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Monica Kempski


Professor Uman


Prejudice in Harry Potter

Imagine you are an orphan who lives with your abusive aunt and uncle.

Besides your glasses and an unusual scar on your forehead, you have no form of

personal identity; therefore, you feel worthless. Suddenly, your life changes as you

become introduced to a wondrous magical world, where you feel you truly belong.

This is the story of the Harry Potter books. Although the series are often regarded as

children’s books, J.K. Rowling’s phenomenon has touched millions and millions of

people worldwide. What most people identify with Harry Potter is the idea of waving

wands and flying around on broomsticks; however, the story is much more than

that. What most people fail to see is that there are very important themes that take

the story to a whole new, more complex level. Throughout her books, J.K. Rowling

makes it apparent that racism is wrong through the actions of “evil” characters;

however, even good characters will continue to engage in such activity because it

gives them a sense of higher status or acceptance in society. Thus, it is important

to overcome racism and stand up for what is right: this lesson is definitely evident in

Rowling’s work.

As a whole, the Harry Potter series contains evidence of racism. Throughout

the seven novels, people are judged by the “blood-type” they have in relation to

being a wizard. The different blood types found in the wizarding world contribute to
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the notion of racial superiority. The all wizard blood type is prestigious and deemed

superior to the part wizards, creatures, or the pure muggles. Furthermore, these

different levels of society contribute to feelings of unjustified hatred towards

different groups in society. To sum up the racist relations between the different

types of wizards, the muggles, and the creatures, Rowling created a gargantuan

symbol of the superior racist attitudes felt by some wizards- the Fountain of Magical

Brethren located in the Ministry of Magic. The fountain features a noble witch and

wizard “sitting on mounds of carved humans: hundreds and hundreds of naked

bodies, [muggle] men, women, and children, all with rather stupid, ugly faces,

twisted and pressed together to support the weight of the handsomely robed

wizard” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 242). Thus, the muggles are the foundations of

wizards, yet they are to be held as subservient to a wizard’s needs. Their “stupid

ugly faces” also portray that the muggles are unintelligent and inferior to wizards.

In addition to this thrown, the fountain contains an elf, a goblin, and a centaur

looking adoringly at the wizards. Thus, the wizards are portrayed as godly leaders in

the eyes of the creatures (even though ample evidence points to their abuse by

wizards). A final detail in the statue is the inscription of “Magic is Might.”

Consequently, this reflects the superior wizarding feeling that having magic gives a

person power and elite status. Upon analyzing this statue, one can conclude that

wizards are being portrayed as dominant over every living creature and human.

J.K Rowling has a particular way of portraying the racist characters in her

novels. Uncoincidently, all of the evil racist characters are mean or biologically

awkward. These descriptions make the reader unable to like the character or

connect to him or her. In turn, they see the character’s racist ideas as wrong. To

begin, Draco Malfoy is portrayed several times as malicious and unfeeling. When
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the first incident of the Chamber of Secrets occurs, Rowling creates the scene

where Draco states “You’ll be next, Mudbloods!“ and follows with the description

“He had pushed to the front of the crowd, his cold eyes alive, his usually bloodless

face flushed, as he grinned at the sight of the hanging, immobile cat” (Rowling,

Chamber of Secrets 139). This scene definitely portrays the notion of Draco being a

racist by using the term “mud-blood” to refer to the muggle-born. In addition, they

way he pushed thought the crowd serves as evidence that he thinks he is superior

to everyone else and can treat them unfairly. To portray him as unfavorable,

Rowling provides Malfoy with an adverse description of “cold eyes” and a “usually

blood-less face.” With these “cold eyes alive” and “usually bloodless face flushed”

one can assume that Draco is excited by the killing of people inferior to him.

The Gaunt family also receives unnerving depictions from Rowling. Morfin

Gaunt, the man who tried to harm a muggle was described as having “thick hair so

matted with dirt it could have been any color. Several of his teeth were missing. His

eyes were small and dark and stared in opposite directions. He might have looked

comical, but he did not; the effect was frightening” (Rowling, Half-Blood Prince 201).

