The Captain (my roommate Anna Werner ’09) and I frequently have arguments about J.K. Rowling’s seven-part Harry Potter opus. Having read more fantasy novels than I knew existed, The Captain has reached a point where she takes their fantastical worlds too seriously, producing some rather amusing critiques. Luckily, her problems with Harry Potter fit nicely into a few main points.
“Hogwarts doesn’t teach any life skills! Where do they all work? They can’t all be small business owners or Ministry workers. What do they do after they graduate?”
The fan-fiction world has tried to tackle this question with a surprising lack of creativity, featuring Harry as an Auror or a playboy living off his inheritance, while Hermione becomes anything from a Healer (many authors invent a Magical Medical School) to an Auror to a Flourish and Blotts register jockey. On the other hand, Ron finds a riveting future as an unemployed bum, an Auror, or a vampire.
The average Hogwarts graduate can be anything they want to be, just like your high school guidance counselor said, provided their O.W.L. scores are high enough. The young wizards who barely scrape Acceptable O.W.L.s lead remarkably parallel lives to those kids in high school with similar grades—having little magic babies and hanging around home working at the magical equivalent of a gas station. Granted, the job market is a little tight with all those small businesses having to employ everyone unqualified for the MoM, but luckily, that giant War Against Evil killed off the less-talented wizards, opening up employment opportunities for at least a couple years.
“When the whole magical world was in trouble, why didn’t they contact their friends in other countries?”
They did! At least, the ones that had been mentioned in other books. Yes, all five of them. Or maybe I’m remembering another fanfic. Even so, England’s position as Voldemort’s home turf definitely made it the front for the War Against Evil. But you still have to think that international wizards fought evildoers within their own borders, leaving Voldemort to Harry and the rest of his British companions. Now, I am not familiar with Muggle politics, let alone Wizard politics, but when was the last time England asked for help with a war on its home front? Maybe they’ve just forgotten how to ask.
“Why don’t they learn Math or Latin? Latina lingua deorum est!”
What self-respecting wizard needs math? Isn’t Arithmancy something about math? Besides, higher-level math is basically magic anyway. They also don’t have credit cards or taxes to grapple with. The most complicated math that appears throughout the series is figuring out exactly how many Knuts are in a Sickle and how many Sickles in a Galleon, which even Rowling can’t do. Wizarding England doesn’t appear to be a democracy of any sort, so no one even needs to know how to count votes. I wish I lived in a world that put magic over math.
Excusing the lack of Latin is trickier. After all, the majority of spells are based in Latin—Crucio, Wingardium Leviosa, etc.—but it seems that the students never learn anything quite as difficult as the linguistic roots of their everyday spells.
“Don’t they need Latin to make up spells?”
They can totally make up spells. Snape did it while he was in school and his little Levicorpus spell caused a good bit of trouble. In the end, I’d rather assume that the Sorting Hat clandestinely implants a magic Latin-to-English-to-Magic-Spell translator into the mind of every incoming student. Harry doesn’t realize that it happens, so neither do we.
“Can you refuse an invitation to Hogwarts? Home school or just ignore magical teaching altogether? Is that legal? It shouldn’t be.”
If in fifth grade I had the chance to leave Quail Run Elementary for a school where I could blow things up, fly on a broomstick, and live away from home, I guarantee that no considerations of my career would have entered my mind. But if my parents disagreed, there’s probably a power-binding spell that has ruined the ambitions of many prepubescent wizards.
Of course, the easiest defense to any Harry Potter fallacy is that because it is outside of Harry’s experience, it is also outside of the reader’s. It’s a fantasy novel; why should J.K. Rowling have to create viable economic and political structures and answer the smartass questions of college students? But accepting that just wouldn’t be any fun.