Wizard v. Muggle Media & Thoughts About J.K. Rowling

Thoughts about Order of the Phoenix and Media in the Wizarding and Muggle Worlds

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix used to be my least favorite book in the Harry Potter series, but as I have grown older, it has wiggled its way up to the top of the list. This book is long; at over 800 pages, it is the longest of any of the Harry Potter books, and the text is rich with details that make up a story that I have poured over many times in my life, and I continue to read and reread with care and rigor.

Reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is sometimes hard for me, because Harry is in so much pain, and suffers from so much injustice in this book. And yet I sometimes find it cathartic because it is when I am at my lowest points that I find I need Harry Potter the most. When Harry is grieving Sirius at the end of the book, Dumbledore tells him that his pain, his love for Sirius is what it means to be human, and Harry screams “I DON’T WANT TO BE HUMAN!”[1] I’m not sure if ever in my life before or since I have felt so seen as when I thought about my life and the state of the world then and read that line for the first time as a scared and angry teenager, and even now as I think about my life the state of the world today and read that line as a scared and angry adult.

I think about how Harry is reduced to subterfuge in trying to listen to the news in the first chapter, barred from having free access to media by the Dursleys because they do not trust his motives. This attempt at censorship by the Dursleys brings to mind the real world barriers that many people face when it comes to consuming the news — there is outright censorship of course, such as when things are purposefully left out or the facts are changed (something that also happens in Harry Potter, when the Ministry actively stops the Daily Prophet from reporting Voldemort’s return and instead portrays Harry and Dumbledore as delusional) — but there are also paywalls that stop people from reading online articles unless they buy a subscription, or print newspapers they have to buy in order to gain access to what is going on.

there is a kind of news that people want to hear, what they think is relevant to them

Some say that with the advent of the internet and social media, everyone has access to the news and what is going on at their fingertips, but that’s not exactly true, because as it turns out, on the internet anyone can say anything. But it is still a question of access because not everyone has a computer or a smartphone, and depending on what online spaces one inhabits, there is a whole different kind of news that people will hear. There is also the additional problem that there is a kind of news that people want to hear, what they think is relevant to them. As I re-read the book I have noticed that a large portion of Vernon and Petunia’s disbelief at the idea that Harry will want to listen to the muggle news is that they don’t believe there is much overlap in the wizarding and muggle worlds — “it’s not as if there’d be anything about his lot on our news” as Vernon says in the opening chapter of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

When wizards do appear on muggle news — as Sirius did in book three — it is always in a layered guise, made so that the muggles watching or reading do not fully understand what they are hearing about. In chapter seven we hear about the Muggle-Worthy Excuses Committee, and in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince there is talk of the Office of Misinformation. Communication between the muggle and wizarding worlds is clear as mud, and while they are not quite at war with one another, everywhere that muggles and wizards connect, there is tension. The first chapter of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is told from the perspective of the muggle prime minister, who comes across as a desperate and frightened man, beaten into a corner not because he is weak but because he is outmatched and powerless against wizards. All the news stories he has heard are wrong — the recent tragedies he had attributed to chance were caused by wizards. One day the muggles will fight back against the wizards, who have secluded themselves in their feelings of superiority.

News and the media are themes of huge consequence in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — one of the crucial characters introduced in this book is Luna Lovegood, whose father is the editor of The Quibbler, a magazine that Hermione dismisses upon its first major introduction, saying “The Quibbler’s rubbish, everyone knows that.” This is an interesting moment for a few reasons. One, because Hermione is being incredibly ungenerous here about this form of media, dismissing it as having any kind of value because she considers it beneath her, likely because of its nature as a magazine that focuses on the esoteric and conspiratorial. Hermione’s dismissal of Luna’s eccentricities has always been a point of fascination for me, because it shows that even in a world of literal magic, where one would think that anything is possible, there are still things that are beyond belief. For me, this mirrors Hagrid’s assertion in the first book that the wizarding world is kept separate from the muggle because muggles would expect wizards to solve all of their problems, and in the sixth book, when Fudge and Scrimgeour explain to the prime minister, who is incredulous that they cannot defeat the dark lord when they have magic at their disposal, that the trouble with Voldemort is that he also has magic.

Secondly, because this magazine is unknown to Harry, and that indicates another gap in Harry’s knowledge of the wizarding world; showing that for all that he has had four years at Hogwarts already, he still has much to learn about the wizarding world, such as publications beyond the Daily Prophet, which one would think he would seek out when he was looking for alternative news sources after Voldemort’s return. This shows that despite Harry’s desire to know more about the public’s reaction, he is still only subscribing to one magical news source, demonstrating that the Prophet has a stranglehold on information reaching Harry and with all likelihood the British wizarding public as a whole, which is a big problem for Harry when they are portraying him in such a negative light. That British wizarding society is so dependent on one publication is worrying, but also shows how people in a community can become dependent on one news source and thereby be dangerously led in a particular direction at the political whims of the person in charge of that news source, thereby demonstrating the need for media literacy. For someone who is suffering under a lot of pressure Harry isn’t keeping himself very well informed, often relying on Ron and Hermione to let him know about things in the wizarding world that are relevant to his interests and his continued survival.

