Harry Potter and the Republic of Magic
By Gwydion M Williams
I must be a most untypical reader, 49 years old and I hadn’t read a word of Rowling until well into the year 2000. I wouldn’t have queued five minutes for the latest in the series, but mid-day Saturday there was no need to, the hype itself has been hyped, though sales were impressive even so.
I also may not be that untypical. As with Watership Down, there are now editions that looked to be aimed at adult readers. The same images – train, flying car and griffin – are shown with photogenic realism rather than juvenile cartoon style.
There is also real merit in her work. The Potter series, though written within terms that children evidently understand, it is never childish in its outlook. Much more mature than the adult-childishness of series like James Bond or Marlow, for instance. Despite the magic unrealism, the actual human problems are their unsatisfactory conclusions are much more like what real people actually encounter.
Unusually, Potter’s world is a republican magic realm. Not aggressively so, it is just taken for granted that the Ministry of Magic is the dominant force. It also seems only marginal commercial, there are shops and other enterprises but no supermarkets or corporations and money is a mere incidental to living a satisfactory life. And the better characters accept an integration of tradition and talent: only the worse sort show an aristocratic pride in ‘old blood’.
There is also an acceptance of the dark as part of life. The Forrest with its monsters is quite properly there, if out of bounds. House Slytherin with its snake-banner and tendency to produce evil magicians is still a legitimate tradition.
Characters progress and change. In Goblet Of Fire, the erotic appears as both disruptive and interesting – most blatantly by the Veela, but Hermione’s status as female is more definitely asserted. I’d expected her and Harry to end up wed: This is still the most likely outcome, but we are kept guessing.
We are told that there is some magic rule about kin, and that Harry is safe while staying with the obnoxious family of his mother’s sister. I’ve got a hunch this is a clue. As a Star Wars fan I have a suspicion as to what the final layer of mystery and revelation will be.
Unexpected twists are indeed the best feature. The solution to each book’s mystery, though logical, is never quite expected. Nor is everyone quite what they seem In one of the books, a minor background character suddenly turns out to be the centre of the whole book’s action. If you can put your finger on it ahead of time, you’d be doing better than I did.
The central theme – conflict with Lord Voldmort – has taken a different form in each book. Neither the problem nor the solution is ever the same twice, it all grows and develops. And I hope it continues to do so.
[I enjoyed both the remaining books and the films made of them. But I was disappointed at the lack of a sensible explanation for Harry’s survival. If love along were enough. Voldmort would not have got far. I did wonder if time-travel might explain it, but in fact it is left as ‘just one of thost things’.]