As the last decade of the the twentieth century pulled towards its end, the world was changed forever. Our world, unlike Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number Four, Privet Drive, could not take pride in saying that it had been perfectly normal in the first place. And in the year 1997, it was graced by one its most revered legacies - The Boy Who Lived. JK Rowling's Harry Potter series, later adapted to a eight movie franchise, rapidly acquired a fame for which adjectives like 'global’ or 'international’ seem as though failing to suffice.
For the past ten years, Harry Potter has found his way through to the childhood of an uncountable number of children across the world. Whether, they read the series, carefully collecting one novel after the other or watched the movies, or as in most cases, both, Harry Potter and other characters in the series find a permanent place in their thoughts, even when they are well into their adulthood.
Being one of these children who grew practicing magic spells in front of the mirror with a stick that I picked off the street in order to have something resembling a wand, I saw the characters as more than just characters and so did several other people. Even now, years after all the books have been published and read multiple times, the readers engage with each other via online media to discuss theories or share the humourous bits or mourn the deaths of favourite characters. In fact, it may not be foolhardy to liken this effect to the creation of imagined communities that Benedict Anderson wrote about just a few years before the first book was published.
A student of sociology now, I often think of how bizarre it is to observe that though the world that Rowling ingeniously weaved through the pages of the novels is one of magic, fire-breathing dragons and wizard wars, it's not all that far removed from ours. In fact, there are several links between the wizarding world and that of, to use the accurate term given our topic, the muggles, that are subtle but very much there.
The first such link that I noticed was the existence of class differences. This is actually touched upon very early on in the series when Rowling, rather skilfully, juxtaposes the characters of Ronald Weasley and Draco Malfoy. Both are characters that are almost invariably linked with their family backgrounds. Malfoy comes from an extremely wealthy family of 'purebloods’, and is an only child who need only ask for all that he wants to be laid out in front of him.
Weasley, or as his nickname goes, Ron, although part of a 'pureblood’ family, is one of seven siblings, and thus a product of several years of hand me down versions of all his requirements, an arrangement necessitated by Mr. Weasley's mediocre job in the Ministry of Magic. The lifestyle of the Weasley clan is quintessentially middle class, complete with a long tradition of passing down school supplies from sibling to the next. Therefore, all of the insults and jabs that Malfoy addresses to Ron are just variations of the same mockery of this middle-class lifestyle.
The wizarding world also had an elaborate system of classification based on the origin of the wizard or witch's magical abilities as well as family lineage. The 'purebloods’ occupy the topmost rung in this classification. The term is supposed to indicate a sense of purity of blood as opposed to being polluted by 'muggle blood's or the blood of those with no magical abilities. A pureblood wizard or witch has parents who are both gifted with magical abilities. The next rung is that of the 'half bloods’ or those with one of the two parents in possession of magical abilities. The third category is that of the 'muggle-born’ or those who are born to Muggle parents.
The bottom- most category is that of squibs. Squibs are those who are born in a long lineage of magically-gifted wizards and witches but have no ability themselves.
If looked at closely, such a classification resembles, to a significant degree, the four Varna classification or what is more popularly known as the caste system. Keeping in mind that caste is a form of social inequality that is peculiar to India, this classification can also be likened to classification on the basis of race. The attitude of the 'purebloods’ towards the muggle-born is no different from the racial oppression of the black people. Even the slightest details correspond in this sense. For instance, the significance and the response to the term 'mud-blood’ that is used for Muggle-born can be understood by considering it be like the racial slurs that are no longer in use in formal language today.
While the two links that I have described above are extremely vital, what struck me the most was the similarity between the drive undertaken by Voldemort and his followers to marginalise the Muggle-born to create a wizarding world comprised only of 'purebloods’ and the Holocaust. Just like there have been two World Wars, there have been two Wizarding Wars. While most of the series leads up to the second one where Voldemort's paramount target is to vanquish Harry Potter, his motive during the first war and that of Hitler are strikingly similar- the 'purebloods’ and the blue-eyed Aryans being interchangeable as also the Muggle-born and the Jews.
In my humble opinion, it is thus a hasty habit to dismiss the novel series merely as fantastical literature. While it has all the components of a fantasy and more, Harry Potter, as both a novel series and movie franchise, resonates with its readers on a deeper, more real level. This resonation, as this article aims to show, owes itself to the very strong links that can be traced between the world that the readers actually live in and the one that they lose themselves in.
By Lavanya Singh