Rowling’s zany description of the character could only go with her belief that

Morfin’s racist ideas are as crazy as his description. The evil Lord Voldemort also

has disturbing characteristics that make his racist ideals not relatable. Upon his

return to power, Harry describes his face as “whiter than a skull, with wide, livid

scarlet eyes and a nose that was flat as a snake’s with slits for nostrils” (Rowling,

Goblet of Fire 643). With his snake-like inhuman appearance, Lord Voldemort is

automatically assumed as evil, along with all of his racist beliefs.

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In addition to the evil characters being racist, there are also several

characters that do not follow Voldemort who engage in racist actions or comments.

These characters are either unaware of it, or they do so to be accepted by society

or to feel superior themselves. The most chilling form of ill-treatment of muggle-

borns happens in the last book of the series, Deathly Hallows. At this time in the

series, countless muggle-borns go into hiding because Lord Voldemort and his

purifying Death Eaters are rising to power. As they progress to take over the

Ministry of Magic, a law passes that requires all muggle-borns to register under the

government. The muggle-borns will have their wand snapped unless they can prove

that they have at least one magical family member. With this registration, the

muggle-borns are blamed for illegally stealing magical powers, which made them fit

for the punishment of death. Unfortunately, no one fights to stop this act because it

became law. People are afraid of challenging the law because they fear that they

will bring up on trial against society and therefore will not be accepted .Thus, the

wizarding community continues to let this racist action happen to comply with the

general public and the government overseers.

The muggle registration mentioned in the above paragraph is an alarming

comparison to the Nazi’s acts to Jewish people in Germany under Hitler’s regime.

Hilter hated the Jews and used them as a scapegoat for Germany’s problems after

the First World War. He believed that a country who allowed mixed-blood marriages

would fall, and promoted propaganda against all Jews. Thus, he banned marriage

and sexual relations with Jews, and required Jews to register under the government.

In comparison, the mixed-blood marriages between muggles and wizards are

discouraged by prestigious families of society. These rules were called the

“Nuremberg Laws,” or the “Law for the Protection of German Blood and German
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Honor” (Gellately 122). It is also important to call attention to the term of a

“mischling,” a person of mixed race (Gellately 123). This is similar to the derogatory

term of “mud-blood” in Harry Potter. Next, the names of Jews were published in the

newspapers, just as names of muggles were in Rowling’s work. Finally, one should

note that Jews were charged with “race defilement” (Gellately 125). Muggle-borns

were accused of illegally stealing power from wizards, just as Jews were charged

with corrupting the human race. In both cases, all of these regulations were

accepted in society by the people because they came from the government who

threatened protesters. Robert Gellately brings to attention in his book Peter

Longerich’s idea that people who disagreed “dared object only on pragmatic

grounds about the violence or the destruction of property” (123). With this quote,

Longerich explains that most Germans felt they had boundaries to the extent of

their actions due to fear of what may happen to them if they publically disagree

with the regime. Thus, to be accepted by society, Germans followed the laws of the

country regardless of their horrid content for the purpose of saving their own lives.

This can also be justified to the Harry Potter series by the limited actions that

wizards took to overthrow the powerful threatening system ruled by Lord

Voldemort. Mikhail Lyubansky also offers ideas as to why racist actions persist. In

his article, he deals with racism in Harry Potter by poking fun at Voldemort’s

identification as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” by referring to race as “The-Word-

That-Shall-Not-Be-Named” in his article’s title. Thus, he is saying that race is a

taboo subject among many people in society. Thus, the people that do nothing

about racial actions are not drawing attention towards racism, to fit into society.

This was just like in Nazi Germany. Marion Kaplan notes that “the regime

transformed Jews into the object of a general hateful taboo” (Gellately 123). Here,
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Jews were not to be talked about, just an object of unjustified hatred. This taboo was

done to avoid speculation and criticism about Nazi actions. Similarly, Voldemort and

his regime utilize for their baseless loathing towards the muggles.

