Thursday, June 26, 2008

Albus Dumbledore, Esquire

Law Camp week continues, and there cannot be a discussion of thrilling legal moments in kids lit without talking about Harry Potter. From the trial of Barty Crouch Jr. in Goblet of Fire, to Harry's trial in the early chapters of Order of the Phoenix, J. K. Rowling used the legal setting of the wizarding world to multiple effects in the Harry Potter series.

First, of course, the courtroom has inherent drama. The trial of Barty Crouch Jr. has some of the most intense moments in Goblet of Fire, final chapters excluded of course.

But the courtroom and the wizarding legal system creates another window into the larger culture of the wizarding world. Rowling created such an incredibly rich environment in the Harry Potter books, and one of the ways she does this is by taking the reader beyond the original school environs of Hogwarts. The trial of Harry in Order of the Phoenix lets us see what's going on in the larger wizarding world, and how the implications of Voldemort's return have a larger impact beyond just the evil of his select followers.

Which brings me to the most interesting use of law in fiction: Rowling uses the courtroom to demonstrate moral principles, and how the society at large embraces or rejects core values like human rights and due process. Think of that harrowing scene in Deathly Hallows, where unfortunate wizards have to prove in court before Dolores Umbridge whether or not their bloodline is pure. One of the reasons that situation is so dire is that it threatens our basic sense of the value of presumed innocence.

Which takes us to tomorrow, the definitive courtroom drama, and it's main character, a man who has come to define the lawyer in fiction.

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