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Broken Aesop / Harry Potter

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Harry Potter occasionally has aesops that don't work too well.

  • The series is largely centered around the message of unity and tolerance. Specifically, unity and tolerance between Pure-Blood, Half-Blood, and Muggle-born wizards. Discrimination and segregation between them are always depicted as wrong. It also has the bad guys seeking to kill or enslave non-wizard people (aka Muggles) as an allegory to Nazism. This would all be fine and dandy, if it weren't for the fact that wizards — even the good ones — are highly guilty of separatism and segregation by hiding themselves and their society from Muggles and rejecting their culture (the reason wizards are still stuck with medieval technology is that they're largely ignorant of modern technology and science due to their rejection of anything "Muggle"), and the books never portray this behavior as being wrong. Okay, being fair, many wizards believe in Muggles' rights, and some have an interest in Muggle culture, and they have a study called Muggle Studies dedicated to it. But in those cases, this is done in an incredibly condescending manner, almost as if dealing with an animal species, and it's never done with the objective of integration. In other words, being a promoter of Muggle rights practically makes you the wizard equivalent of a PETA activist. Consider how Ron's father's job is specifically to study Muggle culture but still has to ask Harry what the point of a rubber duck is and that the existence of wizards with fully Muggle parents means that they don't even need to leave their veil to get most of the info they could ever need to see how seriously they honestly take it. This behavior is also treated as comical eccentricity at its worst.
    • J. K. Rowling tried to justify this by stating that wizards are afraid of Muggles, and if Muggles found out about magic it probably would cause more trouble. So segregation is unavoidable in the Potterverse. Which... only enforces the broken nature of the Aesop.
    • If anything, the actions of the characters clearly show why Muggles and Wizards can't live happily together. To Wizards, things like Confounding driving test instructors and magicking exploding toilets and memory wipes are harmless little pranks or day-to-day minutiae — things that Muggles can't foresee or defend themselves from. And almost all of the Muggles that encounter magic in the series react to it with violence and hostility — the Dursleys fear of magic makes them abuse Harry, it's implied Snape's father abused both his wife and son because they had magical powers, Tom Riddle's father abandoned his pregnant wife when he found out she was a witch that had been drugging him with love potions and raping him until she believed that he really loved her back, at which point she stopped drugging him and he got the Hell away from his rapist, three Muggle boys witnessed Ariana Dumbledore practicing magic and did something so vicious to her that her brain was permanently affected. Even in cases of genuine love, there don't seem to be many Muggle-Wizard relationships that didn't end tragically, or have some level of drama or deceit as a result of their imbalance. Seamus's mother and McGonagall kept their magic secret from their spouses for years, Snape's parents did not have a good relationship from what we see of them, Queenie and Jacob involved her drugging him with love potion and joining Grindelwald, and the above relationship with Tom and Merope produced Voldemort. By this track record, the two races are dangerous to one another and peaceful mixing is the exception rather than the rule. Even in the epilogue, Harry and all his peers end up hooking up with other witches and wizards, with Muggle-wizard pairings being totally unmentioned - even in interviews that created new characters solely to pair them up with existing ones.
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    • Even worse, by the end of the saga the bad guys, a fascist cabal of evil wizards, become a legitimate nation-wide threat and then take over the country, unleashing a campaign of terror against Muggle-borns and Muggles. That is still not treated as a good enough reason for the good guys to at least warn the non-wiz population about danger and give them a fighting chance. Notably, the giants, a race explicitly called Always Chaotic Evil, is found worthy of an invitation to the alliance. But non-wizards? Not even once suggested. In fact, the only cooperation ever present is the Minister of Magic occasionally bringing the non-wiz Prime Minister up to date, and even that is done in a perfunctory and condescending way, basically boiling down to "Hey, some crazy stuff is probably about to happen in your world, and it's the fault of wizards, so you'd better start cooking up some convincing lies about it while we take care of it for you." Even more egregious is the fact that while there are enchantments designed to preserve The Masquerade, such as Muggle-Repelling or Memory Charms, the evil wizards in question want Muggles to live in terror, so they probably wouldn't be using them in the first place.
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    • On top of this, the series also goes out of its way to emphasize that there is absolutely no functional difference between pure-blood, half-blood, and Muggle-born wizards. This is fairly reasonable in a vacuum, but when you add in that this is the only form of racism consistently treated as bad, it gives the impression of "racism is bad and pointless, because you're being racist against people who are identical to you." The question of how to deal with prejudice that is steeped in genuine differences (such as lack of magic or being part of a different species) seems to be that it's pretty okay, which is a pretty mutual kind of "it's okay to mistreat people who are 'inferior' to you" belief that just reeks of The Horseshoe Effect.