With this event in the Harry Potter books, a reader can see that this parallel

of history is extremely important. Edmund Kern states in his article that “Harry’s

adventures may gently encourage readers to see both themselves and important

contemporary issues in light of current events” (194). I disagree by the use of his

word “gently.” I believe with the support by all of my evidence from my primary and

secondary sources that the series strongly displays current events and issues of

racism that are happening in the world. In fact, I believe that the allegories of

racism are so strong that they are hard for a reader to miss, and serve as excellent

representations of real-life feelings of superiority and acceptance through acts of

racism. Thus, I reiterate the Nazi-Voldemort allegory. Even though the Nazi regime

may not be extremely contemporary, it teaches people an important lesson through

history. It shows that if people had joined together against the evil fear spreading

dictator, things may have gone differently. Thousands of people’s lives would have

been saved if the people of Germany or the wizards took actions to stand up for

what is moral.

Both good and bad characters engage in “passing” to fit in with wizarding

society. Passing is the act of “denying racial heritage to avoid prejudice” (Ostry

195). This is a racial act because people who use this wish to be something else, all

because they are uncomfortable with the racial groups they are in. The Death

Eaters engage in passing when they all claim to be pure-blood. They refute their

muggle heritage to comply with their own society sculpted by Lord Voldemort, the
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muggle-hating Dark Lord. Professor Snape is one of these Death Eaters. However,

readers come to find in Deathly Hallows that Snape is a good character who is a

Death Eater to act as a “double-agent" for Dumbledore. This way, he can trick Lord

Voldemort into trusting him and can pass information which could be key to his

downfall. In addition to only being accepted by Lord Voldemort if he refutes his

muggle heritage, Snape has ulterior motives for his racist attitude when one

examines his father. When Harry trespasses into Snape’s memories he sees “a

hooked-nosed man [shouted] at a cowering woman, while a dark-haired boy cried in

a corner” (Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 592). In another memory, a young Snape

and Lily are talking. “’How are things at your house?’ Lily asked. A little crease

appeared between his eyes. ‘Fine,’ he said….He picked up a fistful of leaves and

began tearing them apart, apparently unaware of what he was doing” (Rowling,

Deathly Hallows 667). Both of these memories serve to show that Snape had an

abusive muggle father. In the first memory, the woman would not be cowering if

she wasn’t afraid that the shouting man (Snape’s father) would hit her. In the

second memory Snape seems unsettled by the upbringing of the conversation

about his home. The crease amid his eyes is a sign of worry, as well as the action of

him subconsciously picking apart the leaves. By him being out of mind, this also

shows that he is in deep thought about his home life. Thus, Snape was probably

concerned with the state of his mother and himself from being abused at home.

Naturally, Snape grew up hating muggles just because his father did not treat him

well in his early life. In addition, Snape was majorly unpopular and bullied

throughout his Hogwarts career. However, he found friends among the future Death

Eaters. Thus, to be accepted by them, he developed his attitude against muggles by

using racial slurs. Therefore, it is concluded that he originally acts racist towards
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muggles and muggle-borns to feel superior to his cruel father, in addition to being

accepted his friends. Then once he figures out the error of his beliefs, he acts racist

to be accepted by Lord Voldemort for good intentions of playing as a double-agent.

Even the greatest of wizards, Harry’s valued mentor Albus Dumbledore, had

a racist attitude of muggles and wizarding superiority to fulfill his thirst for power.

