This article originally appeared in Grand Junction’s Free Press.
September 1, 2008
Why Harry Potter fans should read Ayn Rand
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
As September 1 marks the first day of school at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, we decided to ignore Colorado’s political scene for the moment and focus on something truly important: great literature.
We’ve both long been fans of Ayn Rand’s works. In fact, when Ari was young, Linn read aloud Anthem as a bed-time story. Anthem is Rand’s novelette about a dystopian future in which people are known by numbers, not names, and the word “I” has been outlawed. The hero of the story rediscovers electricity in secret and eventually escapes with his beloved to freedom. The book inspired Ari’s preoccupation with liberty.
More recently, Ari has grown passionate about another novelist: J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. Ari has even written a book of literary criticism called Values of Harry Potter; see ValuesOfHarryPotter.com. In its focus on the heroic valuer, the book explores Rowling’s themes of courage, independence, and free will, then critically examines her minor themes of self-sacrifice and immortality.
Ari’s shared passion for Rand and Rowling is no coincidence. The two authors explore many of the same themes and offer their readers gripping, tightly plotted stories filled with great heroes, dastardly villains, and intriguing ideas. Fans of Rowling easily could fall in love with Rand’s works, and vice versa.
Both novelists have written great Romantic works. In her introduction to The Fountainhead, Rand writes that Romanticism “deals, not with the random trivia of the day, but with the timeless, fundamental, universal problems and values of human existence.” That helps explain why Rand’s books remain strong sellers decades after their initial release and why Rowling’s books have appealed to readers across continents in many languages. These are not stories of the neighbor next door and his neuroses. These are grand epics of monumental clashes between good and evil.
As Ari argues in Values of Harry Potter, the central theme of Rowling’s novels is the heroic fight for life-promoting values. Harry and his allies fight courageously to protect their lives, loved ones, futures, and liberties from the vicious tyrant Lord Voldemort. For example, in Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry gives a fiery speech to his friends Ron and Hermione, persuading them to take action against Voldemort to save their lives and world.
Rand’s characters, too, fight passionately for their values. In The Fountainhead, Howard Roark refuses to compromise his integrity as an architect, even if that means he must work in a granite quarry or blow up a building that has ripped off and debased his design. In Atlas Shrugged, John Galt and Francisco d’Anconia walk away from their normal lives in order to finally subvert the evil men and ideas taking over the world.
After learning he’s a wizard, Harry takes the Hogwarts Express to a magical world filled with wonder, possibility, and great champions like Professor Dumbledore. Hogwarts is Harry’s escape from the oppressive Dursleys. In Atlas Shrugged, Dagny Taggart’s Transconinental Railroad also symbolizes movement into a world of near-mythical champions such as the steel-producer Hank Rearden.
While Harry has Hogwarts, Dagny discovers Galt’s Gulch, the place where her heroes live. After Dagny crash lands her plane in the Gulch, she experiences, “This was the world as she had expected to see it at sixteen… This was her world, she thought, this was the way men were meant to be and to face their existence…” It is to this spirit of youthful passion and confidence that both novelists remain true.
As Rand explains, free will is the foundation of Romantic literature, because free will is what enables a person’s “formation of his own character and the course of action he pursues in the physical world.” Because of the fact of free will, people can form or reform their characters and act for their values. This is the premise behind any compelling plot, which depends on the characters making and then enacting choices toward some goal. It is no surprise, then, that Dumbledore endorses free will, saying “it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.”
Rowling and Rand share an interest in other themes as well. Both authors love liberty and hate tyrants; both John Galt and Harry Potter work outside the established government to fight those wielding power corruptly. Both authors present fiercely independent heroes who refuse to unquestioningly follow self-proclaimed authorities.
Of course the writers also have their differences. For example, while Rand solidly rejects religion, Rowling includes the Christian elements of self-sacrifice and life after death in her novels. Yet their similarities are more intriguing.
If you haven’t yet read these novels, then you are in for an enthralling and potentially life-altering adventure. It is yours to discover your own Hogwarts or Galt’s Gulch, not merely in the realm of imagination, but in your daily life.