Harry Potter and the Troublesome Ethics

In the last post I covered some of the more obvious problems with the world building. This one will focus on some of the ethical problems. I will focus on issues with sex and gender, not only because that’s generally my beat, but also because Rowling is being hailed as some sort of feminist icon, when her works don’t even show what I would call “house and garden” feminism that you can see in many so called “gender critical feminists”. In fact, the politics of sex and gender in Harry Potter are deeply troubled.


Strong women: When Harry Potter was first published, it was lauded for its inclusion of so many “strong women”. “Strong women” are seen as the opposite of the “Damsel in distress” and sure, we got lots of capable women or girls showing agency: McGonagall, Hermione, Ginny, ehm, did I say “lots”? Yes, those women are shown as capable, more than equal to their male counterparts, yet they are also absolutely exceptional. We don’t get a female Ron, let alone a female Neville, a girl who is just average in about all aspects and who is still an important member of the group.


Women are either mothers, nuns,  or evil: If we look at the women in the Harry Potter universe, there seem to be just two types. Mothers and evil women. Let’s start with Harry’s own mum. She is portrayed as the best person we could ever meet. She stood up to bullies at school, and she loved her son so much that she sacrificed herself for his sake, as a mother’s proper role demands. I could go on and on about dead mothers in fiction, but that’s probably for another day. Her role was not that of Harry’s dad, who valiantly defends himself and his family, but that of a sacrifice, who dies so her son could live. This is seen as an especially motherly deed. It is a mother’s love that protects Harry, not a parent’s love.

The next woman we get is Molly Weasley, who is the archetypical SAHM. She’s got seven kids and is the perfect homemaker, who keeps everything tidy for her husband and children and makes ends meet with very little money. She is being portrayed as a wholesome character whose only little flaws is that she’s a bit overbearing and overprotective. In other words, she’s an ideal mother. Yet, you got to wonder: what is that woman doing all day? When we first meet the Weasleys she’s got exactly one kid left at home, by book two that number comes down to zero. Most household chores can be done by waving a wand (and still she longs for an enslaved creature to do them for her) and in line with the upper class boarding school setting of the novels, large parts of raising the kids has been passed off onto other people. From the first book on we know that money is more than tight (5 underage kids do cost a lot of money), yet working outside of the home is apparently considered a no go. This is repeated in Ginny, who we learn has a great career as a Quidditch player until she ends her career to raise her family.

The only mother who is somewhere in between is Narcissa Malfoy, but even with her, her motherly instincts are her redeeming feature. Her childfree sisters gets no such chance. She is just pure evil, with a flavour of madness to it (well, she’s been tortured by the “good guys” for over a decade, so madness seems kind of understandable). Aunt Petunia would feature somewhere in between as well, but I’m limiting myself here to the wizarding world.

The nuns are, of course, the teachers. Because teachers (did I mention that the numbers don’t add up again? That’s not enough people to teach in a school the size of Hogwarts. Even with only two classes each year, no teacher can teach ALL classes in a certain subject) need to be pure beings without their own family or lives. While this holds true for all teachers in Hogwarts, there’s no denial of the gendered history of female teachers being expected to be chaste and celibate. Many countries had laws that banned married women from teaching, while married men were, of course, ok.

And then there’s the evil women. They are not necessarily evil as in working for Voldemort, but they are clearly portrayed as bad characters. The two most prominent ones are Rita Skeeter and Dolores Umbridge. There have been speculations about whether Rita Skeeter is supposed to be a trans woman, as she’s described as having “mannish hands”, but I’ll leave that in the realm of speculation. What is true is that Rita Skeeter is an ambitious woman who is also apparently single. The same holds true for Dolores Umbridge: the thing she wants most in life is power over others. There seems to be no other motivation to her actions. She sells her work to the highest bidder and enjoys abusing her power. It’s important to mention that this sadistic person was first allowed to mistreat kids under the “good guys”. There’s another thing both of them have in common: They are coded as extremely feminine. I don’t think any other character’s attire gets mentioned that often. Rita is portrayed as trying to be attractive, probably trying to finally get herself a man, while Umbridge is trying to look cute and sweet. She likes kittens and bows. Clearly that makes her evil. Let me say it clear and loud here: shaming women for being feminine isn’t feminism, but patriarchy in a feminist wrapper.

There’s one more important woman, Merope, but I’ll come to her in a separate point.


