Harry Potter was my lifeline growing up. I've lost count of the number of times I read each book and watched each film. The magic of Hogwarts, J.K. Rowling's creative characters, and the anti-fascist story worked in tandem to grab my attention and turn it into a years-long passion.
However, in recent years, I've learned about Rowlings' harmful tweets spewing Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (T.E.R.F.) rhetoric made me wonder what problematic ideas hide within the wizarding world I loved so dearly. And sure enough, I came back with a bucketload of issues we need to discuss.
The Harry Potter series contains problematic tropes and harmful stereotypes perpetuating oppression. Between the lines of the hero's journey to battle evil, you'll find ample evidence of racism, sexism, fatphobia, and binary thinking in general.
1: J.K. Rowling is a T.E.R.F.
If you're on Twitter, you've probably seen the trending hashtag #RIPJKRowling spring up from time to time. Since 2020, Rowling has taken to Twitter as a stage to voice her controversial and harmful belief that trans women are not real women.
Here are some particularly disturbing Tweets from Rowling disparaging trans women:
‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?
Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate https://t.co/cVpZxG7gaA
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020
The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women – ie, to male violence – ‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences – is a nonsense.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 6, 2020
War is Peace.
Freedom is Slavery.
Ignorance is Strength.
The Penised Individual Who Raped You Is a Woman.https://t.co/SyxFnnboM1
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) December 12, 2021
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 10, 2020
Transphobia in Harry Potter
You can find Rowling's discriminatory beliefs in the pages of Harry Potter if you look closely. Namely, with the character Rita Skeeter. Introduced in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Skeeter is a nosy journalist who completely denies the truth to get a good story. She's known for following Harry throughout the Triwizard Tournament, stalking and tormenting him to use him to get a big audience.
At the same time, the physical descriptions of Skeeter depict her with “mannish hands” and a defined jawline–two traditionally masculine features, implying that she could be seen as a trans woman.
As we'll discuss later, Rowling's perception of LGBTQIA+ individuals is exceptionally binary. She depicts them as either harmless and oppressed victims or vicious child predators. In this case, Skeeter falls on the side of a child predator. She illegally transforms herself into a bug to spy on teenagers. Clearly, Rowling's T.E.R.F. beliefs trickled into the Harry Potter series.
2: Werewolves Symbolize H.I.V./AIDs
Let's dig deeper into Rowling's binary portrayal of the LGBTQIA+ community.
In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Rowling introduces a new human-magical creature hybrid: the werewolf. Remus Lupin, the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor this year, turns out to be a werewolf in hiding.
Since completing the Harry Potter series, Rowling has taken to Twitter and Pottermore to answer fans' questions about the wizarding world. At one point, Rowling noted that werewolves in the story are a metaphor for H.I.V./AIDs. To understand why this is such a problem and how this highlights Rowling's binary thinking, we need to examine the two werewolves in the series: Remus Lupin and Fenrir Greyback.
Lupin is a hero in Harry Potter. He is a member of the Order of the Phoenix, was best friends with Harry's father growing up, and is the best Defense Against the Dark Arts professor Harry has by leaps and bounds. He was turned into a werewolf when he was four years old and, since then, has been ostracized by the entire wizarding world. He must hide his identity as a werewolf when he takes the job at Hogwarts, and when the news comes out, he resigns to avoid the backlash.
On the other hand, Fenrir Greyback is in the top five most disgusting villains in the series, along with Dolores Umbridge, Bellatrix Lestrange, Peter Pettigrew, and Voldemort himself. He's a werewolf that embraces the danger of his condition, and his life's goal is to attack and turn as many children as possible. He's the one who turned Lupin into a werewolf when he was four years old.
Evident Binary Thinking
Because Rowling compared being a werewolf to having H.I.V. or AIDS, it is clear that she's linking those conditions to LGBTQIA+ people. And that is where we see the strict binary emerge in Rowling's perception of queer people. They're either heinous child predators like Greyback or kind-hearted and oppressed like Lupin.
Arguably the most infamous time Rowling shared new details about the Harry Potter series to fans on Twitter was in 2007 when she announced that Albus Dumbledore was gay and had a passionate romantic relationship with Gellert Grindelwald in his youth.
So what's the problem with this sudden announcement? The fact that in the actual text of the books or the movie scripts, nothing explicitly states Dumbledore is gay.
There's a difference between fans of the series speculating about potential queer characters in their favorite books. Rowling is the one who had the authority to include actual evidence that points to Dumbledore's sexuality in the texts when they were published. There's something so non-committal about adding this little detail after completing the story.
What is Queerbaiting?
We can go back and forth all day debating whether or not these retroactive facts about the series can be considered canon or not. What isn't up for debate is that claiming Dumbledore is gay after the fact is a prime example of queerbaiting.
