Harry Potter and the terrorist attacks

July 18, 2007

Could Harry Potter be guarding the secrets of the British government's post 9/11 response to the terrorist threat" Judith Rauhofer of the University of Central Lancashire seems to think so.

Rauhofer has made a study of JK Rowling's fictional child wizard and suggests, in a research paper published today in Inderscience's International Journal of Liability and Scientific Enquiry, that the author draws several subtle parallels with contemporary society. She believes this is part of the adult appeal of the books.

Book five in the series was the first Harry Potter book to be written entirely after the terrorist attacks in New York City, Pennsylvania, and Washington on September 11, 2001. "Until then, the Harry Potter series could be seen as nothing more than a simple story of good versus evil," says Rauhofer, a Research Fellow in Law. "JK Rowling's work then evolved into something more after 9/11, a social commentary on current events, in fact."

Rauhofer believes that with the Harry Potter series Rowling has created a parallel world highlighting many of the steps taken by the British government, which she says are mostly unfair and unjustifiable, in the name of the war on terror. For instance, in the fifth book, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", all wizards are issued with emergency pamphlets. "Most people who received the UK government's "Preparing for an-emergency" pamphlet through their letterbox in 2004 will recognize the irony of Rowling's plot detail here," says Rauhofer.

Several key plot features hint at parallels between the wizard world and our muggle world, says Rauhofer. The marginalizing of an ethnic group, for instance, by the muggles themselves, identity issues with Death Eaters masquerading as others, detention without trial of Knight Bus conductor Stanley Shunpike on suspicion of Death Eater activity, interception of Arthur and Molly's post while in The Burrow in the name of safety, and many other examples.

Since the publication of the fourth book, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire", the publishers, Bloomsbury, has acknowledged that a large part of the readership is among adults, by publishing an adult edition alongside the children's version. Many commentators suspect that one possible rationale for this is to allow adults to read the book in public without embarrassment.

Jon Howells of Waterstone's says, "Based on our pre-order statistics we estimate that some 45 per cent of Harry Potter book 7 sales will be of the adult edition, which is up on about 23 per cent for the last book." Book 7 - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - goes on sale Saturday 21st July.

Marketing machinations aside, Rauhofer says that part of the attraction for the Harry Potter series among adults could lie in the possibility that they reflect contemporary society so well. "Rowling's description of an alternative society and its government traces recent events in contemporary society," she says, "The political thread going through the series largely focuses on the way in which the Ministry of Magic deals with Lord Voldemort's return."

If Voldemort, who really should not be named, is the real terrorist threat in disguise, then the anti-Voldemort security measures taken by the Wizards could be seen to reflect various legal and political changes that have occurred in the UK since 9/11.

Inderscience Publishers

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