My wife has first dibs on the new Harry Potter book, so I haven’t read it, but it’s in the house. It occurs to me that, as Voldemort has risen and Harry’s world has gone to hell, so has ours. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published in June 1997. In the book, Harry is 11, suffering at the hands of his foster family, the Dursleys, and gets rescued as he gets the opportunity to go to Hogwarts. Subsequently there is a minor disturbance at Hogwarts as Voldemort tries to get a stone that conveys immortality. Back then, things were going pretty well for us too, I think. Bill Clinton had just started his second term, OJ got nailed by the Goldmans for a big civil judgment, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was hitting new highs, Dolly had been successfully cloned, the Heaven’s Gate freaks committed mass suicide because of Hale Bopp, Timothy McVeigh was convicted, we had things so good, Google registered its domain name, and it made sense that the death of Princess Diana was the most important thing in the world. (The Cleveland Indians lost to the Marlins in Game 7 of the World Series, but that was a personal tragedy, not world wide.)
As Harry gets older and time progresses, his world gets progressively darker. We’ve seen a similar progression since 1997 in our world. In 1998, Bill Clinton is impeached, and George Bush executes Karla Faye Tucker. Matthew Shepherd is tortured and killed in Wyoming for being gay.
In 1999, Sirius Black escaped from Azkhaban and our year (in the Midwest) came in with a purpose — big snows and subzero temperatures; the Columbine Massacres followed in April. Texas Governor Bush announced he will seek the Presidency. Y2k turns out to be not that big of deal.
In 2000, we see one of the Hogwarts’ students die at the hand of Voldemort after the Goblet of Fire competition, and the Dark Lord restored fully to the living. Meanwhile, back in the real world, we saw the Supreme Court stop the vote count in Florida, leading to the selection of George W. Bush as President. Elian Gonzalez is seized from his relatives Miami home and returned to his Cuban father. Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat attempt and fail to reach an agreement at Camp David. Ariel Sharon and several hundred Israeli police visit the Temple Mount, provoking a new Palestinian intifada.
Three long years go by. When 2003 rolls around, the Order of the Phoenix has reformed, and in the end Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black, is dead. Harry’s world has gotten positively grim. So, too had ours. The stock market took a sharp downturn, California was plagued by rolling blackouts caused by power companies gaming the system — Enron and others were gaming the system to drive up prices while the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission looked the other way and Dick Cheney blamed the situation on California’s environmental laws. Massive corruption took down companies like Enron and Arthur Andersen. Then, al Qaeda killed 3,000 Americans, destroyed the World Trade Center, and damaged the Pentagon. In response, we invaded Afghanistan, the government of which was harboring al Qaeda and refusing to bring them to justice. Anthrax was mailed to Congressional offices; the culprit never found. In 2003, inexplicably, we invaded Iraq on the pretext that its weapons of mass destruction posed a grave and gathering threat to the United States. As it turned out, there was no reason to stop the inspectors from doing their jobs; they were finding what there was to be found, which is to say, nothing. The Bush Administration had opened up an extra-judicial internment camp at Guantanamo Bay. In the name of temporary security, Americans had been asked to give up any number of liberties and entrust the executive branch with extraordinary powers. The budget had gone from something of a surplus to massive deficits and the national debt was increasing by leaps and bounds. George W. Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln, declaring “Mission Accomplished.”
In 2005, the Half-Blood Prince was published. The book starts with the Death Eaters openly wreaking havoc in Britain. By the end, Albus Dumbledore, the most powerful good wizard is dead. In our own world, George W. Bush had been elected to the Presidency. (Like in Harry’s world, where he finally hooked up with Ginny Weasely, there was the occasional bright spot — Masson’s Blog premiered on November 15, 2004.) But, still, with the New England Patriots winning their second consecutive Super Bowl, things were fairly grim. A judge was murdered in Georgia, and Senator Cornyn suggested that “judicial activism” may have been the motive. Religious activists were especially active in attacking the judiciary. Justices Roberts and Alito are named to the US Supreme Court. The quagmire in Iraq continued unabated at a steep cost to American blood and treasure. Explosions rocked the London underground after a terrorist bombing. President Bush flew back to Washington from vacation in Texas to sign legislation to meddle in the private affairs of Terri Schiavo in an attempt to keep her husk on life support. Senate Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist diagnosed her as having brain activity after watching a video tape. Bombings in Bali killed 26. And Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans; governmental response was anemic due at least in part to crony appointments to FEMA.
Here we are in 2007. The political situation has gotten a little bit better. The economy seems to be getting fairly lively. I haven’t read the book, but presumably Harry will save the day, though not without considerable personal sacrifice. At the end of the book, I hope Harry’s world will be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps we can do the same here as well.