Queerbaiting is when a creator tells their fanbase that a character is part of the queer community but never explicitly says so in the text the wider population reads. Queerbaiting is harmful because it allows creators to profit off the queer community while continuing to please their homophobic fans.
Even after this 2007 tweet, with the release of multiple films in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, which include Dumbledore and Grindelwald's relationship in their youth, there is no explicit evidence that either of the two identifies as gay.
4: Ron's Romantic Relationships
I could talk about how irritating a character Ron Weasley is for hours, but let's focus on the most problematic element of his character: his treatment of women in his romantic relationships.
Ronmione always turned me off because I never understood what made the two compatible. Ron and Hermione argue nonstop throughout the series. Rowling fills Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone with scenes of Ron insulting Hermione. As the story progresses and the trio becomes inseparable, Ron continues to perpetuate the trope that boys are mean to girls when they have a crush.
During the Yule Ball, Ron blatantly ignores his date because he's butthurt that Victor Krum asked Hermione to the Ball before he did. Then, when Ron did ask Hermione to go with him, he insulted her, making it seem like he was asking her as a last resort.
When Ron and Lavender get together in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, it's clear he's only with her to get back at Hermione and prove to Ginny that he can get girls to kiss him. When he finally grows tired of Lavender, he ignores her until Harry forces him to break up with her.
Ron is highly possessive of Hermione, which is evident in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows when Ron gets fed up and abandons Harry on his journey to destroy the Horcruxes. He expects Hermione to want to come with him, but when she decides to stay with Harry, he's furious.
All of this behavior is normalized when Ron and Hermione end up getting married at the end of the series.
5: Ginny's Sole Purpose is to be Harry's Love Interest
When I think about Ginny Weasley, I get so stuck on her character's potential. She's the youngest Weasley sibling and the only girl. Instead of developing Ginny into a complex character with unique passions, goals, and flaws, Ginny is a one-dimensional character with one purpose: to be Harry's love interest.
In the Sorcerer's Stone, we briefly meet Ginny at King's Cross train station when the Weasleys help Harry get onto platform 9 ¾. At this point, she's a minor character, though we learn she's shy but can't wait to go to Hogwarts next year.
Ginny as a Damsel in Distress
The problems with Ginny's character begin to emerge when she becomes a significant character in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. When Harry arrives at the Burrow for the first time, he meets Ginny, who blushes when she spots Harry before running out of the kitchen. From this moment, it's clear that Ginny has a crush on Harry.
Draco Malfoy even taunts Ginny for her crush when Harry and the Weasleys run into the Malfoys in Flourish and Botts. The taunting only gets worse when they get to Hogwarts. On Valentine's Day, Harry receives a humorous poem from a troll that Malfoy insists was sent by Ginny.
At the end of the book, when Ginny is taken into the Chamber of Secrets by Tom Riddle, she becomes a damsel in distress. Harry, of course, is the one who saves her life.
Ginny's Character Lacks Dimensions
As Ginny gets older, she becomes more independent. However, Malfoy and others still make comments about her crush on Harry. She's always meek and shy around Harry until Hermione tells her to pretend like she doesn't have a crush on Harry. That's when she dates Dean Thomas, and Harry finally considers her a potential love interest.
Once Harry and Ginny get together, it's clear she never has and never will want another man. At the end of The Half-Blood Prince, Harry breaks up with Ginny because he knows he can't be in a relationship while he goes in hiding to fight Voldemort for a year. And Ginny waits for him! When he returns home and defeats Voldemort, they immediately get back together and marry.
6: Cho Chang's Entire Character
Harry's other love interest, Cho Chang, is an even more problematic character. Rowling depicts Cho as weepy and burdensome when grieving the murder of her boyfriend, while the Ministry of Magic claims it was a tragic accident. Rowling describes Cho's emotions as too much, and her “weepiness” is what ultimately causes the demise of Harry and Cho's relationship.
On top of that, Cho is the only East-Asian character in the Harry Potter series. As the ‘Token Chinese' character, she is obviously in Ravenclaw, the house known for academic success and intelligence. What's worse is that Rowling decided to name the only Chinese character Cho Chang.
Why is this name deeply racist? Well, it's basically some sounds Rowling threw together to create a name she perceived to be Chinese. The names “Cho” and “Chang” are Korean, and they're both common surnames. Rowling clearly didn't do any research and came inches away from naming the only Asian character a literal slur.
On top of this, Katie Leung, the actor who played Cho Chang in the Harry Potter Movies, battled racism in the media. However, the production team told Leung to keep quiet about the racist harassment during interviews.
7: Token Black, Jewish, and Asian Characters
We've only covered the tip of the iceberg regarding racism in Harry Potter. Unless otherwise stated, witches and wizards in Rowling's world are white and British.
