The Ultimate Harry Potter & Philosophy: Hogwarts For Muggles, Edited by Gregory Bassham
As philosophers are always trying to justify and legitimize their efforts at deep thought, it should come as little surprise that Harry Potter (along with House, The Simpsons, Batman, The Hobbit & The Lord Of The Rings, and Alice In Wonderland, along with a host of other cultural artifacts) has been mined by philosophers hungry for contemporary relevance. What is a surprise, perhaps, is that there are actually some essays here that live up to the aims of the authors in providing worthwhile food for thought, which may be a greater surprise for at least some of those who pick up this book.
The essays of this work are divided into five sections: identity questions, love, freedom and politics, a section of miscellaneous essays, and one on death and the afterlife. Most of the essays show that the philosophers who are writing the articles have at least read Harry Potter (and many of them include amusing inside jokes in the contributors’ section at the end), making at least some aspects of this work appear like upscale versions of fanboy or fangirl essays. Indeed, as is often the case with such works, we learn a great deal more about the political and philospohical baises of the philosophers themselves than we learn about Harry Potter from these pages, but that is inevitable with this sort of project, I suppose. We hear a lot about Plato and Aristotle, about the two waves of feminism and arguments over the soul and destiny, but as the authors are humanists and not biblically-inclined individuals, what we learn here is human-centered rather than God-centered, and should be taken with a grain of salt accordingly.
The most thoughtful of the essays are honest about their perspectives and biases, and some of the essays (including one dealing with patriotism) were quite excellent. Overall, though, it is a mixed bag of essays, with several of the essays contradicting others, and occasionally some of them even contradicting themselves (the essay on radical feminism in Harry Potter is perhaps the worst offender in this regard). For those who are interested in seeing the deeper meanings of children’s literature, as I am prone to do on occasion, there is much to offer here in this book, provided that one is willing to suffer through a lot of armchair philosophizing of mixed quality. This is not a book that can be wholeheartedly enjoyed, but the book is worthwhile on at least a modest level to show how contemporary philosophers attempt to latch on to any sort of popular cultural behaviors as a way of showing their own relevance to society at a time where philosophy does not exactly have a high degree of prestige and cachet.