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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Right-Wing Critique of the Week

Sometime Friday or Saturday, this paper on the wizard government in the Harry Potter series was brought to my attention. I did read the first book a few months ago, so I thought I'd catch up on the series. 76 hours later, I finished Half-blood Prince, read the research paper, and collapsed. Well, now I'm back with ill-considered thoughts.

The paper I linked to up there is short and sweet, though it's not great. It describes the wizard government rather succinctly and points out a few things. A good start on analysing the series, though not particularly insightful.

If it's not clear by now, I recommend you read it so that I don't have to summarise 6 novels. In fact, it might be a good idea to read the novels. You've got a long weekend, haven't you? Hop to it.

I'd never heard of "public choice theory," which is mentioned repeatedly in the paper. Apparently, some people don't take it as holy writ that the government and bureaucracy in general exist for their own perpetuation and expansion. Of course, this is an extension of the Word of Adam Smith, may His invisible hand guide us.

Any organisation that doesn't seek its own perpetuation strongly enough will be wiped out by others that do. That's why the overwhelming majority of anything is self-perpetuating. It fascinates me that some Leftists take Evolution seriously, but deny the Word (of Adam Smith).

While reading the series, there were often instances of an old archetypal situation common in sit-coms: Action is taken while the audience, and some characters, know that it is the wrong action; they are prevented from sharing this information by oppression or unfortunate circumstances. Nearly uniformly, in the Potter series, it is authority figures who refuse to listen to vital information. Usually, after the second book, this is the bureaucracy of the Ministry of Magic. The reader is left with a strong negative impression of the government.

Actually, I thought it was a very strong series, from book 3 to book 6. The characters are extremely well written, although their realism is sometimes annoying when they behave like normal teenagers or government officials. This doesn't really detract from the story, especially for the non-misanthropic.

There are many continuing subplots, which may or may not contribute to the main story arc: Harry's Quidditch career, the struggle against Voldemort, the various relationships that develope. The backstory is gradually revealed, including a good characterisation of Voldemort. It is here that the series is exceptional. Most authors create one-dimensional evil archetypes; the good ones tend to create evil characters that have some painful secret or hidden good side, like Darth Vader. Voldemort becomes more complex and believable in book 6, but still lacks any redeeming values.

There is also a common literary 'flaw' wherein the author uses dialogue tags or descriptions instead of actions to create a character. For example:

"Oh, we'll do it tomorrow," Rumsfeld said carelessly.

So Rumsfeld is careless- but do we really believe it? It is much better to have the character actually do careless things as the plot unfolds, and reap the consequences. How bad can the enemy be if his plans are constantly thwarted? Voldemort's successful plots make the "evil" description much more personal to the reader.

This same deft hand is used to create a government that the reader can loathe. And, as the series is on its way to being the most widely-read in history, the potential impact is hundreds of millions of readers loathing government intrusion. The target audience is young and impressionable.

That said, this isn't the greatest writing ever. There is a distinct improvement in quality after book 2, which may be due to a variety of factors.

There is another paper here that looks at the public's perception of economics, using the series' popularity as a guide to its correlation with public opinion. The author is patronizing, irrigorous (if that's a word), and engages in projection and appeals to authority (the authority being the general public). He completely misinterprets the role of the houseelves and its significance, in my opinion. He also makes a few erroneous conclusions because of an apparent lack of knowledge of English culture. For example, section 8 deals with education and seems to ignore the fact that English boarding schools have spawned an entire genre of literature, which is somewhat unknown outside the UK. He makes some good points though.

Ergo Sum: the series is excellent, although there were points where the main plot did not advance quickly and I was somewhat bored. The quality of writing, emphasis on the government, and circulation of the series are all quite strong, which could lead to a significant impact on society.


Blogger Kevin said...

(*Sigh*) I guess I'll have to read them now...

6:37 PM  

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