In the wake of a Republican National Convention that has left many shaken – including many conservatives, particularly among conservative Mormons – there’s a teensy bit of glimmering hope for bookworms who don’t want a man who deliberately incites mob violence to take the White House: according to one study, Harry Potter may be part of the solution. Even after controlling for the most relevant mediating factors, such as age, education, and party affiliation, reading Harry Potter books was correlated with holding a lower opinion of Donald. Each additional book in the series that participants had read added to the effect.
It’s tempting to draw parallels between Donald and Voldemort, but that interpretation misses the core principles at the heart of the Harry Potter series: Voldemort was never the true enemy, and Harry was never the true hero. Sure, those characters play out those roles, and Harry is instrumental in Voldemort’s defeat. But neither stands on their own. At every turn, Harry depends on friendship, love and support from friends, family, and teachers. Without Ron and Hermione (especially Hermione) Harry wouldn’t have lived through his first year at Hogwarts. And for all that other characters build Harry up as the ultimate hero, so powerful he could defeat someone as strong as Voldemort as a baby, the text reveals Harry’s greatest strengths to be the simple result of his mother’s unconditional love. The true hero isn’t Harry – it’s love.
And as for Voldemort, he relies on the hatred of others, on their willingness to blame entire groups of people for the problems in their own lives. It’s easiest to see that hatred and bigotry in death eaters, but a great deal of pain results from supposed “good” characters painting the “bad” characters as entirely evil. Sure, Voldemort eventually winds up at the point of no return, but only after performing a horrendous series of spells that literally tear his soul into pieces. The novel doesn’t support full-fledged hatred for any group, including former death eaters. Rowling’s portrayal of those who seek vengeance against whole groups of people is scathing. Centaurs who refuse to cooperate with humans bear guilt for not doing more to prevent Voldemort’s return, and the Pensieve’s portrayal of McCarthy-like trials of supposed death eaters horrifies Harry and reveals the home life that contributed to a young man’s vulnerability and willingness to do anything for Voldemort. The books also make a strong argument for the difference one person’s acceptance or prejudice can make. Snape eventually reforms due to his love for Lily, but who can say how much sooner that change might have taken place if James Potter had tried to befriend him rather than tormenting a troubled loner? And for that matter, what if Harry, instead of telling off Draco Malfoy when they first met, had taken a gentler approach and offered friendship to both Draco and Ron?
Harry Potter is also a good meeting ground for liberals and conservatives alike: the series offers a worldview where problems and people are inherently complex, without easy answers; and yet, it also manages to propose a simple, direct approach to finding solutions: start with love. Every time a character tries to resolve problems from a place of anger and hatred, things fall apart. Ron separates from Harry and Hermione when his jealousy and anger consume him, and Harry spends the entire fifth book in a nonstop temper tantrum, fueled in part by a connection to Voldemort that had at first seemed like a strength. In fact, Harry’s ability to defeat Voldemort depends on allowing his enemy to kill him. The Harry Potter series requires a paradigm shift about the true nature of strength.
In terms of current US politics, the Harry Potter books accomplish what this recent Op Ed argues Drumpf opponents need to do: instead of spending all our time arguing against the policies, language, and assumptions coming out of that campaign, argue for the framework and worldview that will tear down the illusions his campaign has erected: argue for love and acceptance, and for working together. For police officers partnering with Black Lives Matter to build positive community relations, founded on mutual trust. And continue to offer opportunities for redemption for anyone who has fallen under Donald’s spell. Hatred and fear are the true enemies, and responding with hatred and fear will only multiply the problem. Instead, we need to express love and hope.
And read Harry Potter.