  • Next, the series has House Elves, a race that is treated as slave servants of wizards. Their enslavement is never depicted as wrong, and the one person who is against it, Hermione, is treated as an annoying tree-hugging hippy. The closest the series goes to decrying the treatment of House Elves is saying that it's wrong to enslave them if you're an abusive master, not that it's wrong to enslave them. It also makes an argument that Elves enjoy serving wizards and abhor the attempts to free them, ignoring the fact that they're also conditioned to severely and bodily punish themselves for failing a task, which clearly indicates that they are not in control of their own minds, and strongly implies that their "enjoyment" of servitude is just as forced. According to Rowling, the idea behind house-elves and Hermione's quest to free them was apparently to satirize well-meaning liberals so determined to help others that they ignore what the people they're trying to help actually want, but the whole thing is handled so clumsily that it reads more as "owning slaves is okay, as long as they say they're happy." And even that clumsy message loses what little water it held, when in Deathly Hallows it's revealed that even a loving and well-meaning master can accidentally lock an elf in an infinite loop of failure and self-punishment by incautiously giving them an impossible order.
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  • Next, Rowling claimed that she intended Dumbledore to be gay, and it was supposed to "teach children tolerance". However, nearly all heterosexual romances in the series (even Snape's unrequited love for Lily Evans) played a positive role, and Dumbledore's allegedly homosexual feelings for Grindelwald were decidedly calamitous, resulting in the rise of the magical variant of fascism, many deaths (including the death of Ariana), and, to some extent, possibly even World War II. Some homophobic people even praised this plot point, seeing it as confirmation for their idea that "homosexuality is evil". The fact that it's the only gay relationship in the series just makes it even more problematic. There's also absolutely zero indication that he's actually gay; he seems to be more or less celibate in the books, and in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, where his relationship with Grindelwald is briefly shown, it's never made explicit that the two were anything more than very close friends. There's certainly implications, but no more than many other relationships depicted as merely Heterosexual Life-Partners (Lupin and Sirius, for example). As some LGBT+ advocates put it, if you have to follow the author's blog to figure out what the character's orientation is, it doesn't count as representation.
  • There's also the recurrent message that "It is our choices, far more than our abilities, that show who we really are." In other words, you are responsible for your destiny, and you determine the breadth of your achievements through your choices. Which would be a perfectly valid message, if not for the fact that, y'know...the entire series takes place in a prestigious School of Magic that you can only get into by being born with natural Magical abilities, and all of Wizarding society is built upon Magical abilities that can only be acquired by virtue of birth. From what we see in-series, they're an entirely random genetic mutation that the children of Muggles often develop at birth without regard to any kind of choice.
    • It is also diminished by the fact that the wizarding society has a very tight and rigid social structure. Up until very recently if you were a Muggle-born you could forget reaching the top no matter how hard you tried.
    • The idea that one's choices matter also falls flat when the entire series revolves around everybody involved intentionally or not fulfilling a prophecy. The one person who actually tries to make his choices matter and Screw Destiny is the villain and he fails miserably at it, plus he even unintentionally ends up bringing it about.
    • There's also a few cases mentioned of characters getting Sorted into a House they explicitly didn't want to be in, including Neville Longbottom and Albus Potter. As this involved the Sorting Hat ignoring or overriding their choices, it kind of pokes a hole in the idea of choices mattering, even though the point of Harry's conversation with the Hat was supposed to be that Harry's choice was enough to defeat the Hat's attempts to stick him in Slytherin.
  • One of the main themes of the series is The Power of Love, and the primary example of that is how Lily sacrificed herself to let her son Harry survive Voldemort's attack and protect him against any future attacks from the Dark Lord and the Death Eaters as long as he was underaged. However, this is diminished by how the resulting charm required Harry to be sent to live with the Dursleys because he needed to live with a blood relative of Lily's in order for the protections to actually work. The Dursleys do not love Harry in the slightest, and at best they just simply begrudged his existence, yet they're allowed to count under a spell forged by love solely because Petunia is the only person alive that shares DNA with both Lily and Harry. On the other hand, if Harry was sent to live with an actual loving family like the Weasleys or ended up being raised in the foster system or by a Muggle family he wasn't biologically related to, then he would no longer be protected from Voldemort and the Death Eaters. So once again, the random circumstances of birth and blood outweigh actual choices and loving relationships, and the reader is left with the impression that only the bonds between family members that share DNA count as "true love" even when there's no love to be had and the actual relationship is abusive. It's not hard to peg that this was really less of a powerful statement and more of a plot convenience to justify Harry being forced to live with his horrible relatives for as long as possible.