When he was young, he believed that the wizards were superior beings to muggles,

and it was the wizard’s duty to control them. He explains that this obligation is for

the overall well-being of the world in a letter to his friend Grindelwald:

Yes, we have been giver power and yes, that power gives us the right

to rule, but it also gives us responsibilities over the ruled. That power

gives us the right to rule, but it also gives us responsibility over the

ruled…..We seize control FOR THE GREATER GOOD. And from this it

follows that where we meet resistance, we must use only the force that

is necessary and no more. (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 357)

Thus, Dumbledore sought to control muggles by force under the notion that wizards

are better than muggles because they are more powerful. He justifies his racial

belief as correct by thinking that the need to control the muggles is for their own

protection. However, his idea proved to be more dangerous and bluntly wrong

when it was put to action. Grindelwald eventually rose to be a dark and powerful

wizard on the basis of Dumbledore’s idea. When he was powerful, he gathered an

army of wizards seeking to build a wizarding realm to overthrow the muggles. Using

terror, he would force them to be slaves. In conclusion, Dumbledore’s racist idea of

a totalitarian regime turned out to hurt more people than help them. Even though
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the basis of Dumbledore’s idea was for the good cause of protection, people were

terrorized and killed to do so.

Harry’s best friend Ron is sometimes a racist, but he is unaware of his

actions. Mostly, Ron’s family upbringing of being raised in a wizard environment

acts as a catalyst for his racist actions. Therefore, he unconsciously reflects the

beliefs and values of the general wizard community even if they go against a

certain group in society. One type of creature that are victims of racist actions by

wizards are the giants. In the series, they are described as having an unmanageable

ferocious lifestyle and low intelligence. These beings are forced to live in the

mountains, segregated from wizards. Even though they were threatening, no wizard

sought to tame them and treat them as equals because wizards thought their

society superior towards the giant’s culture. When Ron describes his beliefs to

Harry, he says, “They’re just vicious, giants… they’re like trolls…they just like

killing, everyone knows that” (Rowling, Goblet of Fire, 430). Here, he reflects the

wizarding racist belief that giants are uncivilized. By saying “everyone knows that,”

he is falsely assuming that all people agree to this statement. He is also displaying

that this has become a normal wizarding belief about giants. An exception to this

statement is the gamekeeper and Harry’s close friend, Hagrid. After an adventure,

he brought back his giant half-brother, Grawp to tame him. Throughout the series,

Hagrid works at this goal, and achieves some level of success. Grawp starts

speaking English and becomes less violent. Hence, Grawp is able to become

civilized and treated like an equal if given the chance. However, most wizards

deem this task unfathomable just like Ron because they were taught the racist

belief and it was normalized to think that giants are wild, vicious creatures.
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Ron also reflects the racist beliefs of society through his notion regarding

house-elves. He believes that the elves are just fine how they are. Even at fourteen

years old, Ron uses the phrase “we’ve ben working like house-elves” as an

expression to refer to intense work (Rowling, Goblet of Fire 223). By using this

expression, he is conditioned to use this racist phrase as a normal figure of speech.

Therefore he sees nothing wrong with what he is referring to, even at the maturity

level of a teenager. Hermione, unlike Ron, sees the injustice involved in elf

enslavement, “‘There are house-elves here?’ she said staring, horror-struck…’Here

at Hogwarts…But don’t they get paid?...They get holidays, don’t they? And sick-

leave, and pensions, and everything?” (Rowling, Goblet of Fire 181-82). With these

questions and the answer of no, she takes it upon herself to start an organization

called the “Society to Promote Elvish Welfare.” Despite her efforts, Ron is

unenthusiastic to crusade with Hermione’s organization and sees it as pointless. He

even tells Hermione to “open [her] ears. They. Like. It. They like being enslaved!”

(Rowling, Goblet of Fire 224). However, how does he know how an elf feels? This

can only contribute to the unjustified notions that he grew up with, so he is

conditioned to see enslavement as normal. One of Hermione’s efforts to free the

house-elves is to leave hats out for them to receive so they can be free. Even when

she thinks she succeeds, Ron makes fun of her idea, “The hats have gone,"

Hermione said happily. "Seems the house-elves do want freedom after all.""I

wouldn't bet on it," Ron told her cuttingly. "They might not count as clothes. They

didn't look anything like hats to me, more like woolly bladders" (Rowling, Order of

the Phoenix 256). By insulting her, he is making her intentions sound silly and

pointless. Although, Rowling makes the reader sympathize Hermione’s actions. It

was not by accident that Rowling gave Hermione the most prominently activist role
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in the series. Hermione is extremely smart and is even called “the cleverest witch of

[her] age” (Rowling, Prisoner of Azkaban 346). With this characterization of

Hermione, a reader can conclude that her actions are intellectual, and that she can

be a reliable leader. Thus, they will see that it is intelligent to be politically active,

and Hermione’s actions against racism are correct and reasonable. People will then

aspire to be like Hermione, and actively stand up against racism.

