Like many fantasy readers and writers, I loved the Harry Potter series. It is a masterfully crafted world that is easy to get lost in. Less common, but still very important for my childhood, was To Kill a Mockingbird, a book I studied in 4th and 5th form English Literature. One of my favourite teachers was my English Lit teacher, who encouraged me to think and let the texts speak to me.
Even so, you can imagine my surprise when, in 2005, I found what seemed to be a set of possible connections between the sixth installment in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Mockingbird.
What possible connections could there be between these two books? They are separated by genre and decades, after all.
Despite superficial appearances, Harry Potter and Mockingbird both deal with issues of prejudice and discrimination. The “pure-blood” hang-ups that Harry meets as he enters the wizarding world could easily be seen as a veiled reference to race issues of our world that young Jean Louise has to make sense of in Mockingbird. So, it might actually not be surprising that there be some connections between these two books.
So what connections did I see? To put it simply, they’re in the stories of the Ewell family of Mockingbird and the Gaunt family of Half-Blood Prince:
The Ewell family is on the outskirts of white society, poor and living in filthy conditions. The Gaunt family, a family of “pure-blood” wizards whose story is told in Half-Blood Prince, are poor and dirty, too and, by virtue of their “purity”, only above the “half-bloods” and “mud-bloods”, those with Muggle (non-wizard) ancestry who are, arguably, the “niggers” of the wizarding world, but at the bottom of the pure-blood ladder.
The connections don’t end there. Now, they start taking an interesting turn, including even letters of the alphabet, which really took me by surprise: Mayella Ewell is treated horribly by her father; Merope Gaunt is treated horribly by her father. Mayella becomes interested in Tom Robinson, a black man; Merope is interested in Tom Riddle, a Muggle. In the end, both Toms end up killed because of the advances, though in different way.
Of course, how Mayella and Merope go about seeking these forbidden affections are markedly different. But wow, what a connection, nonetheless. Needless to say, it made my reading of the Harry Potter series even more enjoyable!
So… is it a coincidence? A tribute Rowling makes to Mockingbird, and to Lee? Am I just grasping at straws? Whatever the case, it was fun to make these connections. What do you guys think?
RIP Harper Lee.