Women are prizes to be won. I must say, the struggles through adolescence were some of the more enjoyable parts of the books. Especially in book 4, where Harry is such a self-centred prick as only adolescents can be, and with adolescence comes the awakening of romantic and sexual interests and that’s completely ok. Only that of course it’s all damn heteronormative, with the girls being passive creatures that need to be pursued by the boys. In book 5 we get the feeling that Hermione fancies Ron, yet she is unable to ask him to the Yule Ball. Harry pursues Ginny, yet he makes the decision to drop her for her own good. But in the end, both boys get their girls for having bravely defeated Voldemort. They can now start the nice domestic life of a heterosexual couple where mum raises kids, because those women are what they deserve. Though the question of domestic bliss leads me to the next point:


Wizards marrying Muggles is miscegenation. While the “good guys” consider Muggle born wizards and witches to be ok, it is made pretty clear that a relationship between a wizard and a Muggle is bad. There are no working Muggle-wizard couples in the Harry Potter universe. We get Voldemort’s parents (more on this later), we got Snape’s parents. Snape’s family life is described as pretty bad. His mother married a Muggle and the relationship is described as unhealthy and bad. Basically Snape’s nastiness (and no, I don’t care about his redemptive arc, he’s a nasty bully and should never have been allowed to teach kids) is explained by his home story. He is an outsider wherever he goes. The other one is Dean Thomas, whose father was probably a wizard who abandoned him and his mother. Now, how nobody in a community so small ever guessed who his father was is another question, but again we get the idea: You must not fuck a Muggle. And that’s from a book that apparently teaches that “judging people by their bloodlines is bad”. Can you think of any happy Muggle-wizard couple?


Rape is ok (if done by women). This is probably the worst of all. Rape is treated as no big deal. It is stark to see how a world where using the unforgivable “Imperius” curse to make somebody eat a worm will earn you a life sentence in a torture institution, but drugging somebody and make them have sex with you is such a minor thing that underage kids can buy those drugs in a joke store. The treatment of this reveals why Rowling’s descend into Terfdom shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Like many “gender critical” people she apparently believes that all women (only cis women are women to her, of course) are delicate creatures who need to be protected and who cannot commit rape because they don’t have a penis. The first time we encounter a love potion is when Ron eats some chocolates that were meant for Harry and now is madly in love with some girl. This is funny, haha. We’re meant to laugh at Ron, who is obviously out of his senses (and also at the girl, because isn’t the thought that somebody could be in love with that girl funny, haha). We are not supposed to be abhorred at the fact that somebody just drugged him to the point that he would do things with that girl he’d never consent to if he were sober. There are no consequences for the girl who drugged him and it’s no problem that the Weasley brothers sell their potions to whoever can pay for them (except for Ginny, cause their own sister needs to be chaste). However, if you think this is horrible, look at the most important use of love potions in the books: Voldemort’s story of origin.

I’ve hinted at this several times already, but Merope and Tom Riddle Senior are about the most fucked up story line in the whole books. When we first meet the two, it’s pretty clear with whom our sympathies are supposed to lie. Tom Riddle Senior is an arrogant ass. Some rich bastard’s son who looks down on his poor neighbours, not knowing that they are actually wizards. Merope on the other hand is the poor abused girl who has to care for her violent father and brother (somehow the wizarding world is ok with that as well). When those two get thrown into prison, Merope uses her shot at freedom by drugging and raping Tom Riddle. Of course, it’s never described like that. The way we learn about it in the books is a very sanitised version.

(Dumbledore) “Can you not think of any measure Merope could have taken to make Tom Riddle … fall in love with her…?” “The Imperius Curse?”, Harry suggested. “Or a love potion?” “Very good. Personally I am inclined to think that she used a love potion. I am sure it would have seemed more romantic to her…”

Then we learn that Riddle returned to his parents with talks of having been “hoodwinked” by Merope. The tale in his village was that he had married because he thought she was pregnant.

“But she did have have his baby.” (Harry) “Yes, but not until a year after they were married. Tom Riddle left her while she was still pregnant.” “What went wrong?”, asked Harry. “Why did the love potion stop working?”

Dumbledore speculates that Merope, whom he describes as deeply in love with Riddle, stopped giving him the potion, hoping that he’d stay for her sake and the baby’s, but:

“He left her, never saw her again, and never troubled to discover what became of his son.”

This is perhaps one of the worst passages in the whole books. A man is drugged over months, repeatedly raped, and when he finally escapes he is the bad guy for leaving his pregnant “wife”. There is no sympathy here for Tom Riddle. There is no horror conveyed. The use of the love potion gets described as “romantic”. Harry thinks that Riddle no longer being drugged is a sign that something went wrong, and Dumbledore immediately offers an explanation that paints Merope in a good light.

The next time we hear about Merope is that she sold her family heirloom after Riddle left her, or as Dumbledore calls it “when her husband abandoned her”. Now we come to Merope’s one and only crime: dying. While Dumbledore still tries to be sympathetic, finding reasons and excuses while Merope gave up, Harry is indignant.

(Dumbledore) “Of course, it is also possible that her unrequited love and the attendant despair sapped her of her powers. Merope refused to raise her wand even to save her own life.” “She wouldn’t even stay alive for her son?” Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. “Could you possibly be feeling sorry for Lord Voldemort?” “No”, said Harry quickly, “but she had a choice, didn’t she…”

Now I’d like to raise the question why we shouldn’t feel sorry for baby Tom Riddle, conceived through rape, born to a rapist mother who did not want him if she couldn’t have his father, and who was absolutely abandoned by his own community, although they absolutely knew about him, since “his name has been down for our school (Hogwarts) since birth”. But again, we’re meant to sympathise with Merope. The wizarding community only gives a fuck about Tom Riddle once he’s old enough to attend Hogwarts. Dumbledore doesn’t give a fuck before that. And Riddle is described as a bad person even from the time he was a wee baby. Again, see the point about miscegenation. We are meant to believe that Tom Riddle was bad because of his blood (and not, maybe, because he was dumped in a non magical orphanage without any loving person around), yet somehow even this isn’t meant to raise some sympathy. It is hard not to see the gendered aspect here: Merope is always the victim, always somewhat less responsible for her own actions than others, while the man she raped and the boy she birthed are to be judged. We are meant to believe that an abandoned and mistreated 11 years old boy is just inherently bad, while a mistreated 18 years old woman is just “in love” or “heartbroken”.

