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James J. Murtagh: Harry Potter Battles Big Brother

Harry Potter Battles Big Brother

By James J. Murtagh, M.D

"Order of the Phoenix" flies into philosophy, civics, religion, ethics; transporting Potter to new ethereal realms

Spoiler alert- Consider seeing the movie before reading this Op Ed.

A funny thing besets Harry Potter on the way to Hogwarts this year. He not only has to battle evil. He has to battle the banality of evil. More importantly, he introduces his viewers to a whole new realm of ideas.

Orwell is the real unseen ghost of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix". Hogwarts becomes ruled by, a mindless 1984-like bureaucracy, where Ignorance is Bliss, Slavery is the Freedom, and War is Peace. A cold war descends, graying newly bleak walls with Stalinist-type propaganda. The news media becomes a mouthpiece for the corrupt establishment, creating perfect soil for the real evil, Lord Voldemort, to prepare a blitzkrieg. Sure, all wizards and witches are equal, but some are more equal.

The delusional, self-righteous McCarthyite leader of the Ministry of Magic ignores facts, apparently believing he is divinely inspired. Sound familiar? No doubt, future wizards and witches will write term papers on why England slept as the storm gathered.
Even witches conduct witch trials, it appears. Harry has to appear before a rigged kangaroo court that gives him less due process than Salem gave witches. Harry is exonerated at the last minute, but it is clear the witches and wizards persecute their own much more effectively than normal humans (muggles).

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The hidebound in-fighting Kafkaesque establishment preserves its own petty perks and even if they have to torture and or attempt murder students. They ignore the inconvenient truths their world faces. They are, to paraphrase Al Gore and Winston Churchill, passing from an era of procrastination to a time of consequences.

Take the magic out of learning and magic? Only J.K. Rowling could turn such a fiendish feat. Rowling is the genius who brought children to delight in reading, and to re-envision school as a sanctuary, where well scrubbed kids might delight in their old-school ties and don's gowns. But, in an incredible turn, everything is flipped, nothing can be taken at face value, and the children learn more important lessons, including: freedom isn't fee.

Even allies lie to you, possibly to protect you, possibly for a greater good, or because are being themselves used, or possibly for darker reason. Harry enjoys his first kiss, but moments later the girl betrays him Mata Hari-like to the Gestapo-like headmistress. But the girl had been forced to betray him with truth potion. Was the truth potion given by a man trying to help or hurt Harry?

Harry Potter studies more spycraft that witchcraft. The film has the feel of John le Carré, with double and triple agents aching to come in from the cold, some after decades of apparent deep undercover work. True allegiances are deeply hidden. Where lays the ultimate allegiance of Severus Snape? Is Dumbledore a master strategist who could even outwit George Smiley? Harry-and we- do not know who is the puppet and who is the puppetmaster. The final installment of the series is one of the most anticipated in the history of the written word.

Characters who commit atrocities are not necessarily evil. Seemingly bad acts may be a ruse to infiltrate cells of much worst baddies bent on Hogwarts destruction..A good man go to the gulag (Azkaban) just to burrow his way into the graces of a terrorist cell. Something slouches toward Hogwarts waiting to be born, and the conflicted Harry rues that ever he was born to set things right.

Harry Potter meets the bad, the good, and the ugly, encountering philosophies of Hegel, Kant, John Stuart Mills, Nietsche, De Cartes, and Feminism, as he explores his Brave New World. Mortality, and the idea of fates worse than death, are explored in great depth. "I think, therefore I can do something to improve my world." Harry at his best ask, so why should the change in the world not start with me?

This is a new delightfully complex Potter. Harry Potter helped children worldwide to love reading. Now, ever so quietly, and insidiously, Rowling weaves in advanced philosophy, human freedom, religion, and ethics. Young viewers sop up new lessons possibly without realizing. Even better, they are discussing and debating these ideas with their friends, in a whole new domino effect. In short, Rowling may kindle a rebirth in critical thinking, just as she kindled her original boom in reading.

Rowling's spell over young readers delivers her most valuable message: "Distrust authority- all authority."

As Harry Potter himself says:

"Let the rebellion begin."


[Note:James Murtagh has spent 20 years as an Intensive Care Unit physician. Murtagh is the founder of "Doctors for Open Government" and also a co-organizer of Washington Whistleblower Week, WWW]

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