scheme … nor does it really match the old west/east distinctions. He’s far too self-centered and individualistic to tie to a whole group of people.

    That aspect of Voldemort has long had me wondering why an acquaintance of mine, who is a devotee of Ayn Rand and the whole Objectivist theory, actually enjoys the Harry Potter books. Voldemort’s egocentricity fits far more with Rand’s perspective than Harry’s sacrificial ways. But that is not to say that JKR had Rand and her Objectivists in mind with Voldemort. I have no idea if she has ever even read Rand or has any awareness of the Objectivists.

    Politics is there in the series. It would be ridiculous for JKR to refute that. But it is not central to her story; it is merely a part of it. When we as readers start ascribing our treasured political convictions to the heroes of the tale and identifying the villains with our political foes, we are the ones who have gone too far — not the author.

  40. Arabella Figg says:

    JohnABaptist, I loved it! Really excellent. Do you think we could work the Festivals in, too? Heh-heh.

    My choice for independent study this winter is Jerusalem/Palestine during the Intertestemental/New Testament period–events in the socio-political-cultural context, including stuff on Sepphoris. I’d like a book or two not guaranteed to induce somnulence. I’ve got on hand (so far unread) an edited Josephus, a book about Josephus and his writings in context and one on the period by a Jewish rabbi that looks good. Any recommendation would be appreciated.

    Oh, and I’ll stick with Harry and you friends, too!

    Fullatricks looks bored; “here she goes again,” she’s thinking. “I’d rather she just play with me….”

  41. JohnABaptist, I like your allegory, but if it were up to me, I’d switch your Hufflepuff and Slytherin factions: the Pharisees, with their emphasis on perfect keeping of the Law, seem more like the law-abiding Hufflepuffs to me, and the Sadducees, who seem to have believed in staying in power above all, make better Slytherins. And I dunno about putting all of Jesus’ followers into Gryffindor. Now, the folks who were the last defenders of Masada, THOSE were Gryffindors!

  42. I agree with TrudyK. We should not be too eager to compare this or that from our own political sympaties and antipaties whith this or that in the Potter books.

    For comparison: When I red Jane Austen I could not help looking for traces of politics. But that was 200 years old British politics. And my country Norway was in those days ruled by Denemark and therefore tecnically at war with Britain (= The Napoleon War 1807-1814). To Norway the end of that story was political freedom and our own Constitution (following the lead of the American one). And so on.

    But in Jane Austen there are very few leads in the direction of the war going on. We meet soldiers and officers in training, but only when they are dancing and falling in love. And there is nothing at all indicating what Jane Austen might have been thinking about the British contemporary politics vis-a-vis Napoleon and France.

    I think Jo Rowling wishes to be remembered in 200 years time more or less in the same way, nobody (while reading) thinking of Bush or Blair or Bin Laden, but most people well aquainted with Harry Potter.

    At least if the world is still there in 200 years time, of couse …

    Yours: Odd Sverre Hove
    Bergen, Norway

  43. RobertFreeman says:

    “Voldemort’s egocentricity fits far more with Rand’s perspective than Harry’s sacrificial ways.”

    I would argue that Voldemort is not any closer to Rand’s egoist (Objectivist) than Harry (altruist).

    Although Rand did advocate egoism, it is a very different kind than most people picture when they think of an egoist.

    Most people’s vision of an egoist is a ruthless tyrant who tramples over people while being lead by whatever whim he chooses to follow. Someone who has no regard for others. And although this can easily describe Voldemort, it’s more along the lines of what I understand a Nitzchean egoist (I think he called it a “superman”) to be than Rand’s.

    Rand’s egoist is only similar in that he does not hold the well being of others as his primary concern. However, what he does hold as his primary concern differs very much from Voldermort. The Objectivist (what Rand considers to be the only true egoist) holds as his primary concern his long term well being and happiness. Which means he has to consider all of the relevant facts and use reason as his guide, rather than whim. People and one’s relationships to them (on the personal and societal level) are part of the things to consider when trying to determine what is in one’s long term best interest. To increase his chances of living in a world/society that respects his rights (life, liberty, property) and includes people who he can trade with, he has to make choices that are most conducive to forming this environment and relationships, such as respecting their rights in return.

    Altruism presents a spectrum of morality in the space of a line. You either sacrifice yourself to others and are good (Harry), or you sacrifice others to yourself and are bad (Voldemort). Rarely does anyone (including Rowling) acknowledge a third option, which Rand provides. That option is to neither sacrifice yourself to others, or others to yourself.

    This is one of the easiest areas to spot how Voldemort was not a true egoist. By violating the rights of others Voldemort made many enemies. Even as one of (if not the most) powerful wizards in the world, he clearly had a hard time staying alive and well. He had to fight on all fronts, those enemies who came in plain sight and hidden within his own army. So he had to distrust everyone. Because of his decisions to sacrifice others to himself he never had a moment’s peace. To the degree that he did not act as an independent and productive agent, but rather sacrificed others to himself, is the degree to which his life became more threatened.

    Imagine how much better his life could have been if, rather than deciding that he would make dominating the lives of others as his main purpose (which means that how he evaluated himself based on his purpose was also dependent on others), he decided instead to focus on making his own life better and channeling his energy into productive, rather than destructive, goals.

    When Rand talks about being selfish she means in the in the most basic and truly selfish way: life sustaining (or even better, life flourishing).

    Though he wasn’t other-centered his actions reveal that he wasn’t really self-interested either (since that would imply doing that which would, if nothing else, sustain one’s life). In actuality he was self-destructive.

    That is part of the difference between Rand’s egoist and Voldemort.

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