Lucky for readers (catch my sarcasm!) Rowling decided to make non-white non-British characters glaringly obvious by giving them stereotypical names, like Cho Chang. But she's not alone. There's Kingsley Shacklebolt, one of two black characters in the series; Padma and Parvati Patil, who are of Indian descent; Anthony Goldstein, who Rowling announced was a Jewish Ravenclaw in a Tweet; and even Seamus Finnigan, the one Irish wizard.
None of these are major characters and many display racial stereotypical traits beyond their names. For example, Seamus is known to accidentally make things explode, harkening to the idea that the Irish are less civilized than the British.
8: Constant Muggle Hate
Yes, the whole story examines racism through the lens of wizards versus muggles. Rowling's binary thinking comes through this way– the evil wizards hate muggles, while the good wizards get along with muggles.
However, it's clear that there's a lot of discrimination towards and misinformation spread about muggles throughout the “good” wizarding communities too.
For one, all wizards consider squibs to be second-class citizens. A squib is someone who is born to a wizarding family but does not have magical powers. Squibs like Argus Filch and Arabella Figg are outcasts in the wizarding world: Filch is constantly degraded by students and staff alike at Hogwarts, and Arabella lives as a muggle outside the wizarding community altogether.
It's also pretty strange that Arthur Weasley, a man who loves muggle culture so profoundly, knows literally nothing about it. With the number of muggle-born wizards out there, you'd think he could learn a little bit more about muggle culture instead of making insane assumptions about how technology and daily life work without magic.
9: Quirrell's Turban
Did you think Rowling would hold back her racist ideas about Arabs in Harry Potter? Well, you'd be sorely mistaken. Think back to The Sorcerer's Stone and one of our very first villains: Professor Quirrell.
The most memorable elements of Quirrell are that he wore a turban, and underneath that turban was Lord Voldemort's face.
The thing is, using a turban as a plot device is highly disrespectful. Sikhs and Muslims traditionally wear turbans, important religious adornments. Historically, kings and those of high status wore turbans, but today, all male Sikhs must wear turbans.
If that's not bad enough, Quirrell's turban represents evil. He conceals the central villain in the Harry Potter series behind his turban. And for what? A shocking reveal? Using a turban as a clear symbol to identify the bad guy only perpetuates negative stereotypes about Muslims.
10: Hagrid As A Second-Class Character
If you're like me, Hagrid and Dobby were always your two favorite characters by far. And both get the short end of the stick in Harry Potter.
In the Goblet of Fire, Harry learns that Hagrid isn't just extremely tall for a human but is half-giant. Unfortunately, Rita Skeeter also learns about this and shares it with the Daily Prophet's vast audience. Angry bigots shower Hagrid with hate mail. Malfoy and the other Slytherins torment Hagrid for being half-giant. In Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, Umbridge even makes it her mission to get Hagrid fired because she is so vehemently racist.
The thing that rubs me the wrong way about this is that Rowling uses the bullying of Hagrid to characterize Harry and Dumbledore as good people. They always defend Hagrid, yet the wider wizarding world treats Hagrid like crap.
Rowling depicts Hagrid as unintelligent, including a country dialect in his written dialogue.
Hagrid Deserves Better
He's treated as a second-class character and does not get any of the recognition he deserves. Hagrid is the most constant father figure in Harry's life. He is always there to talk to Harry and support him. He loves Harry more than anyone.
And yet, when Harry talks to his kids about his heroes at the end of The Deathly Hallows, he highlights four people: his parents, Dumbledore, and even Snape. He names his kids after these men, and Hagrid is left out. Based on Rowling's track record, I wouldn't be surprised if the reason for this is racist.
11: Goblins and Antisemitism
We're introduced to Goblins very early into The Sorcerer's Stone, and the glaring parallels to prejudiced Jewish stereotypes are impossible to miss from the get-go.
Goblins run Gringotts Bank. They're creatures who Rowling describes as just as intelligent as humans, but there's been conflict between them for centuries, known as the Goblin Wars.
Goblins are known to have different morals than humans. They're greedy tricksters who put themselves first. Take Griphook in The Deathly Hallows when he grabs the sword of Griffindor and escapes the Gringotts vault he helped the trio break into unscathed, leaving the three behind to find their way out.
On top of being literal greedy money-lenders, Goblins have a physical likeness to stereotypes about Jewish people's appearances: particularly their big, hooked noses and beady little eyes. I shouldn't have to point out why these stereotypes are so harmful. Historically, pseudoscientific eugenics was used during the Holocaust to determine who to send to a death camp and who was Aryan enough to survive.
12: Uncivilized Centaurs
The parallels between centaurs and Native American stereotypes are striking in the Harry Potter series. In The Order of the Phoenix, we learn that centaurs live in a small area of the Forbidden Forest on a tract of land designated for them by the Ministry of Magic. Again, Rowling draws a solid connection to the disrespect of Native American Treaties by the United States Government.