With the evidence of Ron’s unenthusiastic actions regarding house-elves, a

picture is definitely being shaped that Ron is a racist. However, Steven Patterson

comes to Ron’s defense in his article. He claims, “It is true that the house-elf

enslavement is a bad thing, but just because it is bad doesn’t mean that others

have a duty to prevent it. After all, it is unreasonable to hold everyone to a duty to

make the world a more perfect place” (110). However, one can argue that a

sensibly moral person would naturally be compelled to help the apparent

disadvantaged people, even if their actions were only on a very low scale to prevent

this racism. Only society’s influence can cloud these natural moral feelings, as it

had in Ron’s particular case.

However, with Ron’s attitude regarding the giants, Karen Brown expresses “if

it were not for his friendship with Hermione and Harry, Ron might never have come

to an understanding that [race] simply does not matter” (9). This can be considered

true due to Ron’s wizarding upbringing and the superior feeling and notions it

comes with. However, it can be assumed that Ron’s character is morally good, but

his feelings against certain groups are due to “ignorant hatred” (Kern 62). This

means that due to his upbringing, his beliefs are baseless because he is only

reflecting on what he is taught to believe, whether he is consciously aware of it or

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not. Therefore, one must actively stand up to racism so that people who are

unaware of their own racist actions, like Ron, can realize the wrongs that they do

not mean to commit.

Even though there are numerous characters that are intentionally or

unintentionally racist in the Harry Potter novels, J.K Rowling implies that the reader

must take action to reverse this horrid notion. Brycchan Carey makes the

observation in his article that the Harry Potter novels “offer a range of political

models for young people to explore and emulate” (106). In saying so, the novels

can act as the guidelines of action if a reader wants to bring racial mistreatment to

attention. Thus, the books teach the readers to be abolitionists, and to recognize

racial prejudice in reality through the actions of many characters.

A political representation that Carey notes is through Harry’s struggle against

Lord Voldemort. First, he notes Harry has a “team playing spirt” (105). Harry knows

he cannot accomplish his task because of lacking skill or ability; therefore, he relies

on the help others, like Hermione, Ron, and Dumbledore to achieve his goals. With

this model, a person is taught that it is appropriate to have others help in order to

overcome racism. Courtney Strimel supports Carey’s argument that teamwork can

help achieve a goal to conquer racism. In her article, she brings up the example of

the Muggles being tortured both physically and psychologically at the Quidditch

World Cup by the Death Eaters. Even though the Death Eaters spread their chaotic

terror and was frightening, she notes that the wizards who stopped the act were

calm and worked together. Thus, racial actions can be halted if people remember to

stay unruffled and join together as a team. Another example of defeating racist

actions as a team is in the seventh Harry Potter novel. When they enter the Ministry
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of Magic, Harry, Ron, and Hermione stray away from their initial operation to help

the countless muggle-borns escape their registration and death sentence. Here,

they are risking their lives to execute a great counter-action to save numerous lives

of innocent people. Together, they distract the Ministry and fight for each other’s

safety when their actions become noticed. Thus, only with teamwork could they

attempt to defeat racism by freeing many innocent people from unjustified

punishment that is only due to their race.

Carey also brings attention to the political model that Hermione emulates to

overcome racism and prejudice when she creates her S.P.E.W. campaign. He notes

that her actions are “rational and public minded” (105). Therefore, she uses her

witnesses of house-elf mistreatment to motivate her actions. In doing so, she relies

on her own intelligence and emotions to instruct her with what she needs to do to

achieve her goal. Other characters follow Hermione’s model of action to stand up

against racism and prejudice. At the earliest introduction of racism in the books

where Hermione is made fun of by Draco, Ron attempts to curse him for his actions.

