Ah, the magical world of Harry Potter. A land of quaintly rural British beauty filled with lush rolling hills, pretty snowcapped villages, mystical sweet shops, pet familiars, and–of course–the decadent candlelit halls of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Yet behind this idyllic facade there lies a dark set of truths which make the lovely, enchanted world of J.K. Rowling’s books and the corresponding films seem pretty terrifying. You don’t have to do much more than scratch the surface to realize that the magical place many of us grew up with is less of an exciting daydream and more of a nightmarish hellscape from which any child would be lucky to escape.
Getting a letter to attend Hogwarts is the wish of many a wizard and witch, a place where you can excel in spells, go on extravagant adventures, make love potions, and even fly. But what does that letter really mean? If you’re muggle-born, it means leaving traditional education to never again learn core skills like math, English, or science. There’s never a discussion about child wizards’ prior education, but even if we assume that they too learn core skills until the age of 10, it still means no adult wizards have access to academia above the elementary level. Though in the real world some people thrive without any kind of formal education, in the wizarding world this has very scary ramifications.
Kids are taught spells at random, depending on the whims of the very unreliable teachers who are often possessed or are themselves freaky fascist wizards. From transforming into animals to sometimes torturing and killing each other, the power that these children are handed without a rudimentary understanding of the most basic skills is terrifying. It also explains a lot about the way that the wizard world is governed. Though they keep their society a secret, the wizard world still exists within the muggle realm, so wizards will eventually deal with tangible concerns like electricity, cars, buildings, and clothing. Despite that, none of the adults even understand the simplest of these things. Arthur Weasley spends hours quizzing Harry about how an electrical plug works. It’s a wonder the whole place hasn’t burnt down.
One of the most startlingly awful institutions in this backwards feudal dreamland is the banking network, run entirely by Goblins, a group who are not only a historically anti-semitic trope but are also, in wizard culture, seemingly trapped in never-ending indentured servitude. After a great war, Goblins became a second class that was forced into serving wizards. Their prowess around money alongside their greed for gold (anti-semitic trope alarm!) led them to quickly become the unwilling powerhouses of the magical financial world. Which actually makes a hell of a lot of sense when you consider that even the youngest of the mature wizards haven’t studied math for at least a decade.
Life in a society like this can only continue if the traditions are perpetuated and continued institutionally, which is where Hogwarts comes in. It’s clearly a private school, evidenced early on when Harry is reassured by Hagrid that he can “afford” the education as his dead political dissident parents were mysteriously incredibly rich. This is honestly one of the worst things about the wizard world. Are there any public or state schools for the magically inclined? The answer is, seemingly, no. What does this mean for children who receive a letter but can’t afford to go to Hogwarts? How do they pursue an education in magic?
It explains one thing, though: the inexplicable whiteness of Hogwarts. If we’re to believe that Hogwarts is a private school that works within a class system and supremacist structure like our own world, then it’s fairly likely that there would be a racial disparity in the student body. That is, unless the wizards have worked out a way to create a world without structural racism as we know it, in which case Hogwarts should be completely integrated and inclusive. Alas, that’s not the case, which means the ruling class just don’t care. I guess their focus on one special small child who literally just didn’t die completely distracted them from the strident structural problems within their own secluded society.
Hogwarts is arguably the part of the wizarding world most culpable and also most damaging to our aspiring wizards. It’s a school where children are constantly dying, maimed, or at least traumatized by a variety of monsters, dragons, soul-sucking demons, or psychopathic wizards. Can you imagine the insurance premiums the Goblins must be charging that place? The recurrent deaths of children and the fact that students get turned into ferrets or casually fly around hundreds of feet above the ground at great personal risk in no way affects their parents’ desire to send them to this esteemed institution, seemingly based on nothing other that its name.
What about the muggle-born students who get accepted into Hogwarts? Is there any kind of counseling? Some kind acclimation period? The Hogwarts induction process literally seems to be, “Hey, everything you know is a lie. Here’s a magic wand and a spell to set things on fire. Have fun.” That doesn’t seem like it’ll do anyone much good, let alone a kid who’s never seen magic outside of their fifth birthday party. Also the entire secrecy and therefore safety of the wizarding world seems to be based on a trust system that assumes no 10-year-old is going to return home for summer break and start showing off their newly acquired magical powers, which–let’s be real–would definitely happen.
A school would be nothing without its teachers and Hogwarts is no different because the faculty are just as horrifying as the institution itself. The HR department is lacking to the point that on two separate cases they’ve hired teachers who’re either possessed by Voldemort or directly working for him. Staff keep incredibly dangerous creatures on the premises like giant spiders, trolls, a cerebus, and the giant basilisk that lives under the school and has already killed at least one kid. R.I.P. Moaning Myrtle.
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Who’s to blame, you may ask, for this atrocious alumni-turned-treacherous teaching staff? That would be Dumbledore, the man we’re asked to believe is not only the most powerful and best wizard on Earth but also a loving father figure to his young charges. Except he’s not. At all. First things first, let’s talk about how Albus Dumbledore left a young Harry with his abusive wizard-hating family for the entirety of his formative life, and when it suited ol’ Albus he groomed Harry to die in a race war. Dumbledore had done this before, mind you, when he recruited a barely adult Severus Snape and blackmailed him into becoming his lifelong spy, taking advantage of Snape’s love (er, stalkerish obsession) with Harry’s dead mother to force him into being an unwilling and often cruel mentor/protector to Harry.
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Who knows? Maybe the wizards have learned their lesson. Maybe their post-Voldemort society is an inclusive utopia that has moved beyond its clearly troubled past. We can only hope that there’s been a huge positive mobilization within the wizard community after the Battle of Hogwarts. But for now, we can at least take comfort in the way that the wizarding world has progressed in the past few years. Dumbledore, it now turns out, was gay and was totally dating (or at least in love with) the renowned evil wizard, Grindlewald (which, to be honest, is very Dumbledore), Hermione it turns out has been an amazing black woman this entire time (which also makes sense when we look at the emotional labor Ron and Harry expected from her), and Potter fans continue to diversify the wizarding world with their unbelievable fan casts and fan fics. Maybe one day the wizard world will become the beautiful place we created as kids.
Did you ever notice the weird darkness that lay beneath Hogsmeade’s cobbled streets? Did I just ruin your childhood? Or are you still waiting for your Hogwarts acceptance letter? Apparate into the comments and let us know!
Images: Warner Bros