White Europeans have been responsible for stealing Native American land for centuries. The United States government forced indigenous people to move to impoverished reservations or conform to White American society. This is a disturbing parallel, especially because centaurs in Harry Potter are depicted as uncivilized, animalistic people who use divination to make decisions.
Racism Among Centaur
Rowling also distinguishes between the good centaurs who are civilized and help humans and the bad centaurs who are wild, unruly, and refuse to follow human rules.
This is evident in The Sorcerer's Stone when we first meet the centaurs. When Harry, Hermione, Draco, and Neville serve detention in the Forbidden Forest, they meet Bane. He's a centaur with a black coat and the most animalistic and reactionary centaur in the series. He's the one who opposes students wandering onto centaur territory, and he's even the one who later carries Umbridge off into the forest.
On the other hand, there's Firenze: the centaur who saves Harry from Voldemort that first time in the forest and even lets Harry ride on his back. Rowling describes Firenze as a white palomino with shimmering blue eyes. He even decides to work in the school as a Divination professor when Umbridge fires Trelawney.
Here's Rowling's binary thinking coming back again. To her, indigenous people are either wild savages or civilized and helpful conformists.
13: House Elves and the Normalization of Slavery
Hermione Granger is the only person in the entire wizarding world who thinks the enslavement of house-elves is a problem. Every single other character, Hagrid and the house-elves included, vehemently oppose their freedom. And the reason? Because house-elves love to be enslaved, of course!
Dobby, the Outlier
We meet our first house-elf named Dobby in The Chamber of Secrets. Dobby appears in Harry's bedroom at the Dursleys and warns him not to go back to Hogwarts before doing everything in his power to prevent Harry from getting there.
When Dobby arrives, he's a slave bound by both magic and custom. Not only is he expected to serve a human family for his entire life, but he's evidently cursed because every time he goes against his masters' wishes, some invisible force makes Dobby brutally torture himself.
Luckily for Dobby, Harry devises a plan at the end of the book, and he frees Dobby from slavery. But that's not the last we see of Dobby or house-elves in Harry Potter.
In The Goblet of Fire, Dobby returns to the story, and readers learn that he now works at Hogwarts in the kitchens. We also discover a shocking truth about the Hogwarts feasts served to students morning, noon, and night: A massive number of enslaved house-elves painstakingly prepare each meal. On top of that, the Hogwarts elves clean the entire castle from top-to-bottom every night.
Only Hermione Cares
And the thing is, they won't have it any other way. So when Hermione discovers the secret slave labor in Hogwarts, she is immediately disgusted and prompted to start a club: The Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare, otherwise known as S.P.E.W.
But when Hermione tries to gather supporters for her club, everyone, including Hagrid, tells her it's pointless. The house-elves love their eternal servitude, and their confinement helps them thrive.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione even visit the elves in the kitchens, where they find another house-elf, Winky, who her master recently freed for disobeying him. She is a drunken, sobbing mess, begging for her master to forgive her.
Dobby is there too because Dumbledore gave him a job in the kitchens. The other enslaved elves think Dobby is absolutely insane for wanting to be free. When Hermione tells them about her efforts with S.P.E.W., they become profoundly uncomfortable and force her out of the kitchen.
Even Dobby never truly stops serving humans. When he takes a job at Hogwarts, he is proud to accept a small payment. However, he tells the trio that he rejected higher pay from Dumbledore because it felt like too much.
On top of that, Dobby does whatever Harry asks of him. He even dies while saving Harry in The Deathly Hallows, and his last words are “Harry Potter.”
The insinuation that enslaved people need their confinement is racist and rooted in the history of slavery across the globe. One way the United States justified slavery in the American South was with the idea that black people needed to be slaves to act civilized.
If white masters didn't control them, they would fall into laziness, drunkenness, and savagery. This dangerous rhetoric is clearly paralleled in the Harry Potter series, particularly The Goblet of Fire. However, someone down the line cut this plot line from the movies altogether.
14: Fatphobia and the Dursleys
If one this comes out clearly in the first few chapters of each Harry Potter book, it's that J.K. Rowling hates fat people. Her lazy, fatphobic descriptions of the Dursley men equate fatness with evil.
The physical descriptions of Dudley and Vernon are vivid. Rowling describes Vernon as a huge man with a fat, purple neck. Dudley is also massive and seems to triple in size with each new book.
Vernon and Dudley are constantly eating, and Dudley's weight becomes a problem that Harry laughs at in the later books.
The fatphobic descriptions of the Dursleys are intended to be humorous while showing just how evil and inferior the Dursleys are.