  • Throughout the series, a few characters (especially the Sorting Hat) express an interest in reconciliation between the four Hogwarts houses, urging camaraderie and friendship, rather than preserving the status quo of Slytherin = Bad Guys and the Other Three Houses = Good Guys. But when Voldemort attacks Hogwarts, instead of the four houses putting aside their differences and defending the school together, we have the entire Slytherin house petulantly refusing to fight. It's even worse in the film, where the other three houses actually cheer as the Slytherins are led away. Yes, it's commendable that Slughorn stays and fights, but he was never a villain, anyway. The story tries to make up for it in the epilogue by having Harry name one of his sons after Snape, but that act would have been more meaningful if Slytherin house had chosen the right side when it mattered.note 
    • The camaraderie and friendship aesop is also broken with the house system in the first place. Houses are assigned based on aptitude and personality and then the point system encourages them to compete. This means, for example, a Ravenclaw would likely tutor younger Ravenclaws for their own house as opposed to a Hufflepuff. The problem is that this means major student qualities are encouraged to stick to themselves which leads to overspecialization, Slytherin being the worst case. In normal schools, Houses are assigned randomly which means you can maintain house loyalty and competition while still getting a well-rounded student body.
    • Rowling hastily tried to remedy the issue of Slytherin's isolation in the last book by introducing (for the first time in the entire saga, and even then only in the backstory) an inter-house couple. A pair, whose relationship was conceived and developed before they was sorted, and it quickly deteriorated and broke up largely because of the poisonous influence of House Slytherin on the boy. Not helped by the fact that every other inter-house couple - of which, incidentally, there were only two - also saw a tragic end; even the one that was decently successful ended with both dying. Rowling likewise attempted to rectify this in supplementary materials by revealing that Neville married Hannah Abbott, a Hufflepuff, but this came off as tacked-on for many fans.
    • Throughout the books, the message of friendship and putting aside differences is hammered pretty hard; Malfoy is portrayed as a self-righteous Jerkass for warning Harry about befriending "the wrong sort," and the series' Power Trio is made up of three students from radically different backgrounds. The aesop is shattered to pieces, however, by the way Slytherins are treated: Dumbledore reverses their victory, giving the House Cup to their bitter rivals in full view of the entire school; when Harry, disguised as a Slytherin student, asks another student for directions, she flat refuses, primly claiming "I'm a Ravenclaw" (though fair is fair, Harry did ask for the common room of Slytherin and you aren't supposed to know where the other Houses have their common rooms) before walking off with her nose in the air; Gryffindors "hate Slytherins on principle"; and so on. And all of this loathing is portrayed as 100 percent justified (and even commendable) in-universe, and every halfway decent Slytherin has a Dark and Troubled Past that they never quite managed to rise above. So, a more accurate aesop might be: "Make friends with people who are different from you.... so long as they're not the wrong sort."
  • In general, the novels' overall Ambition Is Evil aesop suffers from Informed Attribute:
    • The point about Ambition Is Evil leading to bad fates for Dumbledore, Snape, Voldemort and others, and happy fates for the Humble Hero Harry Potter falls flat since The Hero's success comes down to having a lot of convenient Plot Coupons handed down to him, alongside huge doses of luck and Plot Armor. In addition, Harry Potter is the inheritor of wealth and fame thanks to the actions of his parents and ancestors, so he doesn't really have a lot to be ambitious about unlike Dumbledore, Riddle and Snape, who were all products of troubled, low-income homes.
    • Slytherin's house is meant to show the bad side of ambition, except Slytherin is the house of tradition and wizarding elites, who want to preserve order and prevent genuinely ambitious people such as Hermione (driven by commitment to excellence, and social and institutional reform) from rising further. Only Voldemort and Snape qualify as ambitious Slytherins and neither of them are part of the traditional wizarding elite. A better aesop would be to say that Slytherin is the house of tradition and opposes innovation since those are the attributes its members and house have far more frequently displayed in the books and backstory.
    • This can also be considered a case of Informed Ability, like the claim that Slytherins possess great cunning, despite most of them being either Ax-Crazy like Bellatrix or just dumb thugs.
    • The idea that Slytherin prizes a wicked lust for power is further put to rest by the character of its former Head of House, Horace Slughorn. He's ambitious, yes, but both for himself and his prized students, the idea being that he will recognize and nurture talent, and they will, in turn, remember him when they become successful. Furthermore Slughorn, despite being a Slytherin, wants nothing to do with their bigotry (he considers Hermione and Lily Evans among his prized students despite being Muggle-borns) and is absolutely horrified by his part in Voldemort's rise to power by telling another promising young student, Tom Riddle, about Horcruxes.
