Harry Potter, resister!

IssueDecember 2011 / January 2012
Comment by Susan Clarkson

I was inspired to look at the story of Harry Potter as a one of resistance and direct action by Shami Chakrabarti. In a BBC Radio 4 programme, the director of Liberty once talked about The Order of the Phoenix as a text which has many vivid examples of acts of resistance to dark forces and the abuse of power. Taking this observation as a starting point, I have looked at the whole Harry Potter story and discovered that it teaches us a great deal about what is needed to form an effective resistance community and to carry out daring direct actions.

The first three books in the saga not only introduce us to Harry but chart Harryís gradual awareness of who and what he is. As well as learning that he is a wizard and that his life is bound up with the dark wizard, Voldemort, who killed his parents but was unable to kill him as a baby, our young hero learns many lessons which will stand him in good stead later.

Harry's difficult childhood with his muggle (non-magic) relatives, teaches him resilience and an ability to stand on his own feet. When he arrives at Hogwarts school for witches and wizards, he quickly makes friends, especially with Ron Weasley and eventually Hermione Grainger. The loyalty the three share grows stronger throughout the story, despite testing times and temporary breakups. The three also share friendship with less ìcoolî students, such as Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood and bring out the hidden strengths in both. Their affection for and support of Hagrid, the half-giant gamekeeper, often gets them into trouble and brings down the scorn of Draco Malfoy and his fellow Slytherins. Loyalty, fidelity and a willingness to do what is right rather than what is easy, prepare the three friends for what lies ahead. In the gripping climax of the fourth book Voldemort returns to full power and the battle between good and evil begins in earnest.

It is in the fifth book that we meet an existing resistance community and see the birth of a new one. The Order of the Phoenix had been started by Albus Dumbledore to fight Voldemort and his Death Eaters the first time they came to power. Harryís and Nevilleís parents had been members and all four had paid the price. The order was revived when the dark forces again grew strong and the courage of the members helps to protect Harry and keep the dark forces at bay.

The order is bound by strong ties: loyalty to Dumbledore and trust in his leadership; resourcefulness and daring and trust in each other. When the trust seems to falter, as in acceptance of Snape as a member and the consequent tensions this causes, the bonds are severely tested. Even more, old rivalries and hatred, as between Sirius and Snape, weaken the whole.

With the rise of Voldemort, the order and the friends at Hogwarts encounter another foe: the ministry of magic. The ministry is the government of the magical world and refuses to admit that Voldemort is back. The denial and fear of the minister and most of the ministry, leads to an attempt, through the wizard newspaper, The Daily Prophet, to discredit Dumbledore and Harry by implying that both are lying about the rise of the dark forces. Even more, the paper tells the wizarding world that both Harry and Dumbledore are unhinged.

When the minister appoints a new teacher at Hogwarts, Dolores Umbridge, Harry and his friends form a new resistance community, Dumbledore's army (DA). Umbridge is the "defence against the dark arts" teacher but teaches them nothing. She also has detention punishments which amount to torture and uses her power at the ministry to sack teachers she despises. During DA sessions Harry teaches his fellow students all he has learned through his encounters with Voldemort to prepare them for the future fight.
Although the Harry Potter story is not one which overtly embraces nonviolence as a means of conquering the dark forces, it is significant that the first spell he insists on perfecting in his lessons with the DA is Expelliamus, the disarming spell. Indeed, it is his signature spell and in the end does conquer Voldemort.

The final part of the story, The Deathly Hallows shows Harry, Ron and Hermione putting all their skill and knowledge into practice. They plan and carry out direct action in their search for the hallows and perform two of the actions right in the heart of the ministry of magic, now firmly in the grip of the dark forces, and at the wizard bank, Gringotts.

In the climax of the story where all the protagonists are at Hogwarts, we see the young resistance community gather to put into practice all Harry has taught them. Even more, we learn that Neville Longbottom has led the resistance at Hogwarts, now including Death Eaters on the staff. Neville has been empowered by the example of Harry, and Harryís belief in him.

At the 2011 PN Summer Camp, a small number of people gathered to talk about Harry's story as one of resistance. The discussion brought out the need for trust and loyalty in resistance and direct action and it was felt that it is useful to encourage readers of the story to explore these themes as an antidote to the ìhypeî surrounding it.

Topics: Culture