Harry Potter and the Culture of Paranoia

Spellbinding, impish, but with a few too many deaths: an 11-year-old fan of the Potter books gives his verdict on the last (really?) in the series.

Jake Furedi

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This is the final war between good and evil and it’s very scary. I’m so sad to finish it. It feels like I’m saying goodbye to my childhood.’ Ruby Riley, 14, The Sunday Times, 21 July 2007.

Following the death of Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, in the new Harry Potter book people and animals alike all start to feel as though they live in a world of paranoia and despair. The Ministry is rounding up Muggle-born witches and wizards to question them about how they attained their magic (Muggles are normally non-magical people). And they are teaching Hogwarts students that Muggles are ‘like animals, stupid and dirty’.

This, in some ways, can be linked to our lives in the real world, where some people can get so scared that they just give up hope and let other people tell them what to do without putting up a fight. In other words, their anxiety renders them powerless. To begin with, all of the characters had been intimidated by Lord Voldemort, the ‘Dark Lord’, who is determined to become all-powerful and to get rid of all Muggles. This fear of Voldemort led to the death of Harry’s parents; it was a frightened friend who betrayed them. Being too scared can have bad consequences.

In Rowling’s last three books, she has changed her style of writing dramatically. There has been a shift from books that are meant for eight- and nine-year-olds to books that a 10-year-old would struggle with. In some ways this is for the good, for it will encourage teenagers and adults to buy the famous series and enjoy it. But I am sure that youngish children will be upset because they may not understand what words like ‘self-justified’, ‘instinctively’ and ‘secluded’ mean, and will have to stop reading the Potter books and return to the ‘Famous Fives’ again.

On this point, in the more recent books in the series – including the new one, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – many more relationships become unravelled, but at the same time some become more complicated. For example, as the series moves on, the relationship between Ron and Hermione becomes closer and closer, until you have to guess what will happen next.

Moving forward in a less intimate tone, there is probably the most complicated relationship of all: that between Harry and Ginny. Harry is forced to stop thinking about Ginny altogether after Ron finds Ginny giving Harry an over-extravagant birthday kiss and takes it the wrong way.

It also seems that Rowling has become increasingly preoccupied with deaths. In the last three books, 60 people die, which I think ruined the books a bit.

One thing Rowling has not lost is her impishness. For instance, Ron gives Harry a book for his seventeenth birthday, Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches, and tells him: ‘You’d be surprised, it’s not all about wand work either.’

The last few chapters of the new book, beginning with ‘The Battle of Hogwarts’, are page-turners. Rowling seems to spellbind you with a curse in which you have to read to the end of the book, no matter what. As you read on, you finally begin to feel how Harry’s emotions have twisted and turned throughout the series.

There is a five-page postscript at the end called ‘Nineteen Years Later’, in which we learn what has become of Harry following his adventures, and which raises a question: what might happen next? Most people will be happy that Harry survives his whole ordeal, but a few enthusiastic people will think there might be one more book left…. Watch this space.

Jake Furedi is a schoolboy and Harry Potter fan who lives in Kent, England.

Previously on spiked

Andrew Blake bid farewell to Harry and Tony. Jennie Bristow asked if JK Rowling is the new Shakespeare, argued that serious thinkers should pick on someone their own age, and that our obsession with the boy wizard reveals the dark side of cultural infantilism. Brendan O’Neill examined a Christmas scare story about Harry Potter toys. Or read more at spiked issue Arts and entertainment

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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