Monday, 3 March 2014

Q: Why is Harry Potter's wizarding world so reckless? A: It is an intrinsically high risk society


From Nathaniel Givens

...Wizarding society is incredibly reckless relative to Muggle society. It’s impossible to get even ballpark mortality estimates because the wizarding world is at war throughout most of Harry Potter, but even the peacetime activities are frightfully dangerous compared to what would be acceptable in a Muggle world.

In the very first book, after all, Dumbledore keeps a vicious, man-eating, three-headed dog monster inside a school full of young kids who have a hard time knowing where their classes are. And, oh yeah, Fluffy is separated from the kids by nothing but a locked door that virtually any of the kids can defeat with a trivial spell. From that to Hagrid’s choice of ferocious textbooks to the potentially lethal Tri-Wizard Tournament, wizards all seem a bit deranged when it comes to matters of life and death.

But that sort of makes sense in a world where everyone is carrying the magical equivalent of a loaded bazooka from age 11 whether they want to or not. Ariana Dumbledore’s death is the most tragic example of this: she lived and died in peacetime before either Voldemort or Gridlewald had risen to power. She died simply because her brother got into a fight with his childhood friend. Similarly, Luna’s mother blew herself up messing about with potions. Because magic is so powerful, being a wizard is inherently dangerous, and there’s just no way around it.

But it’s not just individuals who are prone to early demise in the Wizarding World. The entire society itself is incredibly volatile because of all the characteristics noted so far. Wizarding society is completely dependent on Muggle society for its institutions, culture, and basic resources. And yet, because wizards aren’t subject to the same competitive pressures, the link between the Wizarding and Muggle Worlds is increasingly breaking down. This leaves the wizarding institutions increasingly arbitrary and brittle.

It’s also a very flat world, where the relative power of the weakest member is very high relative to the most powerful institutions. Add to this the very low numbers of wizards, and it’s clear that the entire society is dangerously volatile and will only become more so with time.


This satisfyingly solves a puzzle that has frequently recurred when I have been reading the Harry Potter series.

As Givens elucidates; for wizards, danger is intrinsic, universal, unavoidable and ever present - it cannot be avoided.

There is no possibility of 'safety first'.

Therefore risk has become just a part of wizarding life - hardly anyone notices unnecessary perils and hazards, and hardly anybody tries even to reduce risk - let alone minimize it.