I belong to the generation that grew up in the magical, mystical world of Harry Potter. The lightning bolt scar, bold Expelliarmus spell and You-Know-Who are as close to my childhood memories as my mother’s lullabies and father’s wise cracks.
So it came as a personal offence to me when I read about some people talking against its general spirit and motive.
Questions were raised about racial inclusion in the characters of the story. They said that there were hardly any witches and wizards from Asian countries or even African countries in Rowling’s world. Basically, the characters lacked in color distribution.
I had read this criticism years ago and had not been able to counter it immediately. Because it was true that in Rowling’s canvas, there were very few Browns, Blacks and Yellows. But something about the spirit of this criticism did not go down well with my understanding of the Harry Potter series.
I felt that it was being seen through a very narrow lens. A fallacy that is made when an ocean is viewed from the other side of a wall, through a tiny hole. The amount of water visible through the hole is considered by the viewer as the whole amount of water there is. So even the ocean is falsely believed to be just another lake or a pond.
This year the series celebrated 20 years of its publishing. So I decided to watch one of its movies and reminisce what it was like to be in the Harry Potter world, all those years ago. Having chosen the Fifth part of the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I think I was able to counter this allegation of lack of inclusivity by the author.
Every Harry Potter part addressed a key issue at its heart. These issues were usually related to the age Harry was in the book and also issues related to different aspects of Light and Dark.
This particular section of the HP series was about how Dark and Light always went hand in hand, even in the noblest as well as darkest of souls. Harry was not an extraordinary wizard, but he had greatness thrust upon him because of extraordinary circumstances. He is seen as a beacon of light in a world drowned in darkness of one Dark Lord. He finds this light coming from a place of love and sacrifice that he was showered upon by his mother.
The Enemy Within
As a 14 year old boy, at the threshold of his teenage years, Harry is shown to fight with the Darkness that can lurk even in the brightest hearts. He learns an important lesson, as do we as readers,when his Godfather explains to him
“We all have darkness and light in us. But we are defined by what we choose to act on.”
Incidentally his Godfather, Sirius Black, comes from the Slytherin House. The House that is known to be home to the Dark Lord and in itself stands for the darker forces in a human being – ambition, ego and elusivity. But he goes on to be selected in the House of Gryffindor, to which Harry and all of his family belong. He chooses to act on his brighter side, that of courage, simplicity and friendship.
We also see one Severus Snape, the teacher Harry loves to hate, revealing his own abused and bullied side as a young school boy. We see how this cold blooded human came to be so, the reasons his darkness was triggered because of nasty childhood memories.
In the closing scenes of the movie, Harry talks to his friends about what they as young teenagers have, but the Dark Lord Voldemort does not. He says that they have something worth fighting for.
What are they, as young teenagers, fighting for, which is bigger than the motives of the most powerful wizard of all time? The answer is Balance.
They are on the side of the Balance, the same side that even nature takes. There are all kinds of forces in nature – day-night, light-dark, herbivore-carnivore, birth-death, growth-decay. And together they maintain the higher goal of nature – to maintain the Balance.
Whenever the Natural Balance is tipped to any one side, whether too much good or too much bad, they are automatically brought back in check. Too much goodness weakens the ability of a man to defend himself. Too much aggression weakens the ability of a man to remain humble and grounded.
So even though the greatest threat to the wizarding society is a Slytherin, all the Slytherin House members are not vilified. All the Houses will and must exist. And must find ways to coexist despite their differences. This is the spirit of true courage in Rowling’s universe.
So even if her characters are not balancing out the White with the Black, the spirit of her story is. The underlying spirit is what, in my opinion, should matter in the end.
Text is more important than Font on a Signboard
Stories are like sign boards. Great stories are the ones that point us in the direction of this Great Balance of our own Nature. Although the design of this ‘sign board’ is important, it is not more important than the direction it is pointing towards.
To conclude that a sign having Black letters against a White background is racist, is as ridiculous as questioning the motive of Rowling towards racism. Black letters definitely occupy less space on the White background, but that only increases legibility and ease of understanding. I think that is all the purpose of the sign board is. Beyond that what the board says, where does it point, should have more significance.
J. K. Rowling grew up in Europe, studied and worked there all her life. This simple fact is bound to reflect in her writing as well. It is bound to reflect in the universe that she creates to tell her story. But is that supposed to mean the story is one sided and biased as well.
I don’t think so. I would like to quote one, Cheryl Strayed, a survivor, an inspiration and also a best selling novelist.
“…when you’re speaking in the truest, most intimate voice about your life, you are speaking with the universal voice”
And so I think that it is the truth in the voice of Rowling, when she tells the story of Harry Potter, that counts for the universality in her stories. Even if the characters are not directly racially balanced, the spirit is and that is universal as well inclusive in every way possible.
The Potterhead in me rests her case
When a week has been skipped and I have a compensatory post in place of the two that were missed!