Hogwarts is a winner because boys will be sexist neocon boys
My favourite book when I was 12 years old was about a bunch of neocon crypto-fascist rabbits. Almost every book I read until the age of 14 was about right-of-centre British mammals - aristocratic water voles, moles and toads battling legions of ill-mannered proletarian stoats; neo-Nazi otters; complacent bourgeois dalmatians and so on. After that I moved to the left a little and read books about German stormtroopers and skinheads.
It seems almost certain that I would have adored the work of J K Rowling, at least until the age of 15 - largely because Harry Potter is, as the French newspaper Libération puts it, a “sexist neoconservative autocrat”. And, according to Le Monde, “inherently capitalist”, who exists in an environment (they mean Hogwarts, I would guess) where “social sciences are as useless and obsolete as state regulation”.
A few years ago The Guardian alleged that Potter was also racist - a patrician swine to the poor house elves, plus they never celebrate Diwali or Ramadan at Hogwarts - and indeed disablist, there being a total absence of handicapped people playing Quidditch. More recently the writer Andrew Blake criticised Rowling for having reinvented “that apex of class privilege, the English public school, a literary conceit that problematises [sic] Harry Potter’s status as a role model and raises important social questions about the state of Blair’s Britain”. Oh, Lordy.
The old-fashioned left does not much like Rowling, despite her friendship with our new prime minister. The queues in Beijing for yesterday’s launch of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows may have been visible to the naked eye from space, but Chairman Mao would have sent every child to work in the rice fields for the rest of his or her life for such reactionary affiliations. The left would prefer the heroes of children’s literature to be more consensual, inclusive and democratic and demonstrate their opposition to Guantanamo Bay and homophobia.
Trouble is, that’s not the sort of thing they do - certainly not in those books that appeal to boys. It is hard to think of a more right-wing convocation than Roald Dahl, Richard Adams, Henry Williamson, Captain W E Johns, J R R Tolkien and the blessed Enid Blyton. Strength of character, elitism, common sense conservatism and a healthy dollop of sentimentality appeal to young boys - which is one reason why the ludicrous eco-leftie Woodland Folk never came close to supplanting Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys. And why Rowling herself is such a phenomenal success.
Most of us grow out of such an infantile view of the world - or we should do. Seeing an adult reading Harry Potter on a train is vaguely disquieting. “Get a grip,” flashes through my mind. Think about those poor bloody house elves.