Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first book in a series that undeniably touched a generation, turns 19 next month. There are plot points that everyone remembers but I want to remind you of those small bundles of plot that you may have forgotten about:
1. House Elves: So the House Elves are, at their most basic, an analogy for slavery- “non-humans” who are kept as household servants, often mistreated and only freed when their masters humanize them by giving them clothes. But can we talk about how dark it gets for these little guys? Like apparently how they are all taught to hurt themselves when they mess up- throughout the books, we meet three major House Elves- Dobby of the Malfoy family, Winky of the Crouch family and Kreature of the Black family. At some point we see all three attempt to or succeed in hurting themselves when they have done something wrong. Not only that, we learn that House Elves are actually pretty violent when it is reported to Harry that when the Death Eaters assaulted Hogwarts in The Deathly Hallows, the House Elves happily refused an offer of evacuation and take up arms to protect the school.
Can we also talk about how shifty the whole “I’m freed by receiving clothes from my master” thing is? As mentioned, it does ties into the whole slavery analogy but seriously, it means that it would be incredibly easy to accidentally free your House Elf- you’re just doing the laundry and your baby does something stupid like tries to drink bleach or sets itself on fire (to be honest, I’m not sure what babies actually do). In a panic, you hand a basket of laundry to your house elf and rush off to save magic baby. Have you just freed your house elf with this gesture? Can you take your house elf to court and unfree them? Well, see my point on the Ministry of Magic for more on that.
2. Neville Longbottom: Hapless Neville Longbottom goes from total goofball to arguably the true hero of Hogwarts over the course of the series. However, let’s not forget the fact that Neville has it much harder than Harry in one key way- while the death of Harry’s parents is sad and a pretty big plot motivator, don’t forget what Neville has to go through. In Order of the Phoenix, Harry and the gang bump into Neville at the wizard hospital, St Mungo’s.. Turns out Neville is visiting his parents, who were tortured into insanity by Bellatrix Lestrange. He has to live with Harry Potter for like 10 months of the year while Harry constantly reminds everyone that he’s the Chosen One and that Voldemort killed his parents and Neville’s just has to sit there and take it, knowing that in a perverted twist of fate his parents, who barely recognise him, are living a fate worse than death.
And to make matters worse, Harry mistreats Neville. In their first year he magically assaults him because Neville tries to stop him breaking the rules. He is always part of the majority that laughs at Neville’s blunders. In the film version of Goblet of Fire, Neville tells Harry about gravity resistant trees, a cute Easter Egg that is most likely referencing Quidditch and Harry just blows him off. Neville, who has an equally legitimate claim to being the ‘Chosen One’ just has to put up with everyone counting him out, despite being a kind and loyal soul with viable skills in Herbology and being a good person.
3. Lucius Malfoy: It always struck me as odd that the books just glossed over the fact that Lucius Malfoy was happily willing to kill Harry at the end of the Chamber of Secrets after Harry tricks him into freeing Dobby (through that shady loophole I mentioned earlier). I’ll repeat it for those at the back, Lucuis Malfoy was willing to try and kill Harry within in the walls of Hogwarts. It turns out that Lucius is one evil man- when a group of Death Eaters attack a muggle family at the Quidditch World Cup, it is later revealed that Malfoy was among them. But here’s my real kicker- towards the end of the Deathly Hallows, the Malfoy family, whom many have labelled “Wizard Nazis”, defect when they see that Voldemort is starting to lose (and Narcissa confirms that Draco is alive). According the non-canon Harry Potter wikia, “Because he and his family defected from the Death Eaters they were pardoned for their crimes after Voldemort’s final defeat and did not serve a stint in Azkaban”. That’s right, the Malfoys get off scot-free after helping terrorize the wizards of the UK for the last quarter of the 20th Century or so. That’s justice for you.
4. The Ministry of Magic: And finally we come to the top of the pile- the Ministry of Magic. What an absolute shoddy government. First of all, they don’t appear to hold elections. In fact it’s hard to determine what sort of political system the wizardly world employs as we never hear about any sort of formal legislature and the Minister of Magic is swapped out without much pomp and circumstance. This would lead me to conclude that the wizarding world operates under a benevolent dictatorship- they get no say in how the country is run but they trust that the Minister of Magic does what’s best for the wizards of Great Britain. Perhaps this is why it is so easy for Voldemort to install a pro-Voldemort government towards the end of series? Other evidence for this dictatorship- the Ministry appears to have significant influence over the national newspaper, any ‘trials’ we see is a defendant facing a room full of wizards, most of whom are Ministry employees. Good luck fighting to win your House Elf back, although actually you might win because the wizarding world appears to be pro-slavery. So yeah, the wizarding world is controlled by a dictatorship. Plus, they are terrible at their jobs! They can track magic use and deal with underage wizards if needs be but they can’t tell when another magical being is in the same house as an underage wizard? Do they have an age of criminal responsiblity? Is that why Harry doesn’t get busted for turning the glass at the zoo into nothing but he gets busted for Dobby’s actions a book later? They’re magic, why can they be useful?