While the first three Harry Potter novels focused on goings-on within Hogwarts, since Voldemort’s return in Goblet of Fire there’s been an increasing emphasis on the politics of the wider Wizarding world. This emphasis becomes even more prominent in Half-Blood Prince, as the Ministry of Magic finally acknowledges Voldemort’s increasing strength and attempts to fight back. However, the Ministry’s response proves weak and inefficient, influenced by paranoia and petty personal conflict and thus unable to contain Voldemort and his Death Eaters. In evoking a world beset by rogue extremists and crippled by an extremely flawed government, Rowling seems to refer to the state of global politics in the wake of 9/11 – the period in which she wrote the novel. In this sense, Half-Blood Prince reflects the anxiety of a society trying to respond to new and unpredictable threats, while protesting against governments more concerned with their own power than the peace and safety of their constituents.
In Half-Blood Prince, the Wizarding world is marked by increasing terror and chaos because of the actions of a group of fringe extremists. In the first chapter, Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge and the Muggle Prime Minister discuss a recent spate of murders and “accidents” affecting wizards and Muggles alike, from a massive bridge collapse and “freak hurricane” causing scores of deaths, to the deaths of two witches working for the Ministry, Amelia Bones and Emmeline Vance.
These deaths and disasters are caused by the Death Eaters: a mysterious group of terrorists motivated by a desire for power and a belief in the supremacy of pure-blooded wizards. By targeting civilians rather than an army or government, they threaten both wizards’ and Muggles’ sense of personal safety and confidence in public life. In this sense, they resemble the groups who attacked the World Trade Center in 2001, giving rise to new preoccupations about religious extremism and new worries about everyday safety for civilians in countries like the US and UK.
Rather than being alleviated, these anxieties are only compounded by the government’s inept and politically motivated attempts to contain Voldemort and the Death Eaters. When Fudge reveals that an extremist group is behind the recent spate of disasters, the Muggle Prime Minister is concerned primarily for the damage to his political reputation; he conceives of his constituents not as people whose safety is in danger but “voters” whose confidence in him will be undermined. At the same time, his opponent is taking the opportunity to go on the attack, “barely concealing his own broad grin” as he pontificates about the state of the country.
Wizarding politics prove similarly corrupt. Although Fudge has often proved pompous and incompetent in previous books, he seems positively benign compared to Rufus Scrimgeour, who capitalizes on Voldemort’s return to push Fudge out of office and take over the post himself. Rather than devoting himself to pursuing Voldemort, Scrimgeour tries to persuade Harry to star in a publicity campaign that will raise “morale” by falsely implying the Ministry is successfully containing Voldemort’s rise.
In fact, the Ministry does little more than stoke paranoia: when it can’t apprehend any of Voldemort’s actual followers, it scapegoats innocent people. Arrested after making some suspicious comments in a bar, Stan Shunpike, the innocuous driver of the Knight Bus, is thrown in Azkaban without trial. Mr. Weasley privately tells Harry that even after concluding he has nothing to do with the Death Eaters, the Ministry continues to imprison Stan in order to “look as though they’re making some progress.”
If Voldemort’s return mirrors the troubling rise of extremist terrorism, then the Ministry’s response critiques the actions of the US and UK governments, which in the wake of 9/11 instigated largely fruitless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both in order to seem powerful and to fulfill the political goals of top leaders. Moreover, instead of emphasizing that terrorism is attributable to fringe groups, many Western governments have stoked Islamophobic paranoia, which threatens the safety and social standing of Muslim minorities to this day.
Viewed in the light of contemporary politics, Half-Blood Prince both reflects growing anxieties about terrorism while arguing against blind trust in governments that are plagued by corruption and inefficiency. However, in investing Harry with the ability to singlehandedly defeat Voldemort and put an end to this menace, Rowling wistfully conjures up a solution to this problem that can’t possibly occur in the real world.
Politics and Paranoia ThemeTracker
Politics and Paranoia Quotes in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The Prime Minister sank, weak-kneed, into the nearest chair. The idea of invisible creatures swooping through the towns and countryside, spreading despair and helplessness in his voters, made him feel quite faint.
Moreover, it had seemed the right destiny for him since he had heard the prophecy a few weeks ago…Neither can live while the other survives…Wouldn’t he be living up to the prophecy, and giving himself the best chance of survival, if he joined those highly trained wizards whose job it was to find and kill Voldemort?
It would have been a happy, peaceful holiday had it not been for the stories of disappearances, odd accidents, even of deaths now appearing almost daily in the Prophet…To Mrs. Weasley’s displeasure, Harry’s sixteenth birthday celebrations were marred by grisly tidings brought to the party by Remus Lupin, who was looking gaunt and grim, his brown hair streaked liberally with gray, his clothes more ragged and patched than ever.
I mean, anybody who has actually interviewed him agrees that he’s about as much a Death Eater as this Satsuma…but the top levels want to look as though they’re making some progress, and “three arrests” sounds better than “three mistaken arrests and releases”…
If you were to be seen popping in and out of the Ministry from time to time, for instance, that would give the right impression. And of course, while you were there, you would have ample opportunity to speak to Gawain Robards, my successor as Head of the Auror office. Dolores Umbridge has told me that you cherish an ambition to become an Auror.
“He accused me of being ‘Dumbledore’s man through and through.’”
“How very rude of him.”
“I told him I was.”
…To Harry’s intense embarrassment, he suddenly realized that Dumbledore’s bright blue eyes looked rather watery, and stared hastily at his own knees.