The association between fatness and evil doesn't end with the Dursleys. Dolores Umbridge, one of the most infamously evil characters in the series, is described as wide, pudgy, and toad-like. Crabbe and Goyle are both thick in the head and their physical bodies. Rowling portrays them as massive bumbling sidekicks to Draco Malfoy.
15: The Normalization of Abuse: The Dursley
Because Rowling focuses so heavily on how fat Vernon and Dudley are, she also sweeps their vile abuse towards Harry under the rug. Yes, it's acknowledged that Harry's home-life sucks. But it's never called abuse, and he must return there every summer.
Let's list some things the Dursleys were known to do to Harry without the distracting fatphobic comments thrown in.
● Harry sleeps in a small closet under the stairs until he is eleven years old, even though the Dursleys have three bedrooms in their home. Sometimes, they lock him inside the cabinet with no means of escape for hours at a time.
● The Dursleys shower their son Dudley with gifts, take him on trips, feed him delicious food, and constantly compliment him. Unfortunately, they treat Harry the complete opposite. The Dursleys force Harry to wear hand-me-down clothes that don't fit right, feed him the scraps from the table when the Dursleys finish, make him prepare food for the Dursleys, leave him behind when the family goes on trips, and constantly verbally abuse him.
● When Harry returns for the summer after his first year at Hogwarts, the Dursleys get so angry at him for messing up a meeting with an important client of Vernon's that they lock him in his bedroom, feed him scraps, and tell him he can't ever go back to school.
And the reason Harry has to stay at the Dursleys every summer? It's love. His mother's love, in fact. According to Rowling, the magic of Lily's love that saved Harry from Voldemort as a baby continues to protect him at the Dursleys because of Lily's blood connection to Petunia.
No love for Harry or his mother exists in that household, no matter who Harry's related to. This problematic idea that blood is thicker than water keeps people in dangerous, abusive situations for fear of abandoning their families.
16: The Normalization of Abuse: Snape
Snape is known as Harry's biggest bully throughout the vast majority of the series. However, Snape is the character who receives the most significant redemption arc in Harry Potter, which ultimately serves to justify his abusive treatment of Harry over the years.
Snape's Endless Torments
From the moment Snape spots little eleven-year-old Harry in the Great Hall for the first time, he decides to hate him. Why? Because Harry looks an awful lot like his father, James, who bullied Snape relentlessly during their school years.
Snape targets Harry, Hermione, and Neville in particular, throwing insults, giving them bad grades for unfair reasons, letting the Slytherins torment them while turning a blind eye, and throwing detention at them willy-nilly.
This treatment continues for years and only escalates over time as Harry and Snape become fiercer enemies. Their animosity reaches at height during the climax of The Half-Blood Prince when Snape kills Dumbledore.
Friend or Foe?
As fans waited for the release of the seventh book, a massive ad campaign was released about Snape to garner interest between book releases. I vividly remember seeing a huge sign in a bookstore that read, “Severus Snape: Friend or Foe?” and getting into a lengthy argument with a middle-aged woman about the answer to that question.
When the seventh book was released, the truth came out: Rowling decided that Snape was a friend after all. His redemption arc rests on his love for Harry's mother, Lily. When she died, he quit his role as Death Eater on the spot and joined Dumbledore in the fight against Voldemort.
It turned out that Dumbledore planned his death and told Snape to kill him to turn Snape into the perfect infiltrator into Voldemort's inner circle. He secretly helped Harry defeat Voldemort by leaving him the sword of Griffindor and watching Voldemort's every move.
Snape's Selfish and Obsessive Behavior
The thing is, Snape didn't help Harry out of love for Harry. He helped him because of his unhealthy obsession with Lilly Potter. Snape never loved Harry, and helping him was entirely selfish.
Snape could never get past Harry's relation to his childhood bully. While Harry looks just like his father, except for his eyes, his personality is quite different from his father's. His dad was a confident prankster who got whatever girls he wanted and cared about being cool.
On the other hand, Harry is humble and always focused on saving others rather than himself. He's much more like his mother. However, Snape refuses to see this because he's determined to hate James for stealing Lilly away from him, and Harry is prime evidence of this.
There's a prime example of Snape's selfishness and obsessive ownership over Lily in one of the memories he gives Harry to view in the Pensieve towards the end of The Deathly Hallows. Snape went to Grimmauld Place and scoured Serius' old bedroom, tearing everything apart, even though this place and all of the stuff here is legally Harry's.
With no respect for Harry's property, Snape discovers a letter written by Lily before she died with a photo of her, James, and baby Harry. Instead of simply gazing at the picture of Lily for a while, Snape tears the letter in half so he can keep Lilly's signature and then does the same with the photo, leaving behind the portion featuring Harry and James.
And yet, in the epilogue of The Deathly Hallows, Harry forgives Snape and even sees him as a hero. Moreover, he names his son after Snape, his long-time bully.
