Harry Potter and Rowling’s Depiction of Evil

Wow, I never thought I would write a blog on the Harry Potter phenomenon.  I certainly don’t want to delve deep, nor join the fandom ranks – the one and only time I even dipped my toe in that space was when I visited http://www.dumbledoreisnotdead.com after I had finished reading Book 6 – hey, I wanted to read the speculation, as I had my own at the time!

I should also state my position with regard to the series, as I have noticed that there are two large camps out there in the world – those who adore it, and those who hate it.  I think those who hate it are a little unfair, and I suspect there’s no small number of them who do it because of ‘tall poppy syndrome’ – or perhaps just not wanting to be labelled among the majority of anything.  But hey, I don’t lose sleep over it.  I like the series because it is an imaginative extravaganza and it is a long and sustained saga.  The world is pretty rich and different, and largely internally consistent (oops, just starting to touch on the whole point of this blog… just park that one!).  It isn’t a literary masterpiece, nor is it trying to seduce the reader with a core theme. It is entertainment. I thoroughly enjoyed the series, and was riveted to several books in particular (I’ll leave that as a mystery).

I was walking briskly up Collins St in Melbourne when, for some inexplicable reason, I suddenly thought about how the series treated the "baddies", and how it philosophically constructed what is, essentially, evil.  Perhaps I was dwelling on the abstract first, thought about this specific, and returned to the abstract.  Possibly.  Anyway, I tried to recall the moments when I thought about this when reading the seven books – and most notably the latter books, and I realised there was a level of disquiet with how evil was treated, in me. I did not think it was quite right when I read them, and I still don’t think it is some years later, and reflecting on the matter.

As a writer, I can’t say that evilness is a key theme that I focus on, but as a spec-fic author I certainly need to cover it and I want it to sit comfortably in the worlds that I build. It doesn’t mean that I need to come up with a reason why evil exists, but it has to behave in a way that allows suspension of disbelief to hum along fine with the reader. Like most writers I get a gut feel for this; I don’t need to refer to some algorithm to pitch it right.

I think it wasn’t pitched right in the Potter series. And I think I know why – and I believe it is a shame (although hardly a major shame, as I still enjoyed reading the books, so did millions of others, and Rowling is one of the richest people in the world).  The answer, perhaps, is related to the threads that bind the Death Eaters together, centred around Voldemort. OK, we have a troubled soul with a huge talent in magic, and who is also aligned with the Slytherin House (which appears, even by its snake imagery, to be a group where evil variably lurks since some bygone time!) Then we have a bunch of old house families who absolutely abhor muggles and have a Nazi like attitude toward them and those who are part muggle. This philosophical disposition appears to group them behind Voldemort and cause them to do some pretty horrific things. A fair number of their kind appear radically insane, which is another common thread that binds them to evil. As you can see, we have a pot full of sub-reasons why evil exists, but I always get this feeling that it doesn’t make sense that they are together in the way they are, that anti-muggleness should be such a telling factor in allowing them to reap so much pain and misery, and how a House like Slytherin should in fact exist at all in Hogwarts, where there is so much virtue.

It seems as if Rowling abstractly conceived evilness (essential for almost any type of fantasy) and plotted to reflect it, not necessarily how it hung altogether, and certainly not what caused it. We have glimpses of Voldemort’s insane childhood, but not Slytherin’s, and we can understand that he evilly bound a host of pure blood witches into his fold, but nothing comprehensive and believable about what motivated them to gravitate toward him, other than some ‘witch supremicist’ disposition. We have some interesting subplots, such as Draco hesitating when tasked with heinous crimes, but again, this does not address anything other than his personal conscience in the face of the symptomatic effects.

We have lots of evil, and wonderful imagery of their effects in the seven books, and we all have followed how much darker it gets as the series progresses – it is an aspect of Rowland’s novels that is intriguing and entertaining. However, looking at the characters that perpetrate these acts, and what motivates them, falls just short in full suspension of disbelief.

Am I being pedantic? Probably, but hey, that’s what blogs are all about.

Oh, and this is my first and last blog on Potter.

2 thoughts on “Harry Potter and Rowling’s Depiction of Evil

  1. I loved the Potter series, it was pure entertainment at its best. I didn’t put to much thought into these books, I just sat back and enjoyed the journey. I’m not particularly fond of the Author, she seems a little arrogant for my taste. Wish I had her success though, maybe I’d be a little arrogant too. : )


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