We did Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in my fantasy and humanism grad class this week, much to the delight of my students. As much as I love the Harry Potter series, there have always been elements of it that irk me—mostly, what we might characterize as its relation to the “muggle” world. In some ways, the cognitive dissonance of Rowlings’ novels play to comic and symbolic effect; in other ways, for fantasy novels meant to depict an interface with the “primary reality,” they start to stretch credulity.
I could go on about this in pedantic fashion, but for a long time now I’ve been toying with a little setpiece drama that articulates my critique. Having dwelt at length this morning on the main elements, here it is.
SETTING: the summer between the end of The Half-Blood Prince and the start of The Deathly Hallows. James Bond, dressed impeccably as always in a Saville Row suit, sits at a long table in Malfoy Manor, his feet resting insouciantly on the well-polished dark wood, the most recent edition of The Daily Prophet open in front of his face. On the table beside him sits his Walther PPK, fitted with a silencer. In the shadows behind him we can glimpse the still, unconscious forms of Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy.
There is a noise from the manor’s front hall as the door opens, and the sounds of low voices and footsteps approaching the room in which Bond waits. Laughter, low and satisfied—whatever the people entering have been doing, they have been successful. Voldemort enters, Nagini sliding silently along at his feet, followed by Bellatrix LeStrange and about half a dozen Death Eaters.
They all stop in confusion when they see the man sitting at the table.
BOND: (flipping the corner of the paper aside so they can see his face) Ah, there you are. About bloody time.
(mutters of confusion and outrage from the Death Eaters, silenced by Voldemort)
VOLDEMORT: A muggle?
(he speaks the word with great distaste, but also with caution, cocking his head as he stares at Bond. He has seen the Malfoys on the ground beyond him; though he senses that Bond is no wizard, he simply cannot grasp how a muggle would have invaded this space)
BOND: A muggle? Yes, of course, that name you give us. (slowly and deliberately, he folds up the paper as he talks and places it on the table, but does not remove his feet) Yes, I fear I am a … “muggle.” And I am here to deliver—
BELLATRIX: (enraged, lurches past Voldemort and levels her wand) AVADA KEDAVARA!
(the bolt of green light streaks across the room and dissolves as it strikes something invisible about three feet away from Bond’s face. He smiles at them suavely as they stare in disbelief)
BOND: (finally swinging his legs off the table, he leans forward and steeples his fingers) As I was saying, I am here to deliver a message from Her Majesty’s Secret Service. (gestures at the chairs opposite) Perhaps you would all like to sit down? No reason we cannot be civilized.
BELLATRIX: AVADA KEDAVARA!
(again, the bolt of green falters and evaporates against some invisible barrier. Bond sighs)
BOND: (to Voldemort) Would you please tell her to stop that? She can keep on all night, and all it will serve to do is interrupt.
VOLDEMORT: (leans on the edge of the table) How?
BOND: Ah. (raises his hands to show them his jewelled cuff links) Something Q and the boffins worked up. Couldn’t tell you how it works, but it gives me an anti-magical field extending three feet out in all directions. I suppose I should thank you, Miss LeStrange, for field-testing them.
BELLATRIX: Bloody, filthy muggle! Who do you think you are, coming in here—
(Voldemort irritably waves her silent)
BOND: Thank you.
VOLDEMORT: (sitting) I don’t disagree with her. The only reason I’m not killing you is because you … have a message?
BOND: Also, my cuff links.
VOLDEMORT: Your message, scum?
BOND: You’d do well to learn some courtesy, Mr. Riddle. Yes, we know who you are—or who you were—we do have our resources, you know, dirty muggles that we are. But I suppose I cannot expect you to adapt to the unexpected all at once.
VOLDEMORT: (visibly angry) Your message?
BOND: On behalf of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, I am here to inform you that all attacks on non-magical British citizens will cease immediately.
VOLDEMORT: (stares at Bond for a long moment incredulously and then bursts into a high-pitched laugh. His Death Eaters echo him) They will cease? And who, precisely, are you to demand anything of the Dark Lord? We will do as we wish, and all muggles will cower before us!
BOND: I’m not cowering. (to Bellatrix) Care to try your luck again? (for a moment it looks as though she will, but then he picks up his pistol) Be warned, this time, I’ll shoot back. Oh, and … (glancing down at the floor) if your snake comes any closer, I will in fact shoot it in the fucking head.
VOLDEMORT: (a little hastily) Nagini!
BOND: Let’s make a few things clear hear. For a very long time, the custom has been that, when we have a new prime minister, your Minister of Magic pays him a visit …
DEATH EATER: He’s not our minister.
BOND: (shrugging) From what I hear, he will be soon enough. Not that that matters a whit to us. But for generations now, your Minister of Magic pops into the office of the newly minted Prime Minister, and says something to the effect of “Hello, there are wizards in your country. Don’t worry your head about it. We’ll only ever need to speak if something goes wrong.” Is that about right? (he surveys the group opposite him, but no one answers) Sorry. Rhetorical question. But here’s another question: what, precisely, did you lot think would happen then? (again, silence, but a more confused one. Bond nods pityingly) I suspected as much. You lot thought we’d—what? Try desperately to forget? Think we’d just imagined it all? You’re very good at hiding yourselves from us, I’ll give you that. But let me tell you what happens every time a new prime minister gets a visit from your man: after a few minutes of bewilderment, he’s on the phone to the heads of MI-6 and MI-5, demanding—and pardon my French—“What the fuck just happened?”
