Harry Potter, Oppressed Peoples, and Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg

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It’s easy to get lost in Harry Potter’s egocentric war. J.K. Rowling has created a world in which anyone who is not lucky enough to be the-boy-who-lived is either dead or completely inept. In the final installment of the series, Deathly Hallows, the tyrant Voldemort, even though he claims otherwise, has risen to power mostly due to the sheepish acquiescence of the wizarding community to the newly occupied Ministry of Magic.

Voldemort’s political puppets send out a plain summons to members of the public who don’t come from wizarding families, requesting that they appear for “questioning” – those who do, i.e. the majority of the addressed, are subjected to a kangaroo court and unceremoniously locked away.

Rowling is clearly attempting to draw parallels between her world and other regimes which came to power on a platform of supporting the interests of a pure race or people. Rowling fails miserably – whether due to a poor understanding of history or a lack of storytelling ability I cannot say. History has taught Rowling that any group of people who is singled out and lied to by a government they trust will easily submit themselves to whatever injustices are immediately laid before them, happy to live in the illusion that some part of the government will come to its senses soon enough. This is a fallacy.

What history has taught the rest of us is that whenever governments were successful in subduing and controlling a portion of their constituents, along with convincing the population that the double standards they are witnessing are justified by law or reason, it took a lot of time.

Rowling historical recreation of race-based regimes fails to grasp even the most basic concepts of groundwork or cultural foundations. The propaganda issued by the Ministry of Magic, a token afterthought which appears in the form of pamphlets expounding the dangers posed by those who are not of pure-blooded families, pales in comparison to the cultural upheavals undertaken by regimes who succeeded in isolating and imprisoning people they considered inferior.

In a way, one can almost take offence in Rowling’s borrowing from the darkest times of 20th century history. I have no personal connection to the race-related tragedies of our time, but even I cannot help but cringe when Rowling presents us with a parade of easily manipulable victims, completely convinced that their government knows what is best. I blame Rowling, and not some latent hypersensitivity on my side, since to me the connection was immediately apparent after I had read a few chapters of the new book. I’m sure others have felt it as well, although whether they consider it offensive or not will be determined more by their own understanding of the nature of the historical examples and not on the objective fact that Rowling is a bad writer and a terrible reader of history.

This brings me to my next point. Since Harry Potter is surrounded by a nation consisted of thousands of plot devices, unable to help themselves and completely dependent on a 17 year-old boy to save them from Voldemort’s well-organised and resourceful institution, my failed suspension of disbelief prodded me to find historical examples where this might have been the case. If Rowling is going to fail at accurately constructing a mass cultural and political personality for its people, then the least I can do is help her by finding her a factual crutch on which to stand.

All I could come up with was Claus Schenk, Graf von Stauffenberg. Stauffenberg is perhaps the most well-known member of the failed German Resistance during World War II – he was the one attempted to assassinate Hitler with a briefcase bomb. Stauffenberg’s life was sometimes parallel with Potter’s – he came from a well respected noble family, was educated in literature and the arts (Hogwarts), but decided to pursue a military career instead (Harry’s inclination towards destroying Voldemort). A cavalry officer during Hitler’s rise to power and WWII, Stauffenberg found most of Nazism’s ideals either ridiculous or disgusting, but he seems to have been supportive of its Nationalist aspects. Stauffenberg also bore scars, but to a much larger degree than Potter, having been strafed in his car by a British plane and losing an eye, his right hand, and two fingers off his left.

The parallels between Stauffenberg and Potter are forced at best (and non-existent at worst), but it is one of only a handful of times when history lay in the hands of one well-intentioned individual. The attempt occurred on July 20th, 1944, and it was completely the opposite of what Stauffenberg had envisioned. A year before he had planned to kill Adolf Hitler in Berlin and immediately get on the phone with high-ranking Nazi officials around the country in an attempt to convince them to join the coup before they decided otherwise. Due to a series of mishaps and unfortunate coincidences, Stauffenberg was compelled to execute the attempt in Hitler’s fortified command center in Poland – by July 1944, the plot had become almost entirely motivated by ideology, justified by the fact that the world needed to see that not all of Germany agreed with the horrific policies of Nazism.

Stauffenberg succeeded in sneaking the bomb into a meeting with Hitler and other high-ranking staffers. The bomb detonated and killed four of those present, but Hitler was saved by the legs of the heavy oak table at which he sat. Stauffenberg was later arrested and sentenced to death by strangling, which occurred in the courtyard at the Ministry of Defence (known as the Bendlerblock, which I visited last year).

Stauffenberg failed, and if Rowling wants to redeem my opinion of her understanding of history, so should Harry. I purposefully wrote this before finishing the book, so my writing wouldn’t be skewed by how the book ends. Harry Potter, much like Stauffenberg, has absolutely nothing in his favor except for poorly-directed good-will. He receives no support from the population at large, who are content to witness their community falling apart like the crappy characters they are. Were fact and not fiction, it would not be 12 hours before Harry and his co-conspirators would be caught, executed, and cremated. Whether he survives or not, in my mind Rowling has already killed him.

