Document Type



Presented to Terminus 2008, Chicago, IL, August 7-11, 2008. This article appears in Terminus: Collected Papers on Harry Potter, edited by Sharon K. Goetz. You can view the Table of Contents here.


It is astonishing, when one thinks of it, that a series of children's books is so crammed with law. Not one of the seven Harry Potter novels fails to explore difficult issues law, interpretation and especially the relationship of the state to the individual. From practically the first page of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (SS) we ponder issues of child custody, fosterage and adoption;1 before Harry even gets to Hogwarts we have heard about crime and punishment,2 legal control over the use of magic,3 monetary policy,4 and Wizarding government.5 Before the series is complete we have witnessed five different judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings, three changes in government, and the enactment and repeal numerous statutes and regulations. Rowling could easily have written her spiritual, moralistic adventure series without these trappings. Why are they there?6 Further, when one examines the legal universe contemplated in these novels, one finds that the laws are radically inconsistent and incoherent, in many places rising to the level of caricature or absurd contradiction. One could ascribe these apparent "errors" to carelessness on the part of the author, as in the case of Rowling's errors in astronomy and chronology. But the incoherence and inconsistency in law is too systematic and flagrant for this; it bears the marks of having been considered carefully, in places with a sort of perverse glee.7 I suggest that this deliberate incoherence is a commentary on the reliability and value of rules and institutions generally and of political and legal institutions in particular. Rowling, I shall argue, uses the law as a backdrop against which to show the absolute dependence of the world on individual virtue and morality. Institutions, rules, procedures cannot help us; only the good, moral man or woman, exercising free, individual choice, can do that.

Citation/Publisher Attribution

Schneyer, Kenneth. "No Place to Stand: The Incoherent Legal World of J. K. Rowling," in Terminus: Collected Papers on Harry Potter, 7-11 August 2008, edited by Sharon K. Goetz, 33-61. Sedalia, Colorado: Narrate Conferences, Inc, 2010.



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