(Bond smiles and leans forward)
And do you know what they say to him? “We’ll be right over to brief you, Prime Minister.” Because of course, having known we share a country with people of your particular … talents … we have been naturally a little uneasy. We have been looking into this … issue … for a very long time now. (there is a murmur of surprise from the Death Eaters. Bond shakes his head at them disdainfully) Honestly, you lot have been stupid. Underestimating your enemy is the first and last sin of warfare. Did you really think we’d discover there are wizards and witches among us and not prepare ourselves? (Bond has been getting slightly agitated. With an effort he calms himself and straightens his tie) Not that we’ve had cause for much concern. To be fair, your lot has been pretty quiescent for a long time. It was only about seventeen years ago that we started to get really worried. Care to guess why?
(again, silence from Voldemort and his cohort, except for a few embarrassed coughs)
Suddenly, you lot weren’t so quiescent. Deaths, violence … lots of dead “muggles.” Your minister was suddenly in contact with ours an awful lot, and we gathered that there was an unusually powerful wizard keen to conquer the rest of the magical world. Which would have mattered little to us, except that he and his people seemed pretty hostile to muggles.
(shakes his head)
Did you ever—ever—imagine that we were going to ignore a prospective threat in our nation? Well, of course you did. You can’t bring yourself to think that mudbloods are worth anything, much less muggles. In your eyes, we’re sheep. Am I wrong? (he stares challengingly at Voldemort)
VOLDEMORT: You are sheep. How dare you challenge us like this! How dare you even speak to me like this! AVADA KEDAVARA!
(he stands and flourishes his wand. The green bolt disperses just as Bellatrix’s did, and Bond does not even flinch. He reaches into his breast pocket and pulls out a tablet about half the size of an iPhone)
BOND: Impressive. I suppose you won’t be surprised to know your spell was twice as powerful as your friend’s. Not that it matters. (replaces the tablet in his pocket) This all is, frankly, getting tedious. If I can get to the bottom of the page: we have been developing countermeasures against your “magic” for decades now. And that’s just us here in Britain—I can’t even begin to tell you what the Americans are up to. This little meeting wouldn’t have been necessary, except that you lot seem to be getting a little ahead of yourselves. We don’t care, one way or another, who wins this war of yours … but it does seem that you have dreams beyond domination of the magical world, yes? You want the muggles to be your slaves?
VOLDEMORT: It is the right of the purebloods to rule over the tainted and the weak.
BOND: (scratching his chin ironically) Hm. Yes, that sounds familiar, somehow. You might do yourself a favour and study some muggle history and see how that attitude played out before. (shrugs) But really, that’s neither here nor there. You might want to revise your conception of muggles as somehow “weak.” Magic is an impressive thing, to be sure … and you have a talent for killing, Mr. Riddle. But … (Bond stands, and leans forward, his hands on the table) you might want to do some research and think about how many people you’re able to kill all at once … and how many we are able to kill all at once. (he straightens, and shrugs) It’s not something we’re necessarily proud of. But you should think twice about bringing your … (he gestures vaguely) hocus pocus into a fight where the other fellow has an atom bomb. (Voldemort and the Death Eaters stare at him blankly. Bond favours them with a cold smile) This is what I mean when I suggest you do some research.
VOLDEMORT: What are you telling us? What is your message?
BOND: I am telling you that you are free to wage your war as you see fit. Conquer your enemies. We muggles who know what’s what hope you will lose, of course, but we are not involved. But know this: the moment you decide dominion over the magical world isn’t enough, and you seek to subjugate the rest of us? (smiles frostily) That will spell the end of you.
(this causes the Death Eaters to erupt in a storm of outrage, the Dark Lord himself most of all. He levels his wand again at Bond)
(this time, Bond holds up his right hand so his signet ring points directly at Voldemort. He presses the band on the inside of his finger and it emits a blinking light. Voldemort screams in agony as his spell rebounds on him)
BOND: (to himself) Well done, Q. You’ve outdone yourself. (to the Death Eaters, who stand in shocked silence, staring at Voldemort as he recovers from the effects of his own spell). One more thing: any and all killings of muggles will end now. Her Majesty’s Secret Service will remain neutral in your war, but we will respond with lethal force against the Death Eaters every time a non-magical citizen is murdered. To wit … (he picks up his pistol and glares, narrow-eyed, at the Death Eaters clustered around Voldemort) There was a shopkeeper found dead this evening in Bristol. No visible wounds. I imagine that was one of you?
(silence for a moment, and then a burly Death Eater steps belligerently forward)
DEATH EATER: That was me. I killed the dirty—
(he is cut off as Bond raises his gun and shoots him neatly twice in the head. There is a shocked silence)
BOND: Oh, yes. We’ve also developed ammunition that is impervious to your spells. (straightens his tie) I believe that is all, gentlemen … and lady. Your friends here behind me will recover in due time. I fear that your other friend there will not. Have yourselves a good evening.
(No one, not even Bellatrix, attempts to stop him as he circles the table and walks past where they’ve huddled around their fallen comrade. He is just past the threshold when Bellatrix breaks the silence)
BELLATRIX: Who are you?
(he pauses for a moment)
BOND: The name is Bond. James Bond.