There are many other ethical problems in Harry Potter’s world. You can find more examples in Charly’s comment on the last post, or Andreas’ post on interspecies relationships. I’ll leave it at this for now.


  1. StevoR says

    The next woman we get is Molly Weasley, who is the archetypical SAHM.

    SAHM = ??

    I also wonder what Merope’s story would be if she got to tell it herself. Not saying it would make her that much better but imagine it from her POV and not just Dumbledore and Harry Potter’s third hand speculations.. ?

    FWIW . Pointless trivia : Merope = one of the Pleiades or Seven Sisters stars along with Alycone, Maia, Taygete, Pleione, Atlas, Caelano, (A)Sterope and, uh, Atlas (yeah) and Electra. (Yeah, familar name female equivalent of Oedipus tho’ apparently the daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon is a technically mythologically different one but yeah ..) JK Rowling did like to use and seemed to know her star names so .. doubt that’s just co-incidence.

  2. says

    SAHM = Stay at home mum. Now, there’s lots to unpack about both our love and hatred for SAHM, but that’s for another day. Let’s suffice to say that as a full time working mum I really have little time to listen to the hard life of SAHMs

  3. cartomancer says


    I think the more apt classical allusion, which Rowling was probably shooting for, is with Oedipus’s (adoptive) Corinthian mother, who is called Merope in Sophocles’ version of the story.

    I don’t know Harry Potter, but from the outline above the parallels are not exact. Sophocles’ Merope is a caring adoptive mother whose son flees from her so as not to fulfil a horrible prophecy (and, in so doing, fulfils that prophecy), whereas this Harry Potter Merope appears to be an unloving biological mother who abandons her son for… well, for whatever reasons that terf woman decided on.

    As for Rowling’s problematic use of love potions, I have a feeling it arises from a poorly thought out attempt to fuse the tropes of knockabout schooldays humour and fairytale in a medium that takes itself rather more seriously. You see love potions used in knockabout humorous ways quite a bit in children’s media. I remember plenty of childhood cartoons where one character is somehow made to fall in love with another and humour arises from their ridiculous behaviour afterwards (it’s basically the staple plotline of Pepe la Pew cartoons). But in those sorts of tales the unwanted amorous attention generally doesn’t go beyond the odd kiss, mild badgering and the presentation of unwanted gifts. It most certainly doesn’t go as far as rape. Trying to put this sort of plot device, used in media which most emphatically don’t examine serious human relationships, into media that tries to is a very bad idea unless one takes great care in doing so.

  4. DonDueed says

    Minor correction: the Yule Ball took place in Book 4. Your point is otherwise sound.

    The roster of horrible teachers at Hogwarts is a long one. Quirrell, Lockhart, faux-Moody, Umbridge, Snape, Carrow… and that was just one class! Throw in Snape (as Potions teacher), Hagrid, and Trelawney and I think it’s safe to say piss-poor tutelage was the norm rather than the exception at “the best Wizarding school”. It’s a wonder anybody learned anything.

  5. anat says

    There is one known witch who is employed while her child attends Hogwarts. This is the mother of Marietta Edgecombe, the girl who ends up telling Umbridge about Doubledore’s Army. See: if a witch works while her child is at school, that child does not learn the great value of never telling on their friends (though we know Marietta had her doubts about the group from the beginning, and may have had good reasons to think a group calling itself an army and whose leader announced he was going to teach a spell whose only known use outside of Dumbledore’s inner circle was to counter the government’s prison guards was a bunch of budding terrorists).

    I detest how femininity is dealt with in HP. There is a very narrow path of legitimate feminine expression that ‘good’ girls are allowed to have, including a narrow range of natural physical appearance and body type. All ‘bad’ girls are depicted as either masculine (Millicent Bulstrode) or excessively feminine (Romilda Vane). Harry finds Ginny attractive specifically because she is feisty and does not cry. Lavender and Parvati are just too feminine to be included in the group -- Parvati is only ‘useful’ when Harry desperately needs a date for the Yule Ball and Lavender when Ron needs to show Hermione he too can get someone to kiss him. Otherwise the two of them are ridiculous for liking Divination.

    (BTW Narcissa has one childfree sister. Her other sister is a non-entity -- she is Tonks’ mother, and probably ends up raising Tonks and Remus’ child in the end.)

