Harry Potter and the Normal: The Law and Harry Potter II Reply

Normal.   One word that captures the latent dividing struggle in the Harry Potter Novels.  Harry Potter simply longs to be; wizards walking through a muggle world can’t seem to be; death eaters long to redefine what it should mean; elves and centaurs seem resolute that they will never be, though responding to that election in different ways.  If we think about the Harry Potter world (and this should not surprise us) the question of normal and how we define it (or should define it) is a central theme of character development.  But this is not the normal of adolescent teenage angst and rebellion — though certainly that is revealed.

The normal world that Rowling’s envisions is the normal in which every living being has a place, if only he accepts it.  The normal is one of choices, structure and well-defined boundaries.  Its the normal of centaurs not reducing themselves to the humiliation of humans riding upon their backs, and elves being content and happy to serve their house masters.  And most prominently, its the normal of the Statute of Secrecy and the battle to redefine normal in the Harry Potter world.  Indeed, both the death eaters and the Order of the Phoenix envision worlds that are different than the one in which the Statute of Secrecy functions.   Death eaters perceive a future world in which secrecy is no longer necessary because wizards rule through their strength and sit upon thrones built of muggles.   The order (or at least elements within the Order) see a different world too — though its a world of cooperation, integration, and peaceful co-existence.  Either way, the war in the end of the novel is not about preserving normalcy — its about redefining it.

One can’t help but notice the role that law plays in this battle to define the new normal in the novels.  Indeed, as suggested by John Gava and Jeannie Marie Paterson in their essay: ‘What Role Need Law Play in a Society with Magic’, law does not serve the needs of repairing wrongs as it does in our muggle world — there simply is no need to do with the law what one could set right immediately by magic.  But broadly, I believe law performs a greater function than Grana and Patterson suggest — it performs the exact functions we expect law to perform even in muggle society.  Namely law defines the social group or groups who are afforded legal entitlements by prescribing certain penalties for either (a) acting outside the social group intended to be protected by the entitlement; or (b) directly violating the entitlement.  In other words, law preserves the normal — or at least what the authority would define as normal.  Let me offer three tangible examples:

Example one -Serious Black.  Serious Black is convicted of murdering muggles and one wizard and then sentenced to Azkaban.  The social order at the time that Serious Black was accused of committing these crimes was one of wizard/ muggle coexistence through secrecy.  Thus, Black was accused of a crime that interfered and directly challenged the entitlements of muggles to not be killed by wizards using magic: his crime directly challenged the underlying presumption of the law — that muggles have certain rights to not be killed by wizards. (Of course we know that Serious Black really did not kill anyone, but as with muggle law, the crimes which one are accused of do not necessarily constitute the actual crimes that one is subject to).

Example two – Harry Potter and the Dementer’s Trial in Book V.   Harry Potter’s trial is clearly a farce.   The orchestrated ambush by umbrage who also sits as judge (isn’t it interesting how judges in trials in the series often turn out to be so biased that it shocks the conscious, see i.e., executioner as appeals judge for Buckbeak’s trial); and the rearranged time of the trial so as to prejudice the defendant amongst other things. But most glaring is the role that the authority of the trial serves in preserving the social group it aims to protect.  The authorities rearrange the trial time.  The authorities set the judge panel. And in this context,  Harry is ambushed largely to keep him quiet n the face of a ministry that refuses to admit that Voldemort has returned.  The law serves the preservation of the normal by sanctioning those that might upset the balance of normalcy.  In other words, Harry’s trial makes it clear that the law is intended to protect those that comply with the ends expected by the ministry of magic. Thus,because Harry refuses to keep quiet regarding Voldemort’s return (a crime he will punished for multiple times in Book V), the law becomes his adversary.

Example three — The Trial of Mary Cattermole.  The new normal is that muggle-born wizards and witches are not a protected class — much less entitled to do magic.  After Voldemort’s return and the fall of the ministry, a new law comes into effect: the Muggle-Born registration commission.  As a result, muggle born wizards and witches are deprived of property they previously acquired lawfully — namely their wands.   Like in the trials of Potter and Black, the new order established that Mary was not a part of the social group that was entitled to protection (or certain property) — therefore, she, like other muggle-borns were subject to trial, marginalization, deprivation of property, even the potential punishment of death.

It seems that law’s place in the magical worlds is exactly the same as it is in ours — defining what is deemed to be the normal and sanctioning those that fall outside.  It seems to me that this is exactly the meaning underlying Robert Cover’s classic beginning to his article Violence and the Word: “legal interpretation takes place in a field of pain and death.”  May we be mindful of the pain and death we inflict and the normal we expect to arise as we do so.

Image above (From Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I — Snatchers bringing in Muggleborns to the Ministry.  

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