How Has Harry Potter Shaped Us?

Do you think it’s possible that the Harry Potter books and movies have shaped the world views of a generation or two?  If so, how have they shaped those world views?  But if not, why not?

I’m especially interested in four aspects of the question:

  • Ethics and Morals: Has the Harry Potter series formed or changed people’s ethics and morals?  Has it propagated British values? Has it placed more weight on loyalty and courage than on intelligence?
  • Science and Reason: What, if anything, has the Harry Potter series shaped or changed about people’s attitudes towards science, logic, and empirical evidence?  Has it undermined their significance?  Will the world see more or fewer scientists because of the series?
  • Religion and Spirituality:  Has the series shaped or changed anything about people’s religiosity or spirituality?  If so, what?
  • Politics: What, if anything, has the series shaped or changed about the Left/Right, Progressive/Conservative political conflict?  Has it moved anyone Left or Right on the spectrum?

I confess that I have not been paying attention to the series.  That’s not because I’m opposed to it, but because I lazy when it comes to reading fiction.  But a question on Doug’s blog got me very interested in the influence of Harry Potter on our society.  I would much appreciate your help understanding that influence.

10 thoughts on “How Has Harry Potter Shaped Us?

  1. I don’t know how big an impact the series has had on our politics, ethics, science, or religion. (Although I hear some Evangelicals dislike the books because they think wizardry is “of the devil.”)

    But JK Rowling deserves enormous credit for turning countless young people into readers. I’ve read all the books. They’re intelligently written with an advanced vocabulary and complex characters. And they continue to be read by all kinds of kids — not just teacher’s pet/nerdy types.

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  2. I think it has impacted our society in subtle ways. Before the movies became what they are, the books actually helped create a generation of readers. I remember being thrilled when I heard a young child say “I liked the book better” when the first movie came out, and saw another young child reading vociferously as soon as the next book came out. Sadly, I think the movies changed that. Also, it has created a generation of people who label themselves in terms of Hogwart’s Houses–which defines who they are in terms of loyalty, intelligence, bravery, greed, and power. I don’t know that that has influence on the morals of our times, but it is interesting to think about.

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  3. Paul, I’m afraid you won’t get as much out of it without reading the books. JK Rowling has created an entire world, and it’s really hard to get a good grip on what it means to be labeled as part of one house or the other without having read the books. Before I go watch the final movie, I’ve just now started rereading the books. Or, more accurately relistening. I’ve gotten them on cd from the library. It’s the only way a mother and full-time employee can get any reading done. I’m enjoying it immensely the second time around, and would recommend it. I personally would like to think I’d be a Ravenclaw, but that’s probably vain of me.

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  4. I think that Rowling’s portraiture — a slight and skilful exaggeration of types we all know which verges on the Dickensian — gives all her readers something to identify with, so that the emphasis on Gryffindor (courage, loyalty) values of the central trio is balanced by a clear depiction of virtue in every character type.

    John Granger (q.v.) has had a lot to say, all of it convincing, about the Potter series as a vehicle for Christian philosophy — selflessness, sacrifice, faith conquering doubt and so on. I honestly don’t know how many young readers latch onto that subtext. Needless to say I’m not personally crazy at the near canonization of Harry’s mother as somehow a source of endless magickal mojo because of her willingness to die for her child (can we have a little less portrayal of women in that role, please?).

    Granger believes the Christian/mythic/alchemical message is the reason why the series has got such legs. I would take it further and call it skilful manipulation of archetypes, with an ethical message that keeps the stories from being mere Dungeons and Dragons episodes. Go ahead, read them, it won’t hurt, and Granger’s “Five Keys to Harry Potter” will supply a lot of material for reflection about what holds the books together.

    For a very funny riff on the clash of science with Potterish magic, Google “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.”

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      • Rowling has stated unequivocally that she is a Christian and has “struggled with belief,” whatever that means, though it’s clear Harry does the same thing at numerous points in the books — having to keep faith with mentors who seem to have left him to his own devices or used him cynically. At the same time, Rowling seems to be something of an ecumenicist — she clearly took pains to keep overt religion out of the books. From that perspective, it’s humorous that so many rigid Christians think the books are Satanic.

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