Harry Potter And The Hunger Games – How Our Favourite Books Are Actually Reality Checks
As someone who can’t imagine her life without reading, it hardly ever happens that a book I’ve read does not leave an impact on me. In big ways and small, and on voluntary and involuntary levels, we always take a part of any book with us even as we turn its last page. Whether we actively choose to implement our take away from a book or not, it finds its way into our lived experiences and manifests itself in strange, little ways. Even though we might not always notice it. And then there is the other side of the spectrum– books that influenced an entire generation, yet we overlooked how they impacted us on an individual level. I am talking about series like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and other extremely popular series are technically categorised as ‘fiction’. But they may have done more to expose the realities of marginalisation than we think.
Let’s start with the basics. Both the aforementioned books are set in a world that we perceive as completely different than ours. Books like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner, are what we like to call ‘dystopian’. The Hunger Games tells the story of a country divided into 12 districts. A boy and a girl are chosen as ‘tributes’ from each district to compete in a ruthless game that doesn’t end until all but one victor remains. This was done as punishment for a failed rebellion. But there’s a catch – the districts aren’t all equal. Some districts are richer than others, giving them access to the best training from an early age. So while on the face of it, the game seems equally hard on everyone, some are better equipped to deal with it than others. This is a very realistic representation of the nuances of privilege. Never see it this way, did you?
Harry Potter is different from The Hunger Games in that sense. It’s not a dystopia – in fact, it’s a world most of us actually want to live in. While reading the first book, I used to be on a constant lookout for owls, just in case they were carrying my Hogwarts letter. But even as we found ourselves charmed by the Wizarding World, the glaring theme of discrimination did not go unnoticed. Draco Malfoy used the slur ‘Mudblood’ several times on Hermione Granger to disrespect her muggle lineage (i.e. she was born to human parents). The hatred harboured by pureblood supremacists for Mudbloods and Blood Traitors is the founding philosophy of the Death Eaters – a terrorist group led by Lord Voldemort that seeks to ‘purify’ the Wizarding World of muggle-borns. There is no better analogy to describe religious or racist terror groups in the real world. Furthermore, the people who subscribe to this ideology are found everywhere, they are not just an isolated community. Death Eaters live among us. They go to school with us, sip coffee with us at work, and might live next door to us as well.
I read these books when I was too young to understand their analogies. But over time, they became obvious. We cannot hide or deny the realities that they represent. The thing is, it takes a certain amount of privilege to be able to overlook marginalisation in fiction and perceive it as just a story. These are life experiences of so many around the world. One man’s dystopia is another man’s reality.
The concepts of oppression and revolution that Harry Potter and The Hunger Games introduced to us can have a profound impact on our real-life ideas surrounding them. That’s why it’s important to look beneath the surface of any work of art and ask yourself questions that connect it to the real world. The world of fiction writing and film is full of examples of this. You just have to be able to ask the right questions.
Our generation is often labelled as idealistic, overly sensitive or too bothered with issues that supposedly do not concern us. We face criticism for challenging age-old beliefs. Our activism is dubbed as phoney and unrealistic. But that has hardly stopped those who truly want to make a change. The kids that grew up on Harry’s determination and Katniss’ fearlessness will never sit still in the face of our own oppression, or that of others.