  • Rowling claims that werewolves were meant to be a Fictional Disability analogous to HIV/AIDS. The prejudice Lupin receives as a result of being a werewolf is meant to be analogous to the hysteria over AIDS and the stigma against HIV-positive people, with the intended idea being that "fearing AIDS was bad and hurt a lot of people because of how trumped-up the issue was." Several parts are even clearly meant to invoke it, like the creation of a Werewolf Registry, the oft-mentioned nonsense rumors, or Lupin being kicked out of school. It would be a strong statement... if the metaphor didn't start falling apart almost instantly.
    • The first problem is that there are no good werewolves ever even mentioned in the books besides Lupin. Every mention we hear of a werewolf besides Lupin is of werewolves either horribly mauling people or considering joining Voldemort. As far as we can tell, werewolves are generally very dangerous, and Lupin is just "the good one." (Hogwarts Mystery adds Chiara Lobosca, an incredibly kind Hogwarts student the player can befriend and eventually romance, which brings the number of named good werewolves to a grand total of...two.)
    • While HIV/AIDS is a terrible condition, and treating it is costly and difficult, a person who knows they have it and knows to take the proper precautions (don't have unprotected sex, don't donate blood, don't share medical needles or use used medical needles) is no more dangerous than anyone else, even if they haven't had any treatment. This is a lot of why anti-AIDS hysteria was wrong; there was no good reason to think of people with it as inherently dangerous. On the other hand, werewolves turn into uncontrollable cannibalistic monsters every month and they will attack any human who's unlucky to be near them at the time. Even the most well-intentioned werewolf can infect people (if they don't end up killing them instead), and while there is a treatment that makes them harmless, it's rare, expensive, and can only be made by Potion Masters, to the point that Lupin could only take it at Hogwarts with Snape making it for him under Dumbledore's orders. In that case, it's entirely reasonable for people to fear werewolves. Rather odd to try to remove the stigma by coming up with something infinitely more dangerous and virulent...
    • Furthering from the above, the story can't claim that Lupin is harmless when half the climax of the third book arose from Lupin not taking his potion. It wasn't even that he was unable to do so; he just left the school in a hurry and forgot to drink it before he was out the door. It's a flat-out miracle that nobody was killed or infected, and some were still badly injured, all because it slipped Lupin's mind. Lupin himself admits that he badly screwed up by forgetting to take his potion at the pivotal moment. Firing a teacher for being HIV+ would be a cruel act of prejudice; firing them because they ignored all precautions and nearly infected their students, not so much.
    • The only other named werewolf, Fenrir Greyback, is a Psycho for Hire who delights in spreading the disease and deliberately plans his transformations near human populations, has his attacks and urges described in a rather sexual manner, and targets young children with the goal of indoctrinating them into the werewolf community. Those familiar with anti-AIDS hysteria will probably recognize every single negative stereotype and unrealistic myth about people with HIV, all embodied in one character who seems to be far more typical of the demographic than Lupin. Given the longstanding association of HIV and homosexuality, it really doesn't help that Greyback's most pivotal role is being the werewolf who attacked and infected Lupin as a young boy, causing angst for the very explicitly straight Lupin that would only be resolved when he got married to a woman.
  • "You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow up to be!" Dumbledore said this to Fudge right after Voldemort's return. However...
    • Voldemort, who does not feel or understand love, was conceived as a result of a loveless relationship. Though Word of God is that these two things are unrelated, it certainly doesn't seem that way, as the story also goes out of its way to emphasize that Voldemort was always a bad kid with no other apparent cause. Even aside from the Unfortunate Implications of a child of rape being seemingly born evil, the fact that Voldemort physically cannot understand emotions implies that he didn't really have a choice in regards to being evil.
    • Then there's also the fact that the only thing that made Harry important in the grand scheme of the Wizarding World, especially to Dumbledore and Voldemort, was a prophecy that decided what he would be even before he was born. The series attempts to patch this in the sixth book by declaring that if not for the prophecy, Harry would still hate Voldemort and want him dead—but if not for the circumstances of Harry's birth, his parents, and the prophecy, he would have died countless times over.
    • Not to mention the Hogwarts tradition of categorizing students by their best characteristics at age 11, and even as adults very few characters deviated from their house's values (especially when it comes to the Slytherins who are treated as Always Chaotic Evil with only a couple of exceptions).
  • Speaking of Voldemort's backstory, it seems to be making a statement about assault under influence: Tom Riddle was fed a Love Potion by Merope Gaunt and enchanted into a relationship with her, which resulted in Voldemort's conception. It is emphasized as a loveless relationship and produced the biggest evil in the wizarding world, with Harry even claiming that love potions are practically a form of dark magic. Unfortunately, this gets overturned by seemingly every other instance of love potion in the series being treated as a harmless bit of fun; in particular, Fred and George openly sell the stuff to teenagers.


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