This redemption arc tries to wipe away the demeaning, abusive, obsessive behavior of Harry's professor, a person with power over him. Portraying him as an undercover hero harms abuse survivors, presenting the idea that the ends justify the means.
17: The Normalization of Abuse: Dumbledore
I know this one is controversial, but hear me out. Albus Dumbledore, while he may have loved Harry in one way or another, never puts Harry's safety first. Dumbledore's only goal is to defeat Voldemort, and Harry is the perfect tool to use for the Dark Lord's demise.
Complicit From the Start
Dumbledore is the one who decides Harry must grow up at the Dursleys, knowing full well that they are incredibly abusive. Even Professor McGonagall questions this placement. Dumbledore reasons that he doesn't want Harry to grow up in the Wizarding World, where he would grow up famous and with an inflated ego for being the Boy Who Lived.
Dumbledore kept Harry with the Dursleys to humble him and set him up to be a selfless hero. We also later learn that Harry must stay with the Dursleys because of some weird love-blood connection that we discussed earlier in this list, which only adds to the crazy justifications for child abuse.
Grooming Harry at Hogwarts
Once Harry arrives at Hogwarts, the grooming continues. Dumbledore encourages Harry to risk his life by gifting him with the invisibility cloak so he can roam the school at night undetected. He even awards Harry enough points to win the House Cup at the end of The Sorcerer's Stone after breaking many school rules and putting himself and his friends in life-threatening danger.
This pattern continues throughout the following three books. In The Chamber of Secrets, Dumbledore keeps the school open as a mysterious creature targets exclusively muggle-borns, knowing very well that it's probably Lord Voldemort's doing in some way.
In The Prisoner of Azkaban, Dumbledore gives Harry and Hermione instructions to break the law and go back in time to save Buckbeak, the hippogriff, and Sirius Black, where dementors and a werewolf almost attack them.
In The Goblet of Fire, Dumbledore tells Harry he must compete in the Triwizard Tournament even though he's only fourteen because of some magical rules. That means this kid, without his consent, must fight a dragon, find a way to swim underwater for an hour without dying, make his way through a maze filled with terrifying creatures, and eventually face Voldemort himself. Of course, Dumbledore didn't realize that the last part would happen.
The competitors from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons each got lots of help from their headmasters. But Dumbledore wanted the games to be fair, even though Harry was a literal child competing against consenting adults, so he offered Harry no help.
Secrets, Manipulation, and Lies in The Order of the Phoenix
Dumbledore's manipulative grooming behavior becomes even more apparent in The Order of the Phoenix. He treats Harry like crap in this book. Harry is traumatized after watching Death Eaters murder his friend and fighting off Voldemort single-handedly. On top of that, hardly anyone believes Harry's story, and the Ministry of Magic refuses to acknowledge that Voldemort is back.
You'd think Dumbledore would want to stand by Harry's side and offer him unwavering support during this trying time. However, he does the opposite. He isolates Harry at the Dursleys the summer before his fifth year while Ron and Hermione get to stay at the Order of the Phoenix headquarters.
Dumbledore justifies this by arguing that Harry would be safer there. Still, that theory is garbage because Harry is attacked by Dementors and threatened with expulsion from Hogwarts for fighting them off.
When Harry finally arrives at Grimmauld Place, Dumbledore is nowhere in sight. All Harry wants to do is to talk to him. He finally sees Dumbledore at his hearing, where Dumbledore defends him, and he's allowed back at Hogwarts. But Dumbledore won't look at Harry or talk to Harry directly.
Dumbledore's obvious avoidance of Harry continues throughout the entire book. If Dumbledore had only briefly met with Harry to explain why he was behaving like this, Harry could have had a little peace. Instead, Dumbledore feared that Voldemort could access Harry's mind and that he may use it as a tool to attack Dumbledore, and that's why he gave Harry a wide berth.
If Harry had only known this, he could have avoided the confusion and his fears surrounding the midnight attack on Arthur Weasley. If Harry knew the details of what Voldemort could do to control his mind, he never would have taken a group of kids to the Ministry of Magic in the middle of the night, and maybe Sirius would never have died.
Dumbledore finally meets with Harry when they return to Hogwarts after the terrifying night at the ministry. Only at this point does he explain why he avoided Harry all year. But he also drops a bombshell: he tells Harry about the prophecy that intrigues both Voldemort and Dumbledore.
Dumbledore informs Harry that “neither can live while the other survives.” He tells Harry that he must be the one to kill Voldemort because Voldemort will never stop trying to kill Harry.
The thing is, there are some issues with this logic. Someone else could step in to kill Voldemort or Harry, and the prophecy would still hold true. It doesn't explicitly state that either Harry or Voldemort has to be the one to kill the other. And that's because Dumbledore is still hiding something to use Harry as a tool to defeat Voldemort later down the line: that Harry himself is a Horcrux, and for Voldemort to die, Harry has to die too.