  6. says

    She is just pure evil, with a flavour of madness to it (well, she’s been tortured by the “good guys” for over a decade, so madness seems kind of understandable)

    If we’re talking ethics, we have to talk about Psychic Torture Prison. Not that there’s much to say that isn’t obvious or has been talked to death, but let’s just do a few:

    1) Legal standards are sloppy as hell. Hagrid is sent to Azkaban on mere suspicion and Harry would have been railroaded several times if not for Dumbledore stepping in.
    2) It’s obviously horrible punishment. It’s described as sucking all happiness out of the world. Dementors are basically weaponized depression generators.
    3) It’s unclear how often people get out again, but most are apparently there for life. No parole, no appeal, and, at least in some cases, no trial.
    4) There’s no attempt at rehabilitation at all. It’s purely punishment and deterrence and is clearly used as such. Whenever Azkaban is mentioned, it’s with terror. That seems to be its purpose.
    5) Slightly tangential, but on the subject of teaching: Isn’t it odd that the kids are never taught about the legal system? More than once Harry is confused about what rules apply, what rights he has, and what punishments might be due for this or that infraction.
    One wonders if this is why legal standards are so low: Nobody has the slightest sense of history or precedence. At Harry’s inquiry, Dumbledore has to show up and point out Harry’s right to call witnesses in his defense. There are lots of ministry officials in the room. Did none of them know that?

  7. says

    whereas this Harry Potter Merope appears to be an unloving biological mother who abandons her son for… well, for whatever reasons that terf woman decided on.

    Oh, she just rolls over and dies after delivering the baby at the human orphanage. Killing women in childbirth, plot device of lazy writing ever since modern medicine actually made birth much lower risk. But apparently heartbroken women will just die from grief after doing their most important job of having babies (see Star Wars). Mind you, she doesn’t die from a bad conscience towards the father and the child, but because the former treated her so badly.

  8. anat says

    Oh, actually the first mentions of love potions: In book 2 Gilderoy suggests that Severus teach the kids to make them for Valentine’s Day (Severus does not look pleased!). In book 3 Molly tells Hermione and Ginny some funny story (we never get details) about a love potion she made once -- making love potions sound like a legitimate though silly thing. And in 6th year Amortentia is apparently part of the curriculum? At least Horace presents it as an example of the kind of complex potions the students will be brewing that year.

    As for teachers: Everything Severus does in class he learned from Minerva and/or Filius. Including picking on a student perceived as weak and threatening pets that are brought to class (why would a student do that?). And it is no wonder -- he was coerced into teaching at a young age (the oldest among his students were present at the school at the time he suffered his greatest humiliation as a student) with no training in pedagogy or class management -- so he modeled himself on teachers that he admired. He is not a uniquely bad teacher, he is part of a greater phenomenon.

    Also, how about all the cruelty to animals at Hogwarts that is described as comic? Especially the animals that are used in transfiguration class.

    And house elves -- how bad can a children’s book series be that it can’t make a clear statement that slavery is wrong?

  9. Allison says

    We are meant to believe that Tom Riddle was bad because of his blood (and not, maybe, because he was dumped in a non magical orphanage without any loving person around), yet somehow even this isn’t meant to raise some sympathy.

    You’re probably right about Rowling’s intent here, but when I read that, my own reaction was to feel that his growing up in an orphanage, and not a particularly enlightened one, explained a lot of his behavior. However, she then goes on to ignore that history. From then on, he’s simply a Big Bad, whose demise we’re supposed to think of as good riddance to bad rubbish.

    My own take on the HP universe was that the wizarding world was a pretty brutal, amoral, Dickensian one, and the way the story goes, I didn’t get much of a sense that Rowling was aware of the immense structural evil in her creation. The odd part is that it comes out here and there. The consequences of Sirius’s treatment of Kreacher, of James Potter’s and his friends’ treatment of Snape, or the history of the Wizard-Goblin hostilities. But she never goes anywhere with it. You don’t get the feeling that Harry (or anyone else) sees anything wrong with the status quo, now that the things that hurt him personally have been fixed.

    Her storytelling reminds me of the Narnia books: it comes from a rather parochial viewpoint, where good and bad are judged in terms of the rather priggish standards and bigotries endemic to the author’s social class and background.

  10. says

    I have read only the first few books (as a kid), I didn’t finish the series. But I intentionally sought spoilers to check out how the series ended, because in modern world people are expected to have a clue about Potter books during conversations. Anyway, regarding feminism. From what I figured out from the spoilers I looked up, at the end of the story, all the important characters married another person of the opposite sex from their school and had kids. That bugged me. Where are the gay/lesbian couples? Asexual people? Childfree people? People who prefer open relationships with a bunch of other people? People who choose not to marry their long-term partners and instead stay together as a couple without the paperwork? In modern society, lifelong heterosexual marriage with kids is probably what a minority of people choose to do with their lives. Of course, it still remains a perfectly fine and valid choice, but it is not the only choice there is. I get suspicious when a book series about kids growing up ends with all the protagonists choosing a heterosexual marriage with kids.

  11. says

    Also, regarding teachers. Correct me if I am wrong (I read this stuff really long ago), but weren’t punishments for disobedience barbaric/scary/disgusting/unfair/excessive?

