Magic and Muggle Toys as Metaphors of Translation: How Harry Potter makes a case for Literature inclusion in the legal curriculum Reply

Last week, Warren wrote about the blessings of reading as a dialectic navigating imaginations within the law school curriculum; and I wrote two pieces describing how at least one short story could be used to better explain property — See Devil and Tom Walker I and Devil and Tom Walker II.  Today I want to draw on metaphors from Harry Potter to further this case that the law curriculum needs literature infused within it.

Throughout the Harry Potter series there is divide between muggles, muggle things, and the magical world.  For example, the ministry of magic has an office for the misuse of muggle artifacts in which muggle things are confiscated when they have been bewitched.  Similarly, muggles (or non magical folk) are not permitted to use magical things, at the cost of having their memories wiped in the event they do stumble onto magical things.  And yet, despite these stark separations, we see instances in which muggle things are used in the magical world.  Radios are used to communicate with members of the order in the final book to advance a magical agenda.  The passage way to one’s magical education begins at a muggle train depot (King’s Cross), though again with a separate platform secured behind the veil of a wall.  And Magical folk wear muggle clothes, in different degrees of success to blend into the larger  muggle culture.  See for example, Harry, Hermione, and Ron in the last film, compared with Bob Ogden, the ministry official from the chapter House of Gaunt in the Half Blood Prince.

Whatever these various commingling are in the series, they stand as tools of translation between two different groups that respect divisions, even though individual members might prefer toleration.  What exactly is to be translated?  John Granger suggests that the magical world helps translate for the reader (ironically a muggle world) the basic and transcendent characteristics of love, mercy, forgiveness, fear, etc…).  JK Rowling made this point in an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution when she said Witchcraft is just a metaphor for this other world of possibilities, beyond convention, that the mind can reach. As said by one Harry Potter Commentator,

This is a summary of a central premise in Granger’s work, that the “symbols, themes, and meaning touch the human heart with eternal verities and realities for which contact the human heart is designed and hungers” (234). I think you can understand the idea pretty easily. Harry Potter gets to some kind of Truth (Love, forgiveness, fear, etc) that we are all designed to long for.

Two worlds normally separated are joined by their ability to translate through the various interactions that do not necessarily involve their individual members.

So what can we learn from this lesson of metaphor translation in the law school curriculum. Those of us in the law and literature movement have long thought about the process of learning law as a process of translation.  There is, though, a tendency to treat the leaning of legal skills as distinctive from the learning of perspective skills.  Most agree both are important — but not important enough to merge together.

One of the prevailing themes underlying law students’ entry to law school today is the unpreparedness to understand the art of translation.  The ability to identify metaphors in a text, understand their relevance to context and meaning, and then cull out the underlying authorial meaning is directly relevant to what we ask students to learn how to do beginning in their first substantive courses.  One way of helping students understand that the process is one that relates to their prior work is to include works of fiction in the substantive courses as a means of bridging their legal education with their undergraduate training. Thus, the process of working through a legal text draws upon familiar modes of interpretation that students have been exposed to prior to entering law school.

Likewise, many works draw implicitly on legal themes as underlying conflict in their stories.  Courses like Property draw on theories of possession and entitlement that did not first originate in law, but in philosophical texts — texts which were as influential in literature as they were in law.  History and context afford background materials for texts like William Gaddis’ A Frolic of his Own, which implicitly raise critiques of the torts system.  As Warren has written in the past, Roger Malvin’s Burial forces students to confront norms in a context outside of law — norms of fairness, just deserts, and equality.   In other words, fiction translates the law not only through process but through substance as well.

These materials may serve as means of translating dense subjects to students who are not yet prepared to translate law accurately.  Perhaps, muggle radios sending messages of magical occurrences could be just as helpful to transmit messages of legal translation.

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