Creating the Perfect Child Soldier
Of course, Dumbledore did his job well over the years, and Harry is all-in. So in The Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore starts meeting with Harry to train him to defeat Voldemort. First, he teaches Harry about Tom Riddle's childhood and his fascination with Horcruxes. He uses Harry to get information from Professor Slughorn. He even takes Harry on a dangerous mission to a cursed cave where Voldemort hid one of his Horcruxes.
Dumbledore set up his last few moments to manipulate Harry too. Dumbledore knew that Snape would kill him when they returned to the tower that night, so he temporarily petrified Harry and forced him to watch, unable to move, as Snape killed his hero. Harry had no idea Dumbledore had plotted this scheme. The emotional turmoil of losing Dumbledore only pushed Harry towards his mission of defeating Voldemort, which Dumbledore set up when Harry was an infant.
Even though Dumbledore knew he would die, he didn't give Harry nearly as much helpful information about destroying Horcruxes as he could have. He never told Harry about the Deathly Hallows. He caused Harry so much unnecessary confusion on his mission to ensure he stayed humble and selfless until the end.
Harry Grapples With Dumbledore's Manipulation
In The Deathly Hallows, Harry reads The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, which finally forces him to grapple with the fact that he never truly knew Dumbledore. He learns that Dumbledore had a sister who died at a young age. In addition, he discovers that Dumbledore was best friends with Gellert Grindelwald in his youth– the same Grindelwald who was known as the darkest wizard of all time before Voldemort.
The two pals spent an entire summer devising plans to take over the Wizarding World in the name of the greater good. Hermione, Lupin, and others in Harry's life try to assure him that Dumbledore learned his lesson and no longer held such strict utilitarian beliefs at the end of his life. But the thing is, all the evidence points to the fact that Dumbledore never abandoned his quest to serve the greater good. This time, his goal was to defeat Voldemort for the good of the world at large, but at the expense of a young boy's freedom to experience a normal childhood.
Yet Dumbledore is Our Hero
All the evidence we discussed points to the fact that Dumbledore was grooming Harry since he became the Boy Who Lived. Dumbledore suspected that Harry was a Horcrux from the very beginning. Knowing Harry could potentially lose his life, Dumbledore manipulated Harry's environment to create the perfect little soldier to defeat the darkest wizard of all time.
The worst thing about all this is that many fans revere Albus Dumbledore and see him as a wise, heroic icon. Rowling presents Dumbledore as the force of good throughout the series. Although Harry does grapple with Dumbledore's past and feels abandoned by his mentor, by the end of The Deathly Hallows, Harry is completely smitten with Dumbledore again.
18: Hogwarts is Incredibly Dangerous
Not only does Dumbledore groom Harry for several years, but he also ignores the dangers at Hogwarts and lets Harry and other students fend for themselves.
In The Sorcerer's Stone, Dumbledore decides to hide a valuable tool that Voldemort is known to be searching for inside Hogwarts, the very place where Harry Potter lives. In the first book, Hogwarts is a two-stop shop for Voldemort to grab immortality and attack Harry in one go. Somehow, Harry was able to prevent this disaster, but he was only eleven years old. Also, the Forbidden Forest is apparently not forbidden at all because students are sent there for detention.
In The Chamber of Secrets, Hogwarts remains open even as muggle-borns are being petrified left and right. The school only decides to close when Ginny is taken into the Chamber to die.
In The Prisoner of Azkaban, Dementors flock around the school and attack Harry multiple times.
In The Goblet of Fire, Hogwarts hosts the Triwizard Tournament, which is known for being incredibly dangerous. But for some reason, Dumbledore decides that this is the moment to host the event again after a long hiatus when he knows Voldemort is plotting his return.
Does Hogwarts Even Do Background Checks?
All the while, many of the professors at Hogwarts are questionable at best:
- Snape is known for bullying kids.
- Trelawney chooses a new kid from each class to target, claiming they will die soon.
- Umbridge becomes a dictator in the school.
- Lockheart was a fraud who tried to erase the memories of two twelve-year-olds.
Must I go on?
19: The Tired “Chosen One” Trope
Harry Potter is the modern example of the Chosen One trope. The Chosen One is selected by some sort of force, whether a prophecy, a god, or an innate personality trait. The author sets the protagonist up as the only one who can complete an essential task: defeat the dark lord, discover the hidden treasure, or be a figurehead in a revolution.
While there's nothing inherently wrong with the Chosen One trope, it is a tired one. In our modern world, this trope encourages hyper-individualism and tells us that we must accomplish our goals on our own because we're the only ones who can do it.
