If any tale is truly as “old as time”, then it is probably the struggle of Good versus Evil.
Every franchise has it: The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Avengers, and many, many more, so much more than I feel it would be redundant to even list them. Point is, there is always an “evil” faction, usually morally bankrupt and financially corrupt facing off against a “good” faction which upholds everything the villains do not (plus some unicorn, rainbow action for good measure). So, it would be absurd if Harry Potter did not have it as well.
Good and Evil appear in Harry Potter in a standard way. On one side, there is the alliance of Muggles, Witches and Wizards, and half-breeds who stand for diversity, inclusivity, and freedom (Hogwarts and the Order of the Phoenix). On the other side, meanwhile, we have the evil faction which upholds institutionalized racial and magical supremacy and fascism (Voldemort and the Death Eaters). Both sides face off and give us normal Muggles the show of a lifetime.
This is what we see in the books and films. But, we should ask ourselves an important albeit under-appreciated question—why?
This seems weird to ask at first, I know. Good and Evil, after all, are thought of as two sides of the same coin; you can’t have one without the other, much less a plot! Truth is, though, things aren’t that simple; remember, for example, that the Harry Potter universe is not merely a magical one. It is not like Tolkien’s “Middle Earth” where magic and monsters exist naturally alongside humanity and that is what was ever known. In Harry Potter, the magical world is hidden from the everyday human world. Monsters, creatures, and the affairs of witches and wizards are kept apart from humans. The world of Harry Potter is one which mixes the earthly and fantastical. It is one rooted in our understanding of history.
Considering this rooting in our history, we may perceive that the existence of “good” magical folk and “bad” magical folk means a fundamental differentiation from Muggle understandings of morality.
In the medieval period, all witches (a term understood to be largely gender neutral), were considered evil and beholden to the devil. To a muggle, then, a “good” witch, those who fight for social justice and democratic processes, would be a nonsense term—all witches were evil, all dealt with magic and so were tainted. In history, this belief boils over into the seventeenth century as fanatical witch hunts. In the world of Harry Potter, though, the morality is not so stark.
Witches and wizards divide themselves into how they act in relation to their beliefs, not for how they are. The Dark Arts are frowned upon but not explicitly outlawed (Durmstrang students, for example, are taught the Dark Arts for practical measures). It is only those criminals hurt another magical folk and non-magical folk that is arrested. So, though the Muggle world outlaws all witches and wizards based on a stringent morality, the magical community takes a deeper approach and sees “evil” as something enacted, as something performed.
Taking a contemporary example largely analogous to the Harry Potter magical community’s understanding of performance, we see similar attitudes regarding hacking: there are those who hack for good (White Hats) and those who hack for not-so-good reasons (Black Hats). It is not what one studies but how one uses that knowledge. Vague as it may seem, then, some magical attitudes do persist in us to this day, but in unexpected ways. In any case, today, things have improved for people in the Occult, so perhaps our time is better than the medieval. Regardless, morality in the Harry Potter universe is not quite as black and white as it may seem; not, at least, when one considers that opposing viewpoint.
(Note to regular readers: with the publication of this post comes the temporary end of this “season” of Medieval Harry Potter posts. There is still many more concepts and ideas to cover but, for now, I must turn my attention to other academic matters. Realistically, I do not see myself engaging with Harry Potter and medievalism again until the summer, so new posts shouldn’t be expected until next fall. I know this is a long time to wait and though there is always the possibility that I will be able to crank out a post or two in the meantime, I have many other obligations to attend to in addition to maintaining regular content on this blog. So, please be patient, enjoy my other content, such as Enchanted Assemblages, and help us grow by sharing these posts. Thank you.)