I am happy to say I am not the only academic who defends J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series - or, for that matter, who teaches the texts at the university level. (I spell out my position on the series in my article "Harry Potter is a Hobbit: Rowling, Tolkien, and the Question of Readership" from CSL here.)
Considering that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows debuted a week ago tomorrow, I thought this would be an appropriate time to discuss the political implications of this thought-provoking series, and what some scholars are saying on this subject. The final book, I am pleased to say, ably underscores the series' consistent messages about ideas of power and responsibility. Deathly Hallows makes it clear, once and for all, that those who desire and seek power are those who are most poorly suited to wield it wisely and justly, while those who do not want power when it is thrust upon them are most likely to be good and responsible stewards of it -- and, like the classical Cincinnatus, are most likely to relinquish it willingly, rather than become tyrannical. Her Orwellian portrait of the fall of the Ministry of Magic to Voldemort's control is chilling, as has been her portrait of the ways in which the self-interested within M.o.M. ("Mom," like "Big Brother") and the press enabled Voldemort's second rise to power.
University of Tennessee Professor of Law Benjamin Barton has written about the "real Libertarian bent" of the series. I recommend his article "Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy" from the Michigan Law Review, in which he argues, "Rowling may do more for libertarianism than anyone since John Stuart Mill."
The Harry Potter and the Law issue of Texas Wesleyan Law Review is now online, as well. A standout among its many excellent articles is "Making Legal Space for Moral Choice" by Andy Morriss of Case Western Reserve University School of Law. The essays are also available in a more printer-friendly format here as Harry Potter and the Law.
Scholar John Granger, I should add, is currently hosting a discussion of the "Nazi history echoes" in Deathly Hallows on his blog.
Rowling, throughout the book series, does an exemplary job of considering the plight of the disenfranchised. Her consideration of the dispossession of the Centaurs, for example, who are facing encroachment by the wizarding community and losing land to the Ministry of Magic, and the plight of the Giants, who now, after being fought and hunted, face waning numbers and infighting thanks to forced close cohabitation with traditional enemies, swell with allusions to Indigenous histories. We should not be surprised to learn, as Hollie Anderson argues in the essay "Reading Harry Potter with Navajo Eyes" from Harry Potter's World: Multidisciplinary Critical Perspectives , that the outsider Harry resonates with Native readers.
Last but not least, I must give a nod to Rowling's careful study of gender, by mentioning Kathryn N. McDaniel's compelling essay "The Elfin Mystique: Fantasy and Feminism in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series," which debuts next week in my new edited collection Past Watchful Dragons: Fantasy and Faith in the World of C.S. Lewis . (You thought you were going to escape a commercial by yours truly, didn't you?) In this piece, McDaniel answers the question asked by many readers, "Does the house-elves’ supposed happiness with their subordinated position create a fault-line in Rowling’s liberal fantasy: are they natural slaves who should not gain liberation?" If we use second-wave feminism to understand the house-elves’ attitude, McDaniel explains, Rowling’s message is revealed as consistent with the rest of the series.
There are good reasons to celebrate Rowling's popularity, not the least of which is that, through her Harry Potter series, she is introducing the key subject of liberty for contemplation and discussion by a vast global audience.
"Really, gives a feeling for the scope and tragedy of the thing, doesn't it?"
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows