Sunday, September 04, 2005

Books: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Having read the sixth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I am happy to say that the writing is even better than the previous book and Rowling continues to examine how the characters relate to power, developing some of the themes I pointed out in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Two passages really caught my attention. One was a simple explanation by Dumbledore regarding the weakness of tyranny:
Voldemoret himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back!
I was amused with how well this matched the sentiment expressed in a little Borg-esque slogan that I made up a while ago: Intimidation is futile, you will be resisted.

Another interesting passage was Harry's interview with the new Minister of Magic (the magical equivalent of the Prime Minister). As in the last novel, politicians are depicted as arrogant and untrustworthy, convinced that their own power is the most important thing in the world. Harry is repulsed by the minister's (mild) corruption, which opens up a profound facet of the novel--Harry's refusal to cede his integrity to the government.

During the interview, the Minister invites Harry to work at the Ministry, hoping to benefit from Harry's reputation and ability, but Harry rejects this offer, asking "won't that seem as though I approve of what the Ministry's up to?" When the Minister suggests that Harry has a duty to aid the government, Harry accuses the Minister of failing in his duties by abusing his powers for political gain. Finally, the Minister asks Harry "(You are) Dumbledore's man through and through, aren't you, Potter?", which Harry affirms.

In this exchange, Harry asserts that his allegiance is to individuals and ideals, not institutions, but this does not mean that he has chosen monarchy over representative government. Harry's allegiance to Dumbledore derives from Harry's recognition that Dumbledore is a more perfect embodiment of Harry's own values. If Dumbledore demonstrated corruption, Harry would probably turn his back on him just as he turned his back on the Ministry. Harry's relationship with Dumbledore is such that if Dumbledore died, Harry would either have to chose another leader or rely on his own judgment, but he would allow others to make their own judgments as long as they didn't impose themselves on him.

The voluntary nature of Dumbledore's authority is more fully illustrated when Dumbledore takes Harry on a dangerous mission. Dumbledore has Harry promise to follow his orders only for the duration of this particular mission, and he makes sure that Harry is willing to follow a few particular orders. These orders are of the nature "you will abandon me if I tell you to", but nothing like "you will kill whomever I tell you to."

Harry's insistence on maintaining his independence from the government, along with his general lack of respect for authority mark him as a rather anarchistic character. One other character also strikes me as a bit of an anarchist--Severus Snape. At the end of this book, Potter and Snape clearly have some issues to resolve and I look forward to reading about the further development of their relationship in the finale.

Note: I discovered that the Libertarian Party had published a review of The Order of the Phoenix by Eryk Boston which covers some same themes as my own reviews, but with a more political tilt.

Update: A list of similar reviews at CLASSical Liberalism.


Anonymous said...

I heard that the sixth installment is Rowling's second favorite book. Her most favorite is the third book, The Prisoner of Azkaban.

Hyrum said...

I have not read any of the Harry Potter books, but all this talk of the series promoting the classic liberal thoughts has made me a fan and has convinced me to start reading them.