Harry Potter and the Third Reich
Third Reich Roundtable TM
History According to Harry
Appeasement fails with warlocks too.
BY JONATHAN V. LAST
WSJ.com Opinion Journal
Friday, July 15, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT
Tonight, when "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" descends upon bookstores, millions of children will flutter in delight. But the sixth entry in the franchise may well please discerning adults, too.
The series began as a collection of detective stories cloaked in sorcery. The first introduced us to the young Mr. Potter, who was packed off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry after being orphaned when the evil Lord Voldemort--a warlock who had started a great war--killed his parents. But the early Potter tales were essentially Hardy Boys stories--each book confronted Harry and his friends with a series of small puzzles, the solving of which led to the resolution of a big case.
In the fifth book, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," something interesting happened. The author, J.K. Rowling, abandoned the mystery genre and gave her readers something more challenging: a historical allegory. Through sleight-of-hand, Ms. Rowling took a children's book and transformed it into a parable about 1930s England. We've heard a lot recently about London and the Blitz. Ms. Rowling's unfolding saga may illuminate that dark historical moment, not only the ordeals that led up to it but also--who knows?--the triumphs that followed.
The parallels between this volume and Britain's prewar dithering are so great that the book is perhaps best read as a light companion to "Alone," the second volume of William Manchester's biography of Winston Churchill.
"Order of the Phoenix" tells how, after nearly 14 years of peace, Lord Voldemort re-emerges to pursue his plans for dominion. As a Hogwarts divination professor explains: "The indications have been that Wizard-kind is living through nothing more than a brief calm between two wars."
Harry is the only witness to Voldemort's reappearance; but he tells Albus Dumbledore, the school's headmaster, who tries to raise the alarm. Dumbledore is an old and respected figure, the Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards. But when he attempts to set England's wizards against the coming storm, the government--under the administration of Cornelius Fudge, the minister of magic--denies that Voldemort is alive and launches a campaign to discredit Dumbledore.
Let's start with Voldemort, who makes for a fair Hitler: He is an aspiring dictator who wants to cleanse the world of "mud-bloods"--wizards who have normal, or "muggle," parentage. Dumbledore is clearly Ms. Rowling's Churchill. Like the British lion, Dumbledore is a part of the establishment, but when he tries to awaken people to the threat that Voldemort poses, he becomes unpopular. Ms. Rowling's wizards, like the British of the 1930s, are exhausted from their last war and unwilling to believe that it's time to take up arms again.
Like Neville Chamberlain, Minister Fudge is eager to help his constituents look the other way. Throughout the '30s, Chamberlain, fearing that Churchill was out for his job, conducted a campaign against his fellow Tory. Chamberlain denied the existence of the German menace and ridiculed Churchill as a "warmonger." He used the London Times--the government's house organ--to attack Churchill and suppress dispatches from abroad about the Nazis that would have vindicated him.
As war approached and it became obvious that Churchill's skills were needed, Chamberlain denied his appointment to the cabinet again and again, while Chamberlain's underlings, such as the foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, licked his boots, kowtowed to Hitler and savaged Churchill.
Fudge is nearly as craven. Spurred by Harry's encounter with the resurgent Voldemort, Dumbledore makes a stirring speech urging resistance. For his trouble, Minister Fudge goes the full-Chamberlain, traducing his opponent and his motives. "Dumbledore's name's mud with the Ministry these days," explains one of Harry's friends. "They all think he's just making trouble" because Fudge "thinks Dumbledore wants to become Minister of Magic....[Fudge] loves being Minister of Magic, and he's managed to convince himself that he's the clever one and Dumbledore's simply stirring up trouble for the sake of it."
Ms. Rowling must have studied Chamberlain's private letters. In one note, the prime minister dismisses Churchill's plan of a Grand Alliance to confront Germany by saying--mendaciously--that "the plan of the 'Grand Alliance,' as Winston calls it, had occurred to me long before he mentioned it." In another, he crows about the reception that he received in Britain following his appeasement of Hitler at Munich. "Even the descriptions of the papers give no idea" of the celebrations, he boasted. Cornelius Fudge could be his grandson.
In retaliation for sounding the alarm about Voldemort, Fudge strips Dumbledore of his many honors and has him driven from Hogwarts. He also uses the Daily Prophet--the wizarding version of the London Times--to print nasty stories about Harry and Dumbledore and to suppress reports about the Dark Lord. Fudge even has a toadying adviser--Dolores Umbridge--who, like Lord Halifax, exists to give the cut to Dumbledore and peddle the notion that Voldemort poses no danger. Umbridge--an appeaser if there ever was one--replaces the curriculum of Hogwarts' Defense Against the Dark Arts class with lessons such as "Non-Retaliation and Negotiation."
Neither Churchill nor Dumbledore take their abuse lying down. Churchill spent the 1930s cultivating an ad hoc network composed of well-connected civilians, informants from Whitehall and foreign officers. Churchill's information--including constant updates on Germany's troop strength, economic output and diplomatic maneuverings, as well as on the status of British arms--was thought to be better than the government's.
Dumbledore's private intelligence net is similarly impressive. His Order of the Phoenix--sympathetic ministry officials, civilians and Hogwarts professors--keeps him briefed on affairs while enchanted portraits of former ministers and headmasters spy and give him counsel.
Of course, both Churchill and Dumbledore are vindicated by events. Churchill was finally brought to the fore by Germany's invasion of Poland, after which Chamberlain was forced to bring him into the government to avoid political mutiny. The last Harry Potter book ended with Voldemort and his followers storming the Ministry of Magic. Like Chamberlain, Fudge has no choice but to reinstate Dumbledore once the wizarding community realizes that it has returned to war. When it comes to confronting evil, Dumbledore, like Churchill, is the indispensable man.
So what's next for Harry Potter? Will Dumbledore replace Fudge as Churchill did Chamberlain? My own theory is that young Harry will come to represent FDR's America: a powerful, immature force that eventually tips the balance of power.
But whatever the case, Ms. Rowling deserves special marks for bringing a bit of history to an already delightful enterprise and teaching us a lesson, ever more relevant to the moment, without seeming to do so. It's almost magical.
Mr. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.
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