In the 1930s, Nazi Germany distributed an anti-Semitic storybook called “Trust No Fox on his Green Heath and No Jew on his Oath”. A hundred thousand copies of this were circulated to the school-children of Germany.
Around the same period, USSR was producing storybooks such as “Mochin the Pioneer’s Heroism.” This encouraged Pioneers; the youth organisation of soviet Russia, to support the Red Army in battle.
The children raised on these books would go on to support two of the most murderous regimes in history.
Here, I look to the bestseller’s chart, where Harry Potter sits at number one for children’s novels. With 400 million sales across the series there’s no denying it’s successful. Too often, however, is success used as a deterrent for the critical evaluation of texts, and as I stand here justifying that Harry Potter indoctrinates sexism, racism and the assimilation of minorities – it’s its success that makes you doubt me.
Petunia Dursely’s first described action is to wrestle Dudley into his high-chair. Molly Weasley’s is helping her children get through to platform 9 ¾, and Narcissa Malfoy, while not making an appearance, is mentioned first looking at wands for her son. Their jobs outside of being a mother? Non-existent, with a concession made to Molly as a member of the Order of the Phoenix, where her most notable action was taking revenge on Bellatrix for taunting her about the death of her son. Each women’s motivations, desires and skills lie within their mothering, and this is consistent across the series; even Lily Potter’s final act was one of love for her child. One of the smartest witches for her age, praised most for her immense capacity to love her child. Women loving their children isn’t inherently bad, but when women cease to exist outside of their capacity to be a mother in the Harry Potter franchise, it begs the question; how do children apply this to their worldview and their expectations of woman, or of their mothers?
The character of Narcissa actually also leads into another narrative within the novels, that of Slytherin’s.
Now, there were over 400 Slytherin students that attended Hogwarts over the course of the books, tens of thousands that attended before them, and a reader is lead to believe that every single one of them were cruel, elitist and altogether entirely unpleasant. This is reinforced from the readers first introduction to houses by Hagrid, who claims that “not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin”, and is maintained throughout by Ron’s fierce hatred of “those slimy snakes”. But Slytherin’s narrative follows a larger one, of minorities being pigeonholed, and the actions of a few forming the perception of a whole. Whether it’s Muslims being terrorists, or Asians being bad drivers, grown adults are struggling to reject these stereotypes that have become ingrained into society, which leads one to ask; how difficult will it be, then, for the children who grew up hearing their favourite characters agree with and justify stereotyping, to then reject the very notion of them?
The issue of muggles in the books, I think, is the greatest one there is, because no one finishes reading Harry Potter wanting to be a muggle. While J.K tries to deal with racial tensions through the existence of muggle-borns and half-bloods and the constant preaching that they’re just as valid as purebloods, this only serves to perpetuate more toxic concepts of cultural assimilation. In the novels, if someone’s a wizard, irrespective of their parents, they can enter wizarding society. The issue, however, arises if they try to maintain “muggle” culture, apparatus, or ideologies – the more muggle they are, the less intelligent they are, and the sillier they look. Intelligence and goodness is to be found if one conforms to wizarding society. It’s a racial narrative that perpetuated during the stolen generation, and that preservers today, and one has to wonder how we can expect our children grow up to a new age of racial progressiveness when our books regurgitate the racist views of the past century.
I’ve asked, today, a lot more questions than I’ve answered. Because I truly don’t know how Harry Potter has impacted children, but what I do know is that Propaganda isn’t singular. It isn’t a single book, a single movie, a single flyer. It’s systematic, and it’s gradual. I don’t think a brick should be blamed for a whole wall, nor do I think Harry Potter should be blamed for the discrimination that occurs today. But I do think that it shouldn’t be on our shelves. Because bricks make walls stronger, and while Harry potter doesn’t create prejudice, it normalises it, and the more interwoven prejudice becomes with our world view, the harder it becomes to unravel.
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