Harry Potter and the Oblivious Wizards

I recently read this Cracked article on Harry Potter, and thought it had some valid points, especially as far as the wizards being unaware of Muggle culture goes. Admittedly, I didn’t think about this all that much when actually reading the books, which says a lot for J.K. Rowling’s ability to create suspension of disbelief. Thinking more about it, however, it just doesn’t make that much sense. While there are frequent references to “the wizarding world,” the word “world” is used in a figurative sense. It’s not really an other-world in the sense of Oz or Narnia or Middle-Earth, but rather hidden parts of our own world. In fact, we’re told that there’s only one fully functional wizard village in England; otherwise it’s mostly just limited to buildings and streets. And as fun as the thought is that there might be hidden magic shops right in London, it just seems that the wizards are more separate from the Muggle world than would make sense. It’s easy to understand why Muggles don’t know about wizards, because they keep their activities purposely hidden, and have magical means of doing so. Why would the wizards know so little about Muggles, though? If many of them live in towns that are primarily inhabited by non-magicians, these people would be their neighbors. And while you don’t have to interact a whole lot with your neighbors (I know I never have), you’re going to at least see certain things about them, like how they dress and what hand-held electronic devices they have. So there’s really no excuse for wizards going undercover to wear bizarre outfits, other than for the humor value. They’ll almost certainly have seen enough Muggles to have at least a basic idea of how they dress, even if they don’t keep up with fashion. And they’re going to come across the occasional cell phone and iPod, right? (Okay, I guess the books take place in the nineties, so maybe Walkmans would be more appropriate than iPods, but the point still stands.)

Even if a wizard chooses not to have a telephone, they’d still likely have some idea of what one is. I would imagine the Amish know what telephones are, and they’re typically more isolated than wizards are said to be.

The point about schooling and career opportunities for wizards being very limited is also interesting, especially in light of my own inability to find gainful employment. If you’re not independently wealthy, you can work for the government, open a shop, or work at a small variety of service jobs. Your education is highly specialized from the time you’re eleven years old, so even if you DID want to get another job, wouldn’t you be less qualified that the average Muggle high school drop-out? I don’t know. Maybe there are ways around that, like adapting magic for use in other pursuits. Still, it’s an incredibly specialized society. The government also raises questions. We know that wizards in the United Kingdom are led by the Minister of Magic, but does he answer to anybody?

The fact that he’s a minister suggests that he’s under the Prime Minister, but while the two of them do communicate occasionally (see the beginning of Half-Blood Prince for details), he acts more like a foreign leader who happens to live in the same country. Is it like tribal nations within the United States? How much say does the Prime Minister have over the Minister of Magic? If Muggle government authorities are at least somewhat familiar with the wizarding world, why do they never try to bring the wizards under their control? Is fear the only thing that keeps them from doing this? The relationship between magical and non-magical society just isn’t really fleshed out enough in a world where they’re supposed to be living side-by-side.

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