One of the great appeals of fantasy fiction is that it allows the imagination to run wild, for readers young and old to lose themselves in a world that allows escape from the mundane pressures and routines of social existence. But the law is on its way, at least in J K Rowling’s Harry Potter universe — Potterverse for the initiated. The National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS) in Kolkata is set to offer a course titled “An interface between Fantasy Fiction Literature and Law: Special focus on Rowling’s Potterverse” to its fourth and fifth year students.
Like all complex science fiction or fantasy worlds, Potterverse does indeed provide rich material for thought experiments – political, moral and legal. And for students caught up in the intricacies of the Code of Criminal Procedure, peppered with scintillating explorations of tort law, formulating rules governing the care of magical creatures, rights for muggles and, of course, the spectre of match-fixing during the Quidditch World Cup is a welcome and useful distraction. In fact, NUJS is hardly the first temple of higher learning to engage seriously with the intricacies of a parallel magical society: Kansas State university allows its students to study “Harry Potter’s Library”, a course which explores the political themes underlying Rowling’s work and Frostburg University, also in the US, offers “Science of Harry Potter”.
The only conceivable problem with letting young would-be lawyers engage with the Potterverse is that a deep legal and moral engagement with the books may end up producing subversive legal minds. Towards the end of the series, Voldemort — a supremely obvious allegory for right-wing, strongman leaders who consider a class of people anti-national — takes over the Ministry of Magic, nearly destroying the hard-earned diversity of the magical world. Flights of heroic liberal fantasy do make for excellent childhood reading. But can the Voldemorts of today afford a generation of lawyers who stand up for people, “different” as they are, rather than governments and laws?