Book Review — The Law and Harry Potter


2007 was an amazing year. The 110th United States Congress elected Nancy Pelosi as the first female Speaker of the House in U.S. history. Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs announced the iPhone. The tomb of Herod the Great was discovered. The Dali Lama received the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal. Both Argentina and India swore in their first female presidents. NASA launched its Phoenix spaceship. And the final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released.

Yes, 2007 marked the end of an era. No longer would grown adults have to shove pre-teens out of the way to claim the last copy of Harry Potter books sold at midnight releases. Organized crime in Las Vegas would have to look elsewhere to bet on which favorite character died by the end of the volume (this actually happened. I hear that now bets are being taken on the Junie B. Jones series). Author J.K. Rowling created a sub-culture with her books about an outcast young boy who discovers he is a wizard. This sub-culture has spawned: hundreds of blogs, a blockbuster movie series, video games, action figures, an attraction at Universal Studios, National Quidditch teams, replica wands sales, replica Death Eater tattoos, several scholarly panels, and legal analysis of the storyline. Now that the frenzy has died down, we are in a good place to reflect upon the world of the Boy Who Lived.

In The Law & Harry Potter (2010) Jeffrey E. Thomas and Franklin G. Snyder bring together a collection of articles that discuss what role the law has within a magical community. In this world, the largest governmental agency is the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, which is under the control of the colossal Ministry of Magic. Within this Department one will find the illustrious Aurors. These individuals are highly trained in counter-Dark Arts measures to investigate and apprehend those who are suspected of using the Dark Arts. Users of the Dark Arts are almost synonymously supporters of the series’ antagonist Lord Voldemort, and are known as Death Eaters. The Aurors can be equated to counter-terrorist organizations in the non-magical world. However, an Auror is given full authority to kill, torture, and coerce suspected Death Eaters. And considering that the Department of Magical Law Enforcement answers to no other department within the Ministry of Magic, here lays the first problem with law and order in the Wizarding world.

In the article “The Persecution of Tom Riddle:  A Study in Human Rights Law,” Geoffrey R. Watson plays devil’s advocate for He Who Must Not Be Named. Watson paints the Ministry of Magic as a totalitarian entity that is made up of individuals who were not elected through popular vote. He claims that there is no separation of powers, and there exists no checks and balances. Watson further argues that the Ministry has violated the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. All this done through its proxy: Harry Potter. One could argue that Wizards are above the common law of Muggles. Yet if Wizards are to be held in a higher regard should not they follow the basic principles of civil rights as well? Watson makes the argument that it was the parental Potters’ involvement in the “state-sanctioned terrorist group known as the Order of Phoenix” that caused injury to Riddle first. I feel compelled to point out that the Order of Phoenix operated outside the scope of the law, such as it is, within the Wizarding world. The members of this organization acted without the consent of the Ministry of Magic, and could be labeled as domestic terrorists. Watson argues that Tom Riddle was simply an idealist who was trying to overcome the injustices of a totalitarian regime. And his actions were merely in self-defense. Riddle was unfairly marked as an enemy of the State, and persecuted without benefit of due process. Watson attacks the credibility of Harry Potter by citing the numerous violations of Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights through use of the polyjuice potion. This potion gives the user the ability to assume the form of another. And this act violates Article 6 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On numerous occasions throughout the series, Harry Potter and his accomplices stole the identities of rivals and engaged in unlawful interrogation. The violation that Watson is specifically citing comes from book 2, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Other articles within this book cover a variety of topics.  Family Law is discussed in “Hogwarts, the Family, and the State: Forging Identity and Virtue in Harry Potter,” by Danaya C. Wright. Evidence of contract law within Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is analyzed within the article “What Role Need Law Play in a Society with Magic?” by John Gava and Jeannie M. Paterson. Geoffrey C. Rapp introduces the issue of wrongful conviction in his article “Sirius Black: A Case Study in Actual Innocence.” And Heidi Schooner discusses the role of banking regulations upon Gringotts, the sole Wizarding bank, in her article “Gringrotts: The Role of Banks in Harry Potter’s Wizarding World.” This just names a few of the fascinating articles within this collection. The Law & Harry Potter is a captivating read that takes a harder look at the implications of a world where problems can disappear with the flick of a wand.

Check this book out from your Charlotte School of Law Library!

~Erica Tyler~

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Filed under Book Reviews - The Stranger the Better, Books & Stuff, collection, Hidden Treasures, Librarians Can Be Fun Too, Library, Of Interest to Law Students

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