The London papers are full of comments this week marking the 20th anniversary of the publication of the first Harry Potter novel. In The Spectator, associate editor Toby Young looks at the political and cultural influences that contributed to J K Rowling’s creation:
Rowling is often criticised for lifting many elements from classic children’s literature, but the book I was reminded of when I read Harry Potter to my daughter was Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. I don’t just mean the glamorised portrait of upper-class, English education. In addition, there’s the romantic longing for a prelapsarian aristocratic society, an England uncontaminated by bungalows and privet hedges. And this is what’s so fascinating about Rowling’s politics. She regards herself as a card-carrying member of the Labour party, a progressive at ease in the modern world, and she is careful to tick all the relevant ‘diversity’ boxes, as Lara Prendergast pointed out last week. But beneath this politically correct exterior lurks an old-fashioned Tory struggling to get out.
As with Waugh, Rowling’s artistic ambition seems to stem from a blow to her amour propre and a desire to reclaim her rightful place in the world. In Waugh’s case it was being sent to Lancing rather than Sherborne because of his older brother’s expulsion for buggery. For Rowling, it was a combination of not getting into Oxford, the failure of her first marriage, and ending up in Edinburgh as a single mother on benefits.
After mentioning an apparent interest of both Waugh and Rowling in the Mitford sisters (Rowling in Jessica and her socialism, Waugh in the others), Young concludes:
Rowling has a bluestocking quality that reminds me of Beatrice Webb, co-founder of the Fabian Society and an admirer of Stalin. Who knows, in a follow-up novel Harry Potter might grow up to become Labour leader. His creator’s subterranean fascist impulses should serve him in good stead.