Not all of us have scars on our hands, but not all wounds are visible.

Harry’s experience in the wizarding world, that of a scared and furious teenager, thrown into a world that has traumatized and gaslighted him, denying his truth and torturing him for speaking out — I must not tell lies is scarred onto his hand for the rest of his life — who doesn’t know where to turn, but does know that he wants to fight, is something that deeply resonates. Not all of us have scars on our hands, but not all wounds are visible. Every narrative is particular, and every person unique, but to feel so full of emotion that one wants to burst is a common experience. To be given the freedom to act on that emotion is not a universal right, and that is why I identify so strongly with Harry — because he is alternately denied that freedom and validated in his ability to express things in ways unacceptable for anyone else. Harry knows cruelty and suffering, and he knows love on scales that are identifiable at every stage. Harry feels jealousy when Ron gets his prefect badge, pettiness rises within him, but he also finds it within him to smile and be supportive of his friend’s success in a way that is truly genuine. Harry stands resolute in the face of Umbridge’s tyranny and finds it within him to smile in her face as he leads the DA in secret.

The Role of J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter

The Harry Potter series has taught me many lessons, Order of the Phoenix in particular, and as J.K. Rowling’s views have come to light recently, I have struggled with how to reconcile the two. I know that the fandom and the people I have met through it matter more to me than anything she could do — I wrote at length about my feelings regarding the Harry Potter fandom in this post — and some of you may have seen that I was recently quoted in the New York Times as saying that I don’t need J.K. Rowling at all. Which is true, I do not need her at present. But I cannot deny that she wrote these books from which I have learned so many lessons, including the above. Her toxic views are embedded in the series, from the fact that there are only eight named characters of color, that there is a rampant amount of body shaming in the series, and the antisemitic nature of her version of goblins, to name a few of the issues throughout the series. And that does not even get into how she only declared Dumbledore as gay AFTER the series was over, leaving the official canon bereft of any confirmed queer characters.

The ironic thing is, that Harry Potter is what has given me the tools to overcome both its own shortcomings and the words of J.K. Rowling herself. Throughout Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Harry is lied to, told that what he knows to be true is not real and has not happened, and denied the tools he needs to succeed. And so, he goes outside the law of the Ministry and Hogwarts and creates the tools himself, with Dumbledore’s Army. He ignores the parts of his education — what is being taught by Umbridge — because even though she is a teacher and it is part of the official curriculum he knows it to be wrong. And that is exactly what I am doing here. The Harry Potter books – and therefore J.K. Rowling – taught me to question and fight and stand up for what I believe in and make my own choices, to look at the world with empathy and compassion, but remain resolute in the face of authority when that authority has done wrong. They taught me not to trust books! The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, the heavily annotated copy of Advanced Potion Making with new instructions for half the potions, and the description of how the stories of The Tales of Beedle the Bard have mutated over time are only a handful of examples. In a way Harry Potter acts as a meta-text for why one should take what the J.K. Rowling and the books themselves have to say with heaping amounts of salt.

So yes, the weapon we have is love, is solidarity, and it is the power we have within ourselves, not just to imagine better, but to do better.

Cheers,

Talia

P.S. I highly recommend you check out the Nonbinary Wizard Anthem composed and performed by my brilliant friend AJ!

Oh, and before I go – BLACK LIVES MATTER! Here are some guidelines put together by my chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance, Dobby’s Sox:

  • Sign a petition, such as the #JusticeforBre petition, calling for justice to be served to cops who have murdered American citizens.
  • Attend a march or protest – although they are not being covered as much in the news these days, they are still taking place, and they are still important.
  • Support Black-owned businesses – see the Black Parade Route for some ideas.
  • Last week there was a push to buy books from Black authors to get them on top of bestseller lists. While the week is over, you can and should still seek books by BIPOC authors – both fiction and nonfiction, all genres!
  • Learn about ways to support Black trans lives, because even in the midst of Black Lives Matter, Black trans folx are too often forgotten or ignored.
  • Donate money, if you can, to bail funds or mutual aid funds.
  • Talk to the people closest to you. If you need help, see Neville’s Guide to Tough Conversations.

[1] I have now referenced this line in two essay posts back-to-back, which I think says a lot about how much it means to me.

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