Growing up, my favorite Harry Potter book was, without question, the third: The Prisoner of Azkaban. It introduced some of the coziest and most sophisticated elements of the series: the quaint and magical village of Hogsmeade (with its owl-filled post office and its iconic and signature drink, Butterbeer); the Marauder’s Map, the ingenious creation of a few teenagers; the Firebolt, a broomstick of unparalleled performance; and the Time-Turner, a delicate hourglass that allows you to turn back time, and ends up playing a key role in the story. The Prisoner of Azkaban is also when we are first introduced to Dementors, and to the brilliantly beautiful magic that repels them: the Patronus Charm.
Until recently, none of the other books came close to The Prisoner of Azkaban in my estimation. That is, until I re-read The Order of the Phoenix, and was floored by the parallels between its storyline, and today’s unfolding journey of the world’s young climate activists.
A friend of mine hypothesized that Harry Potter has a real-world counterpart in Greta Thunberg, the Swedish climate activist who is taking on the world’s richest, most privileged, and most complacent elite. I think this is true, but really to me, the parallels go much deeper.
HP5 (dork speak for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) is stunningly allegorical, helping us to understand the complex reasons and levels at which an impending disaster (be it Voldemort or increasing greenhouse gas levels) can be denied by world leaders, and confronted by the young, whose futures are most vulnerable to the threat at hand.
For those who are unfamiliar with the book, or have not read it with an eye to climate politics, allow me to summarize.
A dark force is on the rise. It gathers power incrementally, until it is becomes impossible to ignore and impossible to reverse. The least privileged and most vulnerable are affected first, and its most ardent support comes from people of profound power and influence, who believe the world exists for their benefit and have no problem supporting a force that will make injustice even more pronounced and cruel.
Harry Potter, a brave teenager, insists that people recognize what is happening, and act. He spends the summer before his fifth year at Hogwarts consumed by anger at the fact that this threat is not being reported in the papers. It is not appearing in the news, and the government—the Ministry of Magic—is acting like it does not exist. Furthermore, the Ministry is not only denying the problem, but is also demonizing and pathologizing the two people who refuse to keep quiet: Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore (a long-term mentor to young people with positive ideals).
Harry is eventually taken in by the Order of the Phoenix, a group of long-term activists who recognize the problem. When he returns to school, he is ostracized for a while, but then more and more of his classmates, his generation, recognize that they need to organize and confront this threat themselves. The school has been co-opted by Ministry staff who wish to repress such activity. To implement this policy of denial, they resort to violence—because injuring children is less dangerous to their interests than the much more straightforward and ethical course of action: admitting the truth.
The plot of HP5 proceeds in this way, at each turn offering important insights on the dynamics between young people and the political elite in the face of cataclysmic change. Until recently, this story was not so shockingly similar to the “real world.” Yet due to the surging courage of children and teens, and the recalcitrance of the rich and powerful in our own, less interesting but no less turbulent “Muggle world,” the parallels are becoming more striking by the day.
… Perhaps this post has only served to expose the fact that I am a Harry Potter dweeb who will never grow out of it. But maybe also, for those who love this series, this post will move you to revisit this book, and see if there is anything that you, that we, can learn from Rowling’s world of complacent and self-serving leaders, and the brave kids who seek to challenge them.