Like Hermione, he is being rational by relying on his experiences and his concerned

emotion towards Hermione’s feelings to stand up against racism which is what he

thinks is right. Ron thinks that racism should not be tolerated or expressed

colloquially, so he is publicly acting to halt Draco’s actions by threatening him with

a curse. Harry also rationally comes to a defense against muggle-born prejudice in

the sixth novel. Professor Slughorn makes a comment to Harry that, “[I] Thought

she must have been pure-blood, she was so good” (Rowling, Half-Bood Prince 70)

when referring to Harry’s muggle-born mother’s extraordinary ability in Potions

class. He then comments that it is odd that it happens to be that some muggle-

borns are intelligent. Harry on the other hand, rushes to the muggle-born’s defense.
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He specifically mocks Slughorn of his statement, implying that he thinks Slughorn is

prejudice and that this belief is wrong. Therefore, Harry is taking direct action to

notify Slughorn of his unjust actions of prejudice. Ultimately, he acts through his

experience of his intelligent muggle-born friend Hermione, and his compassionate

feelings towards her. In conclusion, Harry is also relying on his experiences and

emotions to stand up against racism in the society of the wizarding world.

Certain deeds of the characters give hope for the overcoming of racism in the

wizarding world. With racist and non-racist actions and feelings displayed by the

characters, a reader can conjecture the correct moral path in life. Upon this

discovery, they learn to stray away from racism by tolerating people different from

themselves in the real world, which is the central lesson of the Harry Potter series.

Thus, literature can be very important in a person’s life because stories like Harry

Potter show examples of moral actions of fighting against racism and prejudice that

are often missed by people in reality. In this way, children’s literature becomes that

much more complex by inexplicitly shaping the attitudes of its readers, making the

world a better and more tolerant place. Peter Hollingdale abridges this idea

perfectly, “All children’s literature is inescapably didactic….which gives order to

chaos” (30).
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Works Cited

Anatol, Giselle Liza, ed. Reading Harry Potter: critical essays. Westport, CT: Praeger

Publishers, 2003. Print.

Brown, Karen A. Prejudice in Harry Potter’s World. College Station, TX: Publishing Inc, 2008. Print.

Carey, Brycchan. “Hermione and the House-Elves: The Literary and Historical

Contexts of J.K. Rowling’s Antislavery Campaign.” Anatol 103-16. Print.

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Gellately, Robert. Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany. New York:

Oxford University Press Inc, 2001. Print.

Hollingdale, Peter. “Ideology and the Children’s Book.” New York, NY: Thimble Press,

1988. Print.

Kern, Edmund M. “The Wisdom of Harry Potter: What Our Favorite Hero Teaches Us

About Moral Choices.” Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003. Print.

Lyubansky, Mikhail. “Harry Potter and the Word that shall not Be Named.” The

Psychology of Harry Potter: An Unauthorized Examination of the Boy Who

Lived. Ed. Neil Mulholland. Dallas, TX: Boenbella Books, 2006. 233-48. Print.

Ostry, Elaine. “Accepting Mudbloods: The Ambivalent Social Vision of J.K. Rowling’s

Fairy Tales.” Anatol 89-102. Print.

Patterson, Steven. "Kreacher’s Lament: S.P.E.W. as a Parable on Discrimination,

Indifference, and Social Justice." Harry Potter and philosophy: if Aristotle ran

Hogwarts . Baggett, David, and Shawn Klein, eds. Peru, IL: Carus Publishing

Company, 2004. 105-18. Print.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic, 1999.


---. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic, 2007.Print.

---. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, 2000. Print.

---. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005. Print.

---. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, 2003. Print.
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Strimel, Courtney B. “The Politics of Terror: Re-Reading Harry Potter.” Children’s

Literature in Education 35.1 (2004): 35-52. Web. 18 Mar. 2010.