(Afterthought: If Stauffenberg had a grave, he would be rolling in it as I write this, since Tom Cruise is slated to carry his legacy in the upcoming movie Valkyrie. Several high-profile Germans have issued statements disapproving of the producers casting decision, but it looks like he remains the one. Their motivation seems to be that Cruise is associated with the Church of Scientology, whose policy of deception and forceful influence is a dishonor to Stauffenberg’s courage and accomplishments. Mine would be that he is a terrible actor.)

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4 Responses to “Harry Potter, Oppressed Peoples, and Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg”

  1. Marcheline Says:

    You are a git. The Harry Potter books were written to show that love is the most important thing of all.

    The reason that JKR’s storyline didn’t follow your chosen historical timeline is because she wasn’t using that as a blueprint. You contradict yourself, saying “Rowling is clearly attempting to draw parallels between her world and other regimes” and then you immediately point out how unclear and unsuccessful the parallel is. Seems you would have figured out that her writing had a different purpose, a completely different focus.

    You further expose your ignorance by referring to “the objective fact that Rowling is a bad writer and a terrible reader of history.” Whether Rowling is perceived as a good or bad writer is completely SUBjective, depending on the experiences of the audience and whether or not they actually paid any attention to what she read. As far as I know, JKR has never claimed to be an historian, nor to have used factual historical events in the writing of her books. You are using your own imagined limitations to judge her by, which is very convenient, catering to your desperate need to seem right about everything.

    I don’t think you needed to bother waiting until you finished reading the book to write this article – nothing could have skewed your writing farther from the truth than it already is.

    P.S. Rowling doesn’t give a hippogriff fart about your opinion of her understanding of history. And neither do I.

  2. NF Says:

    Well, speaking of Hitler and Harry Potter, here’s a really unfortunate casting decision.

  3. NF Says:

    As for the post itself, yeah, that’s… basically correct. It’s also not the way I think of it. I mean, yes, Harry Potter is a shallow, naive children’s fantasy story, but that’s not quite the point.

    To begin with, I think that J.K. Rowling wasn’t consciously going for “Oh, let’s write a parallel to Nazis into the book!” No, she just sat down at her lil Apple laptop and thought “Hey, what’s the evilest thing I can have Voldemort and his lot do? Something mean and terrible enough to make everyone root for Harry by default, and something the defeat of which would really mean something?” (Not the most subtle literary device for bolstering one’s story, but one that definitely gets used a lot.)

    As it happens, the benchmark for absolute evil in today’s, for lack of a better word, sociopolitical climate is, well, Nazism. This wasn’t always so: utter annihilation of the Earth makes a passable substitution. And when world destruction by mere mortals was unconceivable and racial discrimination presumably was just part of the order of things, most of those absolute evil scenarios revolved around having one’s family murdered, one’s country overrun, one’s settled way of life being destroyed, etcetera.

    Meanwhile, the other current literary trope for fantasy is that of the noble, essentially solitary hero who goes on a variety of psychological and physical quests, defeats enemies, finds love, the whole enchilada. This is fantastically popular and is pretty much the basic story for a lot of things — from RPG videogames to an innumerable amount of books and movies.

    This is also pretty constrained: the hero must be young and inexperienced to begin with, the hero must achieve the victory on his own (with other people playing only fringe roles), the hero must be special in some inherent way to begin with. I’m going to leave the, uh, psychological and social aspects of this alone, because otherwise there’ll be too much to talk about, but I’m sure you recognize what I mean. And this motif — in its classic version — is THE formula for Harry Potter. Rowling has no real interest in subverting much of this motif, which I sympathize with — subversion would be a tad too existential to sell well, and considering the batshit Potter fandom, would probably get her a number of death threats.

    Which brings me back to trying to articulate my original point. As the pop culture creations that they are, the Potter books are basically a mutant breed of two social trends: that Nazi-derived concept of absolute evil, and that idea of the lone child-hero on a quest. It’s this combination, really, that strains credulity, not a lack of knowledge of history on Rowlings’ part.

    The child-hero myth is rooted in a more feudal age and society — for instance, Mohammed Nadir Shah, king of Afghanistan got assassinated in 1933 by a teenager on a vendetta — and in that context, it sometimes actually makes sense. But “we” as a society don’t have a new form of the child-hero myth to counteract the newer, updated brand of Nazi-flavored-absolute-evil concept, I don’t think, so Rowling finds herself, on some intuitive level, in a situation where the boy wizard must win (or she’ll have half the earth’s population really really really pissed at her), and never mind the fact that the winning doesn’t make much fucking sense at all. A better writer might have done this more effectively, but the two basic themes just aren’t compatible on a fundamental level. Given this core flaw, I’m not sure there’s really a point to even taking the portrayal of Nazism in the book all that seriously by itself, because, c’mon — it’s a shallow, naive children’s book.

    PS: I insult the Potter series, but I actually liked reading it. Fluffy fun!
    PS: Despite that, I still haven’t read the 7th book. Or the 6th. But I’ve read the spoilers. Does that count?
    PPS: And I think that the perfect ending would have to involve Harry — post-Voldemort defeat — losing all his wizarding powers and being exiled to the Muggle world forevermore.

  4. Hptqtebd Says:

    QkgWBW comment3 ,

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