Ending Dualism at Hogwarts: Reading Harry Potter as Postmodern Apocalyptic Fiction*

Name: Ariana Tobias
Affiliation: Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, CUNY
Advisors: Lee Quinby and Nico Israel


The overwhelming popularity of the Harry Potter series ignited a debate within the American Christian community between evangelical fundamentalists, who believe the books are dangerously subversive to Christianity, and more moderate Christians, who emphasize the triumph of Christian values like faith, love, redemption, and the victory of good over evil in the books. Christian morality, as set forth in the Book of Revelation, encourages hierarchical dualism based on black-and-white absolutes like “good” and “evil.” Similar binary classifications and accompanying value judgments have evolved to dominate modern-day, Anglo-American perceptions of race, class, gender, sexuality, and other seemingly secular social issues.

The Harry Potter series borrows heavily from the traditional apocalyptic story of the Book of Revelation, but J.K. Rowling adapts the narrative using a distinctly postmodern style. Doing so challenges Revelation’s vision of apocalyptic, binary morality, because in Harry Potter, morality isn’t simply about the triumph of good over evil; it’s about the struggle to transcend the apocalyptic dualism that promotes conflict between good and evil. Transcendence of apocalyptic dualism moves morality away from demonizing the “other” and promotes tolerance, acceptance, and understanding.

As Elizabeth Rosen’s work on postmodern apocalyptic fiction shows, several postmodern authors have challenged the legitimacy of moral systems based on apocalyptic absolutism. I argue that J.K. Rowling’s fictional metanarrative about prejudice in the wizarding world delivers a similar challenge. Rowling offers a combination of the traditional five essential elements of apocalypse and a postmodern rejection of metanarratives of prejudice to create an alternative moral system that is not based on dualistic extremes, but, rather, transcendence of apocalyptic morality. My text-based analysis of the series demonstrates how Rowling is able to achieve this without succumbing to the traditional apocalyptic paradigm–even when the “good guys” win.

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*Please keep in mind the essay posted on this site is still in draft form. Revision is ongoing. Comments or questions? Contact me!

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