First things first: I loved Prisoner of Azkaban. I could not put it down. I am onto book 4. That is a big deal for me. Since I started Reel Girl, I have read the first book of many series, because I want to get a good idea of what is out there. It is rare that I keep going and going, but with Harry Potter, I cannot stop.
Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite book so far, and I loved the first two. For me, reading Harry Potter is like being in an incredible relationship where you fall more in love everyday.
Part of the reason I was so into this book was the dementors, terrifying and compelling new characters. J. K. Rowling’s description of them is one of the scariest I have read in kidlit:
Standing in the doorway, illuminated by the shivering flames in Lupin’s hand, was a cloaked figure that towered to the ceiling. Its face was completely hidden beneath its hood. Harry’s eyes darted downward and what he saw made his stomach contract. There was a hand protruding from the cloak and it was glistening, grayish, slimy-looking, and scabbed, like something dead that had decayed in water.
But it was only visible for a split second. As though the creature beneath the cloak sensed Harry’s gaze, the hand was suddenly withdrawn into the folds of its black cloak.
And then the thing beneath the hood, whatever it was, drew a long, slow, rattling breath, as though it were trying to suck something more than air from its surroundings.
An intense cold swept over them all. Harry felt his own breath catch in his chest. Th ecold went deeper than his skin. It was inside his chest. It was inside his very heart…
The scabby hand looking like it had decayed in water! EEK.
So are we clear, I love Harry Potter?
Not only do I love it, J.K. Rowling is the writer. She can call herself the androgynous “J.K.” if she wants to, for God’s sake. And, if she wants to create an imaginary world that is a patriarchy, it is her right to do so.
But this is what I want to write about it: Harry Potter’s world, both the Muggle one and Hogwarts, are patriarchies. Before I read Harry Potter, I was often told that the series is populated with strong females, and it is. But the females are sidelined to the males, and it’s important to recognize that there is not gender equality in this popular series the way there is in the The Hunger Games. The reason this inequality is important to acknowledge is because the imaginary world, 99% of the time, is sexist. If we cannot imagine equality, we cannot create it.
Okay, have I qualified my criticism enough?
Here we go. I am going to point out how the sexism of Hogwarts and the Muggle world that I have already referred to in previous posts is further advanced in Prisoner of Azkaban.
First, the book cover:
The cover shows Harry riding Buckbeak, the Hippogriff, with Hermione clinging to his back. How many times have you seen this image of male in front, girl behind? It’s all over kidlit, in movies and in books, and my God, its all over the grown up world. It’s everywhere on the streets when you see a guy on his bike, the woman behind him. Do you ever see a female alone on her dragon? What about a dragon that is also a female, like in for example the reverse of “How to Train Your Dragon,” which features a male rider and male beast. Do you ever see a female rider with the male behind her, clinging to her back? This gendered, repetitive image sends the message that the male drives while the female is along for the ride. It’s a powerful message and it’s everywhere in the imaginary world. I was disappointed to see it in Harry Potter.
Then there is Lupin. I loved Lupin, but he is the third male Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, the most important class at Hogwarts.
Sirius Black is a great character, but also male. I loved discovering the history of friendship between Harry Potter’s dad, Lupin, Sirius, Peter Pettigrew, but they are all male. Lily, Harry’s mother, apparently hung out with the group, but she wasn’t an animagus. She was the only female.
Mrs. Weasley and Mrs. Dursley are both homemakers while Mr. Weasley and Mr. Dursley have careers that factor into the plot.
Percy Weasley is the Head Boy. For a while, I couldn’t even figure out if there is a Head Girl. I have, now, seen the Head Girl referred to, but I don’t know her name or what she does. She has no role in the book so far.
The Minister of Magic is male and the headmaster of Hogwarts is male. Hogwarts was started by two males and two females 1000 years ago and that is progressive, but the two houses started by the males, Gryffindor and Slytherin, dominate the series.
Chang Cho, the Ravenclaw seeker, is the only girl on the team. Would there be a Quidditch team with only one male? Is there a female captain? So far the rivalry between Slytherin and Gryffindor is between two male captains.
To me, it seems like Quidditch is a boy’s game in which girls are allowed to play. I feel the same way about the series.