The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

On 21 July 2007 I will return to total obscurity…

July 15, 2007

Another media appearance, this time in print.

The books, whose sales total 325 million worldwide, have clearly moved well beyond the kiddy realm. At the conference – held from Aug. 2 to 5 at the Sheraton Centre – Potter books are referenced in subjects as diverse as law, terrorism and international relations. Harry Potter has even cropped up in U.S. politics – Cheney-Voldemort ’08 is a popular bumper sticker, with bloggers referring to the Vice President as “He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.” As Oscar Wilde once said, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” Rowlings’ books are among the most controversial in U.S. public libraries, with some on the Christian right complaining they encourage Satanism and witchcraft. “A number of Christian conservatives believe that demonic powers are real, and magic is a demonic force,” says Daniel Nexon, professor of international relations at Georgetown University, and [co-editor] of Harry Potter and International Relations. “They believe that if kids engage in divination, even if they are play acting, they could accidentally contact Satan. This is a very real threat. It means that Harry Potter could seduce someone into occult practices.”

The article covers some additional ground. Indeed, I was very disappointed that I couldn’t find someone to write about connections between Harry Potter and the war on terror for the volume, so I enjoyed being able to talk about it with the Star’s reporter:

See, for example, the role of terrorism in the books. The Death Eaters are essentially a terrorist organization, Nexon says. They assassinate their enemies, and spread fear throughout society. They use tactics to demobilize the population. “There are parallels with the War on Terror and the failure of the CIA to pick up on the warning signs before 9/11,” he says. “In Rowling’s world, much like real life, the bureaucracy of the state has been very slow to react to the dangers of terrorism.”

Another parallel from war on terror is the role of the wizard prison, Azkaban. As at Guantanamo Bay, most prisoners seem to be kept there indefinitely, Nexon says. The prison is inhuman and soul-destroying – the Dementors render inmates incapable of happiness. Characters such as Rubeus Hagrid, are sent to Azkaban for crimes they did not commit. Some of the saner wizards, such as Dumbledore, object to torture and voice their concerns. With race, Harry Potter’s universe is more complicated, says Debra Thompson, a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Toronto, and speaker at the upcoming Toronto conference. Rowling portrays a multicultural world, where a hierarchy based on blood exists, but only villains believe in its worth.

I should mention that I may be appearing on Canadian television again, may have a piece on Harry Potter on a well-known website, and have been quoted a few more times in the press. I guess I better enjoy my remaining week of fame only near-total obscurity while it lasts.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.