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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Voldemort’s Lesson

November 23, 2010

Although I love me some Harry Potter awesomeness, I’d like to point out the valuable lesson that Voldemort teaches us in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Allow me to explain.

Friday night I went to go see the seventh movie in the series: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I. Overall…it was fantastic.  And I’m a harsh critic.  I often come out of the theatre complaining about the scenes in the book the director changed, edited out, or didn’t quite capture correctly. I thought David Yates, who also directed The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince, did a great job keeping the darkness of the story at the forefront of the movie.  Although these books are written for and about children, they incorporate some major themes about hunger for power, the burden of responsibility, and of above all, tolerance.

SPOILERS?

(I have no idea if I actually have spoilers in this post because the book has been out for the last three years, so if umm you don’t want to know then I guess you can stop reading.  Or you can go read the book, which is AWESOME.)

The seventh movie begins where the last one left off – a war has begun pitting Voldemort and his followers (Deatheaters) against well, everyone else.  And everyone else is rallying around Harry even though he’s still reeling from the death of the most important person in his life – Dumbledore.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione set out to find horcruxes, objects within which Voldemort has left pieces of his soul via some very dark magic, with some incredibly vague clues from Dumbledore’s will.  As long as the horcruxes exist Voldemort cannot die.

We get to see inside the Deatheaters headquarters, the Malfoy mansion with young Draco having a seat at the table (literally) and not looking entirely happy to be there.  In a particularly disturbing scene, we witness Voldemort murder a young woman who appears to be have been tortured all because she teaches “Muggle Studies” and believes that wizards and muggles can live alongside one another.  In case you don’t know, YOU are a muggle – unless you frequent Diagon Alley and can transfigure yourself into a cat.  The teacher calls out to Severus Snape, the character whose allegiance we have been questioning throughout the entire series and who killed Dumbledore in the sixth  movie.  He doesn’t flinch as Voldemort snarls the death curse and her bruised and beaten body falls to the table in front of them.

While reviews have been focusing on the relationship between Hermione, Ron, and Harry that begins to unravel I would like to take a step back to think about the way that Voldemort decides to take power in the wizarding (and Muggle) world.

Voldemort bases his power on a movement to create a ruling class of wizards who are “pure blood.” Those who are born of one parent who is a muggle, half-bloods, and the rare witches and wizards who are born of two muggle parents, mudbloods, are to be documented and put in their rightful place below wizards who come from pure blood lines.

In one scene we see a sort of factory with dozens of witches at desks making pamphlets about the dangers of mudbloods.  In another scene we see a book titled When Muggles Attack.  Both have a 40s/50s look. Voldemort is seizing power by taking advantage of beliefs already in the wizarding world, high-status families already tend to flaunt their pure blood status, and amplifying them to create a society filled with fear. Sound familiar? The parallels to Nazi Germany (as well as Rwanda in 1994) are abundantly clear.

For those of you who’ve read the books, you know that Voldemort’s push for pure blood superiority is ironic. It is his obsession with NOT belonging to this high status group that drives him to give it ultimate power.  It is insurance that he will always belong to the most important group in his society. This is akin to Hitler’s perfect race – Aryans – being blond and blue-eyed when he himself had dark features. Creating a group that is untouchable guarantees inclusion and leaves out the possibility of not fitting in, even if the entire thing is based on an unstable emotion like fear.

As I’ve said many times, humans (and wizards) are social animals.  We crave to be part of a group.  This is why we make friends, join clubs, and form cliques.  But when those things are too difficult, for whatever reason, we turn to more sinister ways to fulfill this need: bully weak people to look powerful, form gangs, start wars, etc. They all have the underlying purpose of belonging to a meaningful group.

The lesson is that we are all capable of this seemingly evil behavior, given the right circumstance. And that’s the really scary part.

For your viewing pleasure here is the trailer, but you should really see the movie!

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