    The way I saw it, Snape wasn’t the problem. The entire collective of teachers was the problem. Poor teaching skills, intimidation of students, barbaric punishments for disobedience. Every single teacher either abused their students or watched as their colleagues abuse the students and failed to intervene.

  12. says

    I was not all that bugged by Snape (and others) being a bad teacher. Bad teachers are real and believable. I had them, and some were even worse than Snape. Sure, such people should not teach, but they do in the real world, so their inclusion -- albeit exaggerated -- in a fictional world is to me a plus not a minus.
    Snape is a well-written character. I did not take his “redemptive arc” as redemptive but as explanatory, so I was fine with that too. I think the books did this one thing right -- they showed that people are not just good and evil. That there are evidently and ostensibly bad people working for the “good guys” in the books is a good thing. What was a bit missing were some good people working for the “bad guys” for the wrong reasons, but there were some (RAB).
    The books do not lack strong female characters in both senses of the phrase, but still, there is about one plot-relevant female character per two male ones, so some feminist icon these books are not.
    However the only really likable character -- Hermione -- is a woman, so there is that.

  13. anat says

    Hermione likable? Maybe until the middle of the 4th book. Then she undergoes a transformation and engages in kidnapping, blackmail, setting up a woman (however evil) to be tortured (probably raped) and enjoys the trauma of said woman, engages in mental coercion -- first on a small scale for a trifling purpose, and then her horrible treatment of her parents (after years of becoming ever so distanced from them as she becomes assimilated into the wizarding world). Sorry, no.

  14. says

    @anat, kidnapping, and blackmail of Rita Skeeter are problematic, sure, but understandable given the circumstances. And given how terrible Azkaban is, they were probably the lesser of possible evils,. Because turning Rita Skeeter to the authorities for her criminal behavior would lead to her imprisonment. And Azkaban is another poorly thought out and problematic thing in the wizarding world, since it has nothing whatsoever to do with rehabilitation or justice as LykeX so well writes in #6. Maybe there are better solutions to how to stop Skeeter to invade other people’s privacy, but I cannot think of any.

    There is no evidence that Hermione did (knowingly) set up anyone to be tortured or raped. In the book she very obviously did not know what exactly will happen, she just had some vague idea that the centaurs will help them, and did not think it through too much. Enjoying the trauma of that woman (if you talk about how she giggles when Ron clicks his tongue at her and she reacts) is not nice, true. But, unfortunately, it is an entirely human thing to do. Do not forget that Umbridge actually physically tortured people. I was bullied at school and I did not shed a single tear when my former school bully died in a car accident. I felt some pang of pity for his parents losing son, but not for that bastard who almost killed me several times and enjoyed it. In fact, I felt relieved, even though he could not torture me anymore for decades. If you want to judge me for that, I can live with that.

    As far as mental coercion for trifling purposes goes, I do not know what you mean.

    Wiping her parents’ memory is deeply problematic. She did it with the best intentions, but this is an instance where I agree with you that she has absorbed and internalized the terribly blasé part of wizarding morals with regard to the bodily autonomy of muggles.

    Anyway, I said that Hermione is likable, not that she is perfect or saint or both. But since perfect people do not exist, and everybody is petty, obnoxious, or nasty at least sometimes somewhere, being pefrect is not a requirement for being likable. And Hermione expressed one crucial feature that could perhaps persuade her to abandon the bad things she did and not do them in the future -- the ability to reason and to be reasoned with.

  15. says

    On the house-elves, I found it disturbing how easily the excuses mirrored the ones given for human slavery, especially “they’re happy like this.” It was easy to see Ron and Harry as oh-so-enlightened plantation owners.
    The fact that house elves prepare all the meals for students, while also most students being completely unaware of this, is rather telling. Even Hermione takes a while before she gets the bright idea to actually talk to the elves. And she’s the smart one!

    It seems to me the house-elves is a case where an entire species has been so thoroughly demeaned and abused that even the thought of freedom is alien and terrifying to them. The fact that our main characters so easily dismiss them could have been used to great effect, but then it just peters out. Even Dobby, the elf that wants freedom, is treated as exceptional, effectively validating the overall view of elves.

    It’s unfortunate, because this could have been a brilliant story that sets up a world, makes you care about it, and then reveals the horrors beneath, pitting the characters against, not just an evil wizard, but the dark history of their own society. It could be a coming-of-age story about living in a society that’s doing it wrong and how you try to change it.

    Instead, it became a defense of the established horror over the new horror. Not because of principles and justice, but because the new horror killed your parents and you’re mad about it. Because the new horror wants to kill people you care about, whereas the old horror just tortures people who don’t matter to you.

    It seems the final lesson of Harry Potter is that even people who start out decent can be incorporated into the machine that grinds. Especially if they don’t get a proper education.

  16. anat says

    Hermione’s treatment of Rita is not just ethically problematic, it was bad from a war tactics POV. Because Hermione caught her listening in on Albus’ impromptu war room at the hospital wing. The best thing Hermione could have done then and there would have been to bring her to Albus (who would have probably mind-wiped her discreetly). But she cared more about her personal issues with Rita than the broader implication (despite said broader issue involving her and her best friend very closely).

