Beatrice Groves: The Goblin Problem

As an Orthodox Christian traditionalist and something of a perennialist, ‘Marxism’ is a trigger word for me. Be it the economic Marxism that in the form of Soviet and Chinese communism murdered at least one hundred million people in the 20th Century or the cultural Marxism that has been slowly “marching through the institutions” of universities, media, and government since the advent of the Frankfurt School in the 40’s and 50’s, I have no time for or tolerance of those who believe in ‘Socialism,’ the secular religion of millenialist faith in government and ‘progressive politics’ to cure human ills, or who look at the world exclusively as the stage of conflict between haves and have nots, oppressor and oppressed, the privileged and the disempowered.

I have significant and profound problems with the political right and even Classical liberalism as well, the other side of the materialist/individualist/rationalist nightmare ‘coin’ of our times, but with Marxists, the so-called ‘Hard Left’? I have to struggle to speak of them or with them as rational actors. The crimes of Marxists and the blood of their millions of victims cry out so loudly that the claims and cries of the Woke that they are speaking for “social justice” are nigh on impossible for me to hear.

Why do I make this confession of my traditionalist beliefs about Marxism? Because I have been struggling about how to present two thoughtful essays that Oxford Research Fellow Beatrice Groves has posted on MuggleNet about ‘The Goblin Problem.’ See Part 1: Rowling’s Goblin Problem and Part 2: The Sword Until Recently Known as Gryffindor’s for her as always insightful discussion of the issue.

‘The Goblin Problem,’ in brief, is that Rowling’s goblins seem to many to be transparencies for Jews. Their description and behaviors parallel in ways anti-Semitic caricatures familiar from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Dickens’ Fagin in Oliver Twist, and German National Socialist propaganda. This is bizarre, to say the least, because Rowling is a public defender of Jews in the UK and their struggle against the contemporary wave of anti-Semitism there and around the world. Could she have embedded such a glaringly ugly and demeaning depiction of Jews in her Hogwarts Saga?

Dr Groves argues cogently that this is a complete misunderstanding of the goblins and I think she has succeeded in simultaneously clearing Rowling, explaining the much more challenging and important meaning of the goblins, and presenting this problem, the reflex misinterpretation of her work, as a sign of how difficult this meaning is for readers to grasp in a time when corporate capitalists have all but eliminated craftsmen as a class or social fact. I am an uber fan of Dr Groves’ work and this pair of essays is some of her best work yet.

My problem? Dr Groves presents her case in the language of Karl Marx.

It is not, however, a ‘Marxist critique’ or materialist reading of Harry Potter; if anything, the essays are a takedown of the litmus strip reading and representational testing of literature that predominates public and academic discourse today. Groves demonstrates just how wrong the Goblins-as-Jews reading is, which is an implicit rejection of the cultural Marxists. Groves seems to think it makes a more powerful argument to defend Rowling with her detractors own weapons, as it were.

She chooses to use Karl Marx’s description of the conflict between craftsmen and the holders of capital in the industrial revolution to do this. Which comes at a cost, I think. This will almost certainly confuse the less-than-very-attentive reader into thinking that Groves is a ‘Marxist’ of the camp that she is implicitly criticizing using the words of the sick man whose work was responsible for more deaths and lives-spent-in-living-death than perhaps any other writer.

Did she have any other way of doing this? Of course there was. She could have cited the work of E. P. Thompson, especially the seminal The Making of the English Working Class, to make all her points (Yes, I know Thompson was a communist and Marxist but he was one who took a heroic stance against Soviet communism and Stalinism, calling for the overthrow of that Orwellian regime contra Party officials, that fellow-travelers like Rowling-hero and communist Jessica Mitford never did).

In the end perhaps Groves’ mission, because she is correcting a Marxist misreading with the words and ideas of Marx himself, which are in the twisted man’s defense distinct if not especially well removed from his writing, is to point out the failings of Literary Critique. If so, my hat is off to her.

If it was instead meant as a criticism of anti-Marxists, i.e., that only using Marx can we understand the goblins properly and that reflex disdain for Marxism should not blind us to what insights the man had about the post industrial revolution world in which we live? As just the kind of anti-Marxist she may have been addressing (albeit one who has read more of Marx than just The Communist Manifesto — I bear the mental scars of one who has labored through The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and other page-turners), I accept the point — and I re-iterate that any effort to elevate or celebrate Marx or Marxism while we still live in a world swept up in and demographically altered forever by Marxist murderers and criminals and stooges is an unfortunate invitation to overlook their crimes.

Am I blind to the self-contradiction of litmus strip reading of any text with an anti-Marxist testing agent in rejection of Marxist litmus strip readings by feminists, socialists, racial representationalists, and queer theorists? No, I am not. Hence my tempered response to Groves’ excellent essays with their Marxist elements, essays I recommend with enthusiasm and some reservations.

Enjoy these essays and reflect on the craftsmen/capitalist point Dr Groves argues is the meaning of the Gringott’s goblins. To risk repeating myself, despite the Marx references, this is Groves at her best, bringing out the depths and challenges of Rowling’s fictional creations.  Part 1: Rowling’s Goblin Problem and Part 2: The Sword Until Recently Known as Gryffindor’s



  1. Brian Basore says

    J. R. R. Tolkien did not think of the Dwarves Under The Mountain (and the old Elves) as Marxist but as skilled craftsmen, proud outsiders to the world of men. The relationship of Thor Oakenshield and Bilbo Baggins is a more clearly examined collision of cultures than JKR was willing to openly discuss, evidently. Oh, but she says she didn’t read Tolkien, so that didn’t happen.

    King of the Goblins, King Under The Mountain. What a coincidence.

    [ I wonder what we’d be like if Doggerland Europe hadn’t gone under the waves. Did Tolkien know about Doggerland when he came up with Middle Earth and his made-up languages and people?]

  2. Brian Basore says

    Sorry, Thoren Oakenshield. It’s been awhile since I read a lot of Tolkien. (I admit to it.)

  3. Brian Basore says

    The LOTR squad will get me for not keeping Bilbo separate from his nephew Frodo. They both worked closely with dwarves.

  4. Good thoughts to post the week of the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square.

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Just read this, haven’t read them, yet, but toss out, what about John Ruskin, and his friend, George MacDonald, and his admirer, C.S. Lewis, and his friend, Dorothy L. Sayers, in this picture of appreciation of craftsmanship, and related matters? (I keep encountering folk that say ‘capitalism’ is a Marxist term which lovers of ‘free enterprise’ should not easily employ…)

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