Rowling does little to subvert the trope and leans in heavily to this hyper-individualism. Harry has the entire world on his shoulders. Dumbledore teaches him to keep everything he learns a secret, and Harry ultimately faces Voldemort alone at least four times throughout the series. When it comes to Voldemort's mortal death, Harry is the one who fights him, not allowing anyone to help.
Teaching kids to keep their struggles to themselves, value secrecy, and tackle their challenges alone with little help is problematic in a world that constantly devalues community and teamwork.
20: The Hogwarts House System
J.K. Rowling's binary, categorical thinking is evident when examining the Hogwarts House System.
Children are sorted into houses at age eleven with no hope of switching houses ever. Once the sorting hat decides where a kid is placed, that's their house for life. Each house is very distinct, and each character has specific personality traits.
Ravenclaw is for the smart, academically talented kids. Griffindor is for the courageous. Slytherin is full of ambitious Death Eaters. Hufflepuff is where all the rest of the kids go.
Zero Slytherin characters subvert the Slytherin personality. For example, in The Deathly Hallows, not one Slytherin stays behind to fight alongside Harry to defeat Voldemort.
21: The Normalization of Date Rape
Love potions are common throughout the fantasy genre, so of course, they must appear in Harry Potter. The problem is that Rowling uses love potions as a stand-in for date rape drugs in the series, and no one ever talks about it.
Both instances of the use of a love potion occur in The Half-Blood Prince. After Professor Slughorn teaches the sixth year students how to concoct love potions, Romilda Vane, a minor character in Griffindoor, decides to dose some chocolates with a love potion. She then gifts them to Harry in an attempt to make him love her.
Harry sees through her immediately and throws the chocolates into the corner of his dormitory. However, months later, Ron finds the chocolates and eats them, soon after raving about how much he loves Romilda and needs to be with her.
Instead of being depicted as a terrifying denial of consent, this moment is seen as a silly plot device to bring Harry and Ron to Slughorn's office, where he cures Ron before we learn that Slughorn's wine was poisoned. Rowling pays no attention to what could have happened if Harry had eaten those chocolates.
But of course, it only gets worse. When Harry and Dumbledore meet to discuss Voldemort's past, he learns the tragic backstory of Voldemort's parents. His father, Tom Riddle, was a rich muggle man who often passed a dilapidated home in the woods. That's where Merope Gaunt, Voldemort's future mother, lived with her extremely abusive father and brother.
One day, Merope decides she will have Tom Riddle no matter what. It didn't matter that he was a muggle and she was a witch; it didn't matter that he had no interest in her whatsoever. She decided to brew a love potion and slip it to him, and of course, the potion made him pliable and enabled Merope to live the fantasy life she dreamed of with Tom.
They were together for an extended period and had sex at least once because Merope became pregnant. She became entranced with the idea that maybe Tom had actually grown to love her, so she decided to stop giving him the love potion. Of course, once the spell wore off and Tom realized what had happened, he left Merope and his unborn son in the dust.
Villainizing Tom Riddle Sr.
And the thing is, Rowling depicts Tom Riddle Sr. as the bad guy while she portrays Merope as a sympathetic, abused woman who lived a tragic life and died a tragic death. Even though Merope quite literally drugs Tom daily for months and rapes him when he's under the influence of these drugs, Tom is the one who is ultimately blamed for Voldemort's childhood trauma–both by Voldemort and Rowling.
22: Wizards Have Money and Socioeconomic Status
I'm sorry, but in a magical world where wizards can duplicate food with a swish of their wands (according to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration, of course) and people can Apparate from one end of the earth to another in mere seconds, why the hell do wizards need money?
Rowling had the opportunity to craft a whole new unique economic system that contradicts capitalism, but instead, she created a wizarding world that relies on neoliberalism. I know this critique is a bit of a stretch, but give me a break. I think about Harry Potter at least once daily, and this thought comes up frequently.
Just imagine how incredible the Harry Potter series could be if Rowling disrupted capitalist systems rather than preserving them in her story.
The Harry Potter series is and probably will always be an enormous part of my life. I'm eternally fascinated with Rowling's ability to write such animated characters, create thrilling suspense and plot twists, and ultimately construct the magical story of the 2000s.
That being said, as a writer myself, I need to critique the works I hold most dear so I can help influence future narratives. We can only wonder what the world would look like today if Harry Potter had been more focused on collective liberation, disrupting harmful stereotypes, and revolution instead of hyper-individualism, upholding destructive ideas and self-sacrifice for the greater good.
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Maya (she/they) is a professional freelance writer and editor. Her writing is featured in TransLash News & Narrative, Healthline’s Bezzy Depression, HorrorPress, the Episodes Newsletter, and more. They’re passionate about social justice, history, and entertainment journalism. In her free time, she loves binging horror movies, spending time with her girlfriend, and needle-felting monster sculptures.