Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Who are you going to trust?

The most recent Harry Potter film, the 6th in the series, is actually the best one so far. And it is directed by David Yates, who made the 5th film, which might be the worst in the series.

A criticism leveled against the series is that it presents Harry’s rule-breaking as praiseworthy. For example, Dumbledore lists it as one of Harry’s virtues in the second book.

Yet it is clear that Harry is not a rule-breaker in the ‘rebel without a cause’ sense. There are two types of rules, moral and legal, and Harry never breaks the former. To my knowledge, he never commits intrinsically evil act or does evil so good may result. The legal rules he breaks are general, not absolute, because they are meant to capture the majority of cases and thus do not apply in emergencies.

Of course, what gets parents up in arms is that an adolescent does not know when a particular situation is normal or extreme and so they are apt to break a rule which ought to have been obeyed.

The solution to the above problem can be found in Rowling’s stories itself. Harry, it must be admitted, does not seem concerned about abstract rules. On the other hand, rules given by a flesh and blood person do interest him. In those cases, Harry always looks for signs of credibility and if he finds them, then he is willing to defer his judgment. Take the most recent film. Professor Dumbledore asks Harry, more than once, to trust him on a matter in which Harry disagrees with him. And Harry obeys. The film ends on a note in which it appears that Dumbledore was mistaken and that Harry should have handled things his own way. But I suspect that is Rowling’s way of keeping the reader/viewer in suspense and that Dumbledore’s judgment (and by implication, Harry’s submission to it) will be vindicated by the end.

The message then is not to disregard rules; instead, we should defer to them when they are promulgated by the credible authority. Moreover, we should do so even when the rule might not make sense for the moment. Our concern for rules should not be because they are ends in themselves, but because we trust the person behind them.

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