    Hermione knew the centaurs would do something horrible to any adult human that they saw as invading their territory. Notice how much she feared them when she thought they might turn on her for using them. And Hermione knows her mythology. So it would be reasonable to expect she’d know what horrible things centaurs are known to do to women.

    Mental coercion for trifling purposes -- Confunding Cormac McLaggen to ensure that Ron got the Keeper position on the Quidditch team.

    And I don’t believe she had good intentions regarding her parents (there is nothing useful Death Eaters could possibly learn about Harry from the Grangers so that excuse doesn’t pass the sniff test; if she had done it for their own good she could have said so yet she did not). But that’s me. I liked early Hermione, but IMO she grew into a monster.

  17. anat says

    LykeX @15: Also significant that the ‘happy’ enslaved elves are introduced in the same book where Harry experiences the Imperius Curse. The curse gives you a ‘happy’ feeling, making you want to obey and override your own choices. The similarity is eerie.

  18. StevoR says

    @2. Giliell & #3 cartomancer : Thanks for that info -- much appreciated.

    @ 8 anat : “..threatening pets that are brought to class (why would a student do that?).”

    I might be mistaken here but aren’t the pets here also tools as “familiars” or messengers i.e. owls and necessary withces companion animals cats, cats liek Scabbers , etc .. ? Weren’t they used in classes (& wizarding life generally) too although this seems to get left out more towards the end of the series if my vague memory suffices here?

    And house elves — how bad can a children’s book series be that it can’t make a clear statement that slavery is wrong?

    Truth seconded and it’s even worse in that when Hermione tries to look after the House elves and raise the evil of their mistreatement it gets mocked and becomes a joke and then pretty much dropped. IOW not only is slavery okay but attempts to overturn it are silly and a fad that goes nowhere. Also that someome as intelligent as Hermione woud come up with the acronymn she does & not see the problem with it breaks plausiblity and character consistency. (No, she doesn’t have to be perfect but I don’t expect her to miss that.)

    @10. Andreas Avester : Well, there is the whole thing about Dumbledore being gay apparently and you can equally make a case for Lupin being a metaphor for it so I gather and with both those also having no romantic interactions really (at least that I can recall -- years since I read the books) you could say they also count as asexual -- or y’know closeted just as in past eras of British “gentlemanly”society, etc .. Hah. Yeah, that’s not really counting for much that is it? The magic of being able to transfigure and transform yourself does have obvious implications for trans people so maybe in this world -- but then there’s no genderfluid or non-binary folks in the books (surprise, surprise given what we now know) so, again yeah. Then, of course, there’s also the slash & shipping Potterverse fanfics .. but that’s a whole other deal!

    @ 12 & 14 Charly : I agree mostly there. I undertsand and like the iea of reflecting reality with having some bad teachers and imperfect flawed heroes. I would just note that it might be good if others noted those flaws and elemnest in the books in the verse here and didn’t gloss over them or pretend them away quite as much. IOW have them be bad but also have others note and comment on the badness. Just as having slavery for house elves and mistreatment of animals is okay if you then note it as being the evil it is not gloss over or ignore or pretend it is defensible and not an avil and something that ethical characters in the Potterverse should work to change.

    @ 15. LykeX : Agreed and it also seems there’s a strong classism element here with the Wizards representing the ruling aristocracy complete with obsession over blood purity and genetics and the house elves being the servant / working class. There’s probly a whole essay and a lot more that can be (& quite likely has been) written on that but suffice to note that the boarding schools -like private schools here in Oz & I gather in the States -- are an instituition for the extremely wealthy and JKR is quite happy to celebrate this and its culture and defend it as a historical institution rather than criticise it and seek to reform it.

    Imagine a Potterverse where the wizards where overthrown , the house elves freed and liberated to run their own maggical lives and perhaps the Muggles also made a ware of the magic and invited toshare it as bets they can not tretaed as another proletariat class that is ignored or patronised? Imagine what could happen if Wizard magic was combined with Muggle science and if the fantastic beasts including merpeople and Centaurs had more free reign to act and interact with Humanity at large.. Hmm..

  19. StevoR says

    ^ Dangnabbbit. Fixes for clarity :

    I might be mistaken here but aren’t the pets here also tools as “familiars” or messengers i.e. owls and necessary witches
    (& wizards) companion animals, like Scabbers, Harry’s owl (Hedwig?), Hermione’s cat that I can’t recall the name of, etc .. ?

    I understand and like the idea of reflecting reality .. if you then note it as being the evil it is and not gloss over or ignore or pretend it is defensible and not an evil.

    Muggles also made aware of the magic world and invited to share it as best they can not treated as another proletariat class..

    Merpeople capital M. (Another area there that could do with more exploration as their separate culture and how they interact -- or don’t -- with the others on land..& sea.)

