Harry Potter’s Epilogue Doesn’t Feel Right

Alright! Welcome to 2018. Now, time to talk about a book that came out eleven years ago and a movie that came out eight years ago. Now, in case you missed the whole thing I am going to spoil the series as a whole. So, let’s recap. Harry Potter is the story of a racist dictator, obsessed with immortality who was defeated by a teenager. Voldermort’s belief system is based on a belief that only ‘pure-blood’ wizards are true wizards and that ‘mudbloods’ are dirty pretenders and usurpers. This, despite the fact that he’s a Muggle-born wizard himself. That little hypocrisy is part of the theming used within the series. Overall, JK Rowling is very wise with her theming. There is a general throughline in the text about respect for those are downtrodden and discriminated against. Racism is bad! Yay! Only the worst of the worst people would utterly disagree with that sentiment.

However, I believe that there’s another aspect of Harry Potter that falls by the wayside a bit. Now, before I talk about my issues with the epilogue of Harry Potter, first I’m going to talk about S.P.E.W.

Now, in the book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it is revealed that the Grand Feast that students get magicked in front of them for every meal is prepared meticulously by a group of house elves who live and work in the kitchens. Previously, we’ve seen that Dobby was an indentured servant to the Malfoy family and was freed by Harry’s kindness. In fact, in Goblet of Fire, Dobby is found working in the kitchens himself.

So, Harry obviously realises that the indentured servitude of house elves is bad. Now, in the fourth book, Hermione begins the organisation S.P.E.W. (Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare). Hermione is concerned about the welfare of the House Elves in the kitchens. I mean, it’s a good cause, right? The elves are made to serve food for breakfast, lunch, and tea. Only Dobby possesses clothing and stays because he enjoys working so long as his masters are benevolent. That’s also weird. ‘Servitude isn’t bad because my masters are kind to me’ seems like American Civil War era propaganda. Now, the weird thing about Hermione’s crusade is: the narrative presents it as bad, or at least, overzealous.

Firstly, the choice of the acronym is a deliberate choice by the author. I mean, Hermione is no marketing guru so it makes sense as a character choice. However, this acronym positions S.P.E.W as an organisation to be viewed with derision despite its noble cause. Hermione’s badgering of others and their reluctance to join shows that most everyone treats the organisation with disdain. Championing the rights of others is seen as an annoyance, rather than as a noble cause that would force people to question their base assumptions. The weird message of this subplot is that ‘slavery is ok because the slaves enjoy it’. It’s a weird message to stick in between the pages of a work which is all about fighting prejudice.

Now, why do I mention this subplot? I think it highlights one aspect of the text that is especially jarring. The last we see of the trio before the epilogue is them sitting in the aftermath of a war waged by a dictator obsessed with eugenics. The next we see these characters, they’re living comfortably with a couple of kids. There’s still a rivalry with the Malfoy family. Slytherin still has a stigma attached to it and Harry Potter’s re-assurance to his son is ‘You were named after a morally-compromised Gryffindor and a morally-compromised Slytherin. The Slytherin wasn’t as bad as other Slytherin’s because he worked for Dumbledore because he had a thing for my Mum. Anyway, enjoy school’.

It doesn’t sit right with me. Harry Potter and his friends have seen the gross injustices of the world and assume that because they defeated the bad wizards that there’s not a systemic issue with their society that allowed Voldemort to rise in the shadows for years. So many witches and wizards just accepted the fascist proxy rule of Voldemort. The epilogue takes place nineteen years after the Second Wizarding War.

Look, I’ve danced around it a bit but Voldemort is clearly a parallel to Hitler. I want to see how someone who fought with Hitler and hated his ideals. How does that person enter the world after that? To time jump twenty years later and everyone is living a comfortable middle-upper class lifestyle feels like it’s skipping over the hard part of examining the deep-based systemic issues of the world that has been created. The Harry Potter series creates a world based on class and privilege, and it never challenges that world. ‘This world is fine, except for the bad people’ seems to sweep everything under the rug. There’s no wrestling with the lingering trauma.

What would be a more fitting ending? To me, there are a few possible endings. First, get rid of the epilogue entirely. Have it end with Harry putting the Elder Wand back where he found it and walking away from the ruined Hogwarts with his friends. Alternatively, you could have him declare that he is giving up magic entirely. At some point, magic was exciting to him but then he saw the dark underbelly and decided that he didn’t want to be a part of the world that allowed Voldemort to rise to power. Thirdly, you could have him sitting in on the Death Eater trials. Watch as these monsters who destroyed so many lives as they try to weasel out of being punished (Sidebar: We really need to talk about the prison facilities at Azkaban and how they might not be the best place to rehabilitate criminals). Lastly, we could show an epilogue where Harry as an old man reflects on the life he’s had. Photos of a great, big, loving family. Harry may have started as an abused orphan, but he gained a true family along the way. Then, after this reflection, he would greet Death as an old friend like his ancestor, the third Peverell brother did.

So, anyway, that’s my brief treatise on Harry Potter. Hopefully, you can understand my frustration with the epilogue. How it’s too comfortable for the story that preceded it. Maybe Harry does deserve his happy ending and that was Rowling’s purpose. However, I think you could still have a happy ending without the stagnant ending of that epilogue.

 

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