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The Liberty Tree and the Whomping Willow: Political Justice, Magical Science, and Harry Potter

From: The Lion and the Unicorn
Volume 29, Number 3, September 2005
pp. 397-415 | 10.1353/uni.2005.0041


Although Harry Potter is seen by many of his readers as an unequivocal hero, J.K. Rowling develops a meta-narrative in her novel series that places Harry within a world of increasing moral complexity and uncertainty. Harry himself becomes disgusted with, and alienated from, the world he is apparently supposed to save. Rowling's use of an ambivalent hero, and her concern with social and political justice, echoes the work of the English Jacobins, particularly William Godwin in Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) and Godwin's daughter, Mary Shelley, in Frankenstein (1818). This essay explores the political roots of the Harry Potter novels in the work of English Jacobians, and argues that Rowling, like Godwin, champions rule by reason over rule by law, and reveals how magic, like science, is of little use in solving moral problems.

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