  20. says

    re: Hermione and Rita Skeeter
    I think that’s another huge shortcoming of the novels: There are many chance to explore the moral dilemmas faced by good people in difficult situations. The fact that the other side will not adhere to any rules and you now have to explore the old problem of fighting monsters and becoming the monster yourself. But throughout the books we see very little exploration on that subject. People are either established as good or as bad and then whatever they do must be either good or bad. Just look at how Snape’s behaviour suddenly becomes all ok once he’s established as a good one.

    re: School as such
    In English literature the “boarding school novel” is a set genre. Rowling is obviously familiar with it, but doesn’t explore it either. Again, we have good characters and bad characters and therefore their actions are ok or not. The parents are completely uninvolved. The kids get a couple of letters and that’s it. So, as a teacher myself I want to know: who’s the emotional caregiver of those kids? Because I know kids who are basically raised without anybody to take care of their emotional needs and their need for emotional support, and they are generally not happy. It creates emotionally unavailable adults, which explains a lot about both British upper class society and the wizard society and, in case of British upper class society is something that has been criticised by survivors of the system.
    The idea is that you hand your children off when they become “difficult” and you get them back once they’re adults. Again, Rowling is unable to address the implications of her own writing, which links back to the world building: it’s just a brightly painted set for the story.

  21. says

    Regarding Dumbledore being gay. Firstly, I hate this trope https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WordOfGay I hate it when after some series is already over, the author states in an interview that a character who was never portrayed as lesbian/gay/bisexual in the work itself actually is such. Authors should actually portray characters as LGBTQ+ in the work itself instead of keeping them in closets.

    Secondly, where are the happy homosexual relationships? I am not asking for some idealized and unrealistically happy gay/lesbian couple, but I am going to get suspicious if in some book the only gay character’s love life is so much more tragic/unhappy than that of the average straight character in the same book. I have listened to plenty of Christian preachers talking about how people who aren’t sexually attracted to the opposite sex ought to lead lives of celibacy, because gay sex is sinful. That’s basically what Rowling did to her only gay character (who wasn’t even confirmed as gay in the books).

    Regarding bad teachers. I was born in 1992, so I got out of school relatively recently. Of course, I have heard plenty of horror stories about terrible teachers from people of my grandparents’ generation, but I didn’t experience anything particularly terrible from my teachers at school.

    In terms of teaching skill, a few were great, most varied between decent and average. But we didn’t have any teachers as bad as Hogwarts’ history teacher who was as boring as possible.

    More importantly: punishments. Of course, teachers need to somehow discipline kids. But there are limits. Corporal punishment is illegal in my country. Moreover, none of my school teachers ever tried to intentionally intimidate or humiliate kids. None. In my class we all knew that even if a teacher asks us a question and we don’t know the answer, nothing very terrible will happen.

    This is why in my eyes Hogwarts is a school of horrors. Just look at the cruel and unusual punishments. Teachers caused Harry’s group of friends to become social outcasts when they lost many points for Gryffindor. They regularly intimidated or humiliated kids during lessons. I hazily remember that on one occasion kids were sent to a scary/dangerous forest as a punishment (correct me if I’m misremembering). I think Ron was once forced to polish silver for countless hours (isn’t that excessive). And then in 5th book Harry was forced to literally write with his own blood as a punishment. And all of these child abuses happened before Voldemort took over the school.

  22. StevoR says

    @ ^ 22. Andreas Avester : Agreed. 100%. Making an old man -- who is never shown in a romantic light or as having any partner -- gay after the fact was a huge cop out and way for JKR to say suddenly “Oh yeah I did include a gay character after all!” without actually, y’know, doing that.

    As for the punishments -- yes. In the first book, Hagrid takes Harry & Draco out on detention into the Forest where they are attacked by Voldemort and saved by a Centaur in the first time we met that species. The kids in detention there are accompanied by Hagrid (at that stage a groundskeeper and not an official teacher if memory serves?) and his dog -- who is a massive coward (the dog that is!) -- but they literally have their lives put at risk in an extremely dangerous environment. Don’t recall the polishing silver one but I do remember Harry is sentenced to helping Lockhart sign his (Lockharts!) autographs or answer his fan mail* (!) in the second book. Then, yes, there’s Dolores Umbridge making Harry write with his own blood using her special torture pen -- although its implied this is something that wouldn’t be allowed if the other teachers knew about it and Harry is made complicit in keeping it secret for extra creep value. Then there’s Mr Filch (?) of the janitor and cat named Mrs Norris non-fame who is heard reminiscing in one of the early books about the good old days where students were chained up and tortured as punishment and how he loved to hear them scream -- which may or may not have been meant as a grim joke or hyperbole.

    * Which may reveal some of JKR’s own wish fulfillment or her attitudes in responding to fans a little perhaps? Maybe it was reading such a letter from a gay fan that made her declare Dumbledore was gay later? Pure speculation of course..

  23. anat says

    StevoR @19:

    I might be mistaken here but aren’t the pets here also tools as “familiars” or messengers i.e. owls and necessary withces companion animals cats, cats liek Scabbers , etc .. ? Weren’t they used in classes (& wizarding life generally) too although this seems to get left out more towards the end of the series if my vague memory suffices here?

