Why Is Children’s Literature So Authoritarian? Ctd

A reader writes:

Oh for-the-love-of-Pete. Someone give this man a copy of The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Children's literature, as well as good children's TV, hews closely to the Hero myth. These stories teach our sons and daughters to be, without the presence of their parents, heroes in their own lives. They reveal the power of friendship, honor, justice, selflessness and sacrifice. They reveal greed, corruption, deception, desire for power and oppression of the weak as things to be fought against. Authoritarian background provides the starkest contrast to the choices of the individual. Methinks the nuance of parliamentary procedure can wait.

Another writes:

Jay Ulfelder should watch a Disney movie.

Disney heroes are almost always literal or virtual orphans who are rebelling against a corrupt, authoritarian power structure. If there are benevolent authorities, they are usually buffoons, powerless, or cannot perceive the threats that oppose the hero.

The game designer Robin Laws once pointed out that Disney's "Hunchback of Notre Dame" cartoon was a giant dagger in the back of the religious right, a story in which a corrupt authoritarian clergy must be brought down with the help of pagan gypsies. It taught millions of kids that the church is a vicious conspiracy to maintain power. Hmm…


It might better be said that the problem is bad children’s literature: didactic stories meant to teach lessons and inculcate obedience, blanket respect for authority, and simplistic definitions of good and bad. Alison Lurie’s Don’t Tell the Grownups: The Subversive Power of Children’s Literature offers some pushback. Good children’s stories – i.e., the kind kids actually enjoy rather than suffering through just to please adults – often deal in taboo, iconoclasm, and dark humor, with a deep vein of distrust for status quo adult values.

Several readers challenge Ulfelder's chief example supporting his case (spoiler alerts below):

I'll be brief because I'm sure I'm the hundredth to point it out, but Harry Potter is an epic argument against authoritarianism. There's a whole Wikipedia entry on its politics.


Look no further than the Harry Potter novels to see how governance is portrayed as difficult and messy, with no easy solutions. Fudge is a career politician who panics at the thought of the upheaval and terror brought by Voldemort's return. Consequently, he makes poor choices, even if he isn't portrayed as evil. Scrimgeour seems more fit to take on Voldemort, but he too struggles with making the right choices, perpetuating many of Fudge's policies (hushing up a mass breakout from Azkaban prison, continuing to hire wretched people like Dolores Umbridge).

Oddly enough, those examples could apply to our current president and his predecessor.


The Ministry of Magic in the series is just as much of an enemy as Voldemort.  At first ineffectual and bureaucratic (with a past history of McCarthyesque literal witch hunts), then transformed by fear into a police state, and finally overcome in a coup by Voldemort's supporters – every step of the way the apparatus of the magical government in the books demonstrates that "governance is a very hard and perpetual problem."  The absolute distrust of government running throughout the books is one of the many interesting things about the Harry Potter world, particularly when considered in light of the past 10 years.


The exception in the final Harry Potter book stands out.  That is, Harry breaks the wand that would grant him ultimate power.