One of the reasons I read is to examine different styles of morality. In many ways, the series’ morality is cookie-cutter black-and-white, and doesn’t intrigue me as before. Even the construct of Hogwarts is build upon obvious good vs. obvious evil.
|via Music Education for the 21st Century Classroom|
Students are divided into spheres of morality from the beginning, and there’s little to no overlap. We isolate Slytherin, detest it, and friendship or teamwork becomes impossible. You aren’t supposed to admire a Slytherin’s character. They’re banned from Dumbledore’s army and the Battle of Hogwarts (though they’d just fight their own parents, which isn’t even fair)—there are no heroic deeds to admire from them.
I face moral conundrums. They aren’t so clear cut. There’s sympathy on the other side of the matter and people who are different from me aren’t just “wrong” the way I am “right.” Most of my favorite stories understand this, too. Will from Ranger’s Apprentice and A.C. Gaughen’s Scarlet find people to admire among their captors; though King Galbatorix is cruel and unfair, he’s also a dreamer. Cops and robbers doesn’t cut it.
There’s no such thing as a completely evil man—so I take issue with characters like Voldemort and Dolores Umbridge.
Take H.I.V.E. by Mark Walden (yes, it is my favorite), Wing shows Otto half of the yin yang necklace. He explains that it is meant to remind him that the seed of evil can exist within good things, but even in the blackest heart, there’s still the potential for good.
Here are Voldemort and Umbridge lacking. They are unkind, brutal, inhuman. I have to feel like they’re missing their other halves—the Darkling’s romance, Dr. Kananga’s charm, Darth Vader’s family, Ignifex’s passion, Zira’s motherhood, James and Victoria’s partnership, Loki’s brokenness, Rasputin’s humor, Davy Jones’ loss, Ursula’s injustice, Hades’ leadership, Javert’s honor. They’re missing that part of them that makes the hero think, “maybe I could join them.”
Harry never once considers joining Voldemort.
(If Harry had been more useful to Voldemort alive, who’s to say he couldn’t change his mind and pick Neville?)
Granted, characters like Snape and Dumbledore and Wormtail show moral ambiguity, and we must recalculate their roles. But overall, evil characters are evil, nothing less.
I don’t go for it. It’s nice when things are black and white, and certainly some things are, but sometimes the choices are between two evils or a good with unfortunate consequences. Then again, sometimes I step back and realize that what I used to think was good, evil, or irrelevant isn’t that thing at all!
The story still works. Good and evil are clear cut, the heroes aren’t tempted by the bad guys. In reality, it’s probably good small children aren’t taught to be morally ambiguous murderers and pillagers and haters of people, nor should we become that way as we age. I’ve heard that Harry Potter fans are more likely to be more tolerant and loving than other people, and that’s good.
At the same time, as I’m living out the end of my teenage years I reach for—long for—the stories that give me questions to think about, and pick up Harry Potter, with all its definite answers, less and less.
Note: This post was written wearing a Slytherin t-shirt, and has no bearing on whether or not I will continue to wear it as a pajama shirt, because it is my right, and I shall.