    Owls serve as messengers, they are kept in an owlery in one of the towers. Harry has to go there to visit Hedwig and send her on assignments. Hermione’s cat-kneazle hybrid does live with her in the dorm. Whether it stays there or not depends on the plot needs -- in book 3 it was chasing Scabbers/Peter all over the grounds and was a hint that the rat was suspicious, whereas in book 4 it stayed in the dorm, only ever hissing at the twins when they were writing extortion letters to Bagman (who owed them money), because if he got out he’d reveal that ‘Moody’ was suspicious. But he was never present in a class.

    The animals (other than Trevor, Neville’s toad) that are seen in class are supplied by the school to serve as victims of students’ spellwork -- especially in Transfiguration class, where animals are routinely transformed into inanimate objects, and when the spell is incomplete or of poor quality the object retains animal appearance and behavior. This is played for laughs but feels horrifying. The kids are being trained to ignore animal pain and laugh at what must be a horrible experience to whatever sentience remains in the part-animals. Oh, and in 5th year they learn to make animals vanish altogether, and of course poorly performed spells result in parts of animals remaining.

  24. anat says

    Andreas Avester and StevoR:

    Re: Forbidden Forest detention: The irony is that this punishment was given to teach the students not to leave their dorms at night, especially in such dangerous times. The horror is that the times were dangerous because it was known that some presence in the forest had already killed 2 unicorns, and the kids -- a bunch of 1st year students with very limited training -- were sent to help Hagrid investigate the issue -- and of course Hagrid himself, while big and strong, has very limited magical ability. (And then Hagrid has the brilliant idea of splitting the group in 2.)

    As for my own school experience -- no physical punishments, but plenty of verbal humiliation, including from teachers who were successful as instructors and remained admired and well-loved.

  25. anat says

    Giliell: Are there stories where children have the care and support of realistic adults while still able to have big adventures? I suppose the common way to do it is where the story takes the child out of the supportive environment for a few days or weeks during which the adventure happens, but that kind of story won’t work with storylines that take a whole year, let alone half of one’s childhood.

  26. says

    Apart from Mary Poppins, i can’t think of any right now, though usually there is some kind of outside force that makes the youthful hero set out on their journey. But with Hogwarts, it’s just parental abandonment. The Weasleys live comfortable lives while their kid is being in a mortal danger. Even worse, Hermione’s parents aren’t even informed when their daughter is petrified

  27. lumipuna says

    This is only vaguely relevant to both world building and gender roles in HP, but I’ve sometimes wondered about the correct use “witch” and “wizard” in this setting, and in English generally.

    I brought it up at We Hunted The Mammoth, and someone there (a native English speaker) opined that “witch” and “wizard” usually imply different kinds of “traditions of magic”, and Rowling made a somewhat unorthodox decision in making the distinction all about gender in HP universe (where men and women practice the same magic in essentially same fashion). Could this be another telltale sign of the author’s gender essentialism?

    For comparison, in Discworld the traditions of witchcraft and wizardry are truly practically different, and eventually it is found that maintaining these traditions does not require strict gender division. Women can sometimes be wizards (Equal Rites) and men can be witches (Shepherd’s Crown).

    I’m not much familiar with the original English HP terminology. IIRC, the Finnish translation suggests that all magic people in HP can be collectively referred to as “witches” although male ones are usually referred to as “wizards”. Now I just learned that in English, “wizard” is apparently the proper common title. Obviously, the connotations of these words tend to shift in translation, so their usage might have to be readjusted.

  28. says

    @lumipuna, that is interesting actually. In Czech, the words for a wizard and a witch are actually just two gendered variants of the same word, so I never thought about it in English as really representing two different types of magic and I thought it was just Prattchet being a covert feminazi, as he so often was.

  29. lumipuna says

    Frankly, I still don’t know how consistently Rowling uses “witch” in reference to female wizards. I see from Wikipedia that Hogwarts is formally titled a “school of witchcraft and wizardry”. Also, now I just found this:


    Wizard usually refers to a male, while witch usually refers to a female. In Harry Potter, a man who anomalously showed the same abilities as a witch was called a wizard. The term wizard is sometimes used as a male counterpart of witch in fiction. However, either term may be used in a unisex manner, in which case there will be members of both sexes bearing that title. If both terms are used in the same setting, this can indicate a gender-based title for practitioners of identical magic, such as in Harry Potter, or it can indicate that there are people who practice different types of magic, as in Discworld.[5]:1027 Although technically, the gender-specific term used for a male witch is actually Warlock.

    That last bit was actually disputed by the person I cited above; according to them “warlock” is a quaint pejorative for evil male witch.

    Wikipedia also suggests that the word “witch” was originally commonly associated with both men and women (and grammatically masculine in Old English). Over time, it became more female coded and pejorative, and wholesome folk healers were then referred to as “white witches” or “cunning men/women”.


    Overall, I get the hunch that the English concept of witchcraft derives from Anglo-Saxon folk magic tradition, while wizardry is more of an old literary trope, probably originally inspired by Celtic druid lore. AFAIK the original druids were occasionally women, but later stereotyped as men.

    Finnish noita and velho were originally more or less synonymous terms for a (usually male) shaman. In modern Finnish fantasy literature, they’ve been roughly conflated with English “witch” and “wizard” respectively. Noita has been increasingly female coded for centuries, though maybe less so than “witch”.

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