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Power vs. Authority in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Much of the plot of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix [NY: Scholastic Inc., 2003] is built around the conflict of power versus authority. Power is usually a negative concept imposed from the top down, whereas authority is a positive undertaking earned by those who hold it and works from the ground floor up. The vice of power is embodied in the Ministry of Magic, which resembles Dante's Inferno in its architecture. There are nine floors numbered from One (the top) to Nine (the bottom) with recessed and sunken areas beneath the ninth level. In the deepest, coldest sub-chamber resides the Department of Mysteries, the lair of Voldemort's Death Eaters. Dumbledore's domain, the Hogwarts School, is primarily structured on virtuous authority: the headmaster earns his way, sits beside his faculty, lets students and teachers make choices.

Frequent references to power dot the novel, always in relation to a character whose intentions are malevolent. For example, some junior Hogwarts' wizards, such as Crabbe, Goyle, and Pansy Parkinson, do not believe that Harry has seen "Lord Voldemort return to power" (215). Dolores Jane Umbridge is a High Inquisitor whom anyone can take offense at. She relishes "the power to strip pupils of all privileges" and dreads having "less authority than common teachers" (416). In another of her endless stream of vicious decrees, Umbridge declares she "has the power to inspect, place upon probation, and sack any teacher" (596). By contrast, Dumbledore rejects Umbridge's order to evict Hogwarts teachers, citing that she does not "have the authority to send them away from the castle because that "power ... still resides with the headmaster" (596). Authority, faithfully practiced, generates a shared power, not one that is arbitrarily imposed.

Mad-Eye Moody kids Ron about his appointment to prefect: "Well, congratulations, ... authority figures always attract trouble, but I suppose Dumbledore thinks you can withstand most major jinxes" (169). Argus Filch, on the other hand, delights in his menacing patrols of the Hogwarts corridors because, with Umbridge in charge, he announces to Harry that he will persecute the "filthy little beasts" and that he has the "power to whip you raw" (628).

Dickensian-sounding names re-enforce the power vs. authority pattern. With his constant scowls, scorn, and pursed lips, Percy Weasley is the scribe who grabs his handful of power and ferrets out Hogwarts students he dislikes. Umbridge's Grand Inquisitor power begins with Decree 22 appointing her as a teacher without Dumbledore's concurrence, an echo of Joseph Heller's novel of grim black humor. The dragon child, Draco Malfoy is filled with bad faith and basks in the reflected glow of his Death Eater father Lucius' false light. The power-crazy head of the Ministry of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, lives up to his surname with his hasty accusations and falsified reports. Dumbledore, on the other hand, has a name deriving from the medieval word for 'bumble bee': he surveys his scenery, but knows when to sting his enemies.

Even the periodicals produced by the power group and authority group differ. The Ministry of Magic's The Daily Prophet is totalitarian nonsense that echoes the old Communist rag, The Daily Worker. In The Daily Prophet, stories always reflect the party line and are filled with Ministry propaganda. Luna Lovegood's father continually seeks a variety of opinions for his The Quibbler, an echo perhaps of Addison and Steele's noteworthy eighteenth-century British publications, The Spectator and The Tatler. Lovegood's writers earn the respect of readers because their quills move with quiet authority, resulting in articles with shrewd insight.

Finally, the opposition of power versus authority is represented in the novel's principle theme--the need for unity in the face of division--a theme the Sorting Hat announces at the opening night Hogwarts' assembly:
 For our Hogwarts is in danger
 From external, deadly foes
 And we must unite inside her
 Or we'll crumble from within.


Voldemort and his underlings separate, isolate, and torture individuals, almost always one at a time. Harry Potter, however, has listened to the Sorting Hat and follows Hermione's suggestion and organizes a secret Defense Against the Dark Arts class. Harry's group unifies because it represents all four student houses at Hogwarts. Nor does Harry ever impose his will; he is, in fact, elected leader by his cohorts. If Voldemort makes his usual end-of-book appearance brandishing power behind a cloaked face for evil ends, Harry is always out in the open leading others in the good fight based on the authority they have freely vested in him.

Bill McCarron, Texas A&M-Commerce
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Author:McCarron, Bill
Publication:Notes on Contemporary Literature
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2008
Words:749
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