Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lawyers, Guns, and Money


I am writing this in the Kean University Human Rights Gallery. The walls are decorated with large posters of the 30 human rights, and I find myself wondering how may of them are violated by the wizard courts. And by the way, nice job putting this thing together, Kean. If I was a little more interested in the displays, I wouldn’t be thinking about Harry Potter. I would still be thinking about Star Trek, though. I always am.

The court system for wizards is called the Wizengamot. This is, as I’m sure you’re aware, a pun on the Witengamot, a council of advisors to the king in pre-Norman England. (This was also the root word for the Entmoot in Lord of the Rings, making “The Witengamot in popular culture” one of the nerdier subheadings on Wikipedia.) As the name seems to imply, it is a council of respected wizards who rule on the guilt or innocence of accused criminals. The first time we see them, they are shown releasing a wizard with known Evil associations because he is a famous athlete, then taking testimony from a guy whose defense is to randomly yell out the names of his co-conspirators in a desperate attempt for leniency. The Wizengamot collectively laughs at him until he says a name they haven’t yet heard, whereupon that person is immediately arrested based on the hearsay of a desperate evil lunatic. I mean, he was right, but they had no reason to believe that. 

(Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice...)

We finally see a full trial in the next book. Harry and his non-magical cousin were attacked by dementors, which are these sort of corporeal downers. Harry cast a spell to get rid of them, and being an underage wizard in a Muggle area, is seen by Brother Eye, and brought in by the Ministry of Magic. They’re none too happy that Harry’s been telling everyone Voldemort’s returned and want to throw the book at him, so he’s sent to the Wizengamot for a trial. On the day of the trial, the first thing they do is change the time of his appointment without telling him. Then his lawyer, Dumbledore, shows up, despite A) Also no having been informed of the time change, and B) representation for the defendants amazingly not being a usual part of the proceedings. Dumbledore has brought a witness with him, and needs to remind the court that he is allowed to do so. The witness is unreliable and nervous, but this seems to convince many of the council. I guess since they arraigned him for no particular reason, they’re easily swayed. The rest of Harry’s trial is an argument between Dumbledore and the head of the council on whether the Ministry ordered the attack, which is irrelevant; the council refusing to hear further testimony, which is unethical; and the council attempting to pin Harry on a number of unrelated charges outside of their jurisdiction, which is stupid. Dumbledore keeps the council on track and demonstrates a clear understanding of Wizard law, which is probably why they fired him a few weeks before these events.

In closing, the head of the council holds the title of “Chief Warlock”. The word warlock comes from the Old English “w√¶rlog”, which roughly translates to “liar”. No further comment.


The Wizard aversion to convenience is one that I’ll return to for a full article later. For some reason, they use scrolls and quills to write when pens have been around since 1888 and looseleaf paper has been around since… I don’t know, forever? But one of the weirdest instances of this was in the newspaper report of Sirius Black’s escape from Azkaban. Black was considered extremely dangerous, and in order to make the Muggles aware of this, the newspaper tells us, they have been told he has “a gun, which is a type of metal wand Muggles use to kill people.” WHAT? Guns have been around in one form or another since about 1150, and they are, as Michael Moore will not hesitate to tell you, a major part of culture. Yes, even in England. How on Earth are they ignorant of what a gun is? It then occurred to me that a gun could be a huge benefit when fighting a wizard. No magic is going to block a sniper’s round fired from a quarter mile away. Even face to face with a wizard, there’s not some sort of standing shield spell they could use. Just keep popping off shots until one gets through. Give ‘em the old six rounds rapid. And when the giants joined the war, everyone was worried because they’re naturally resistant to magic. You know what they’re not naturally resistant to? Tanks. And speaking of giants, think how much good a gun would do Hagrid! 

See, there’s no electricity at Hogwarts, because the intense magical field messes it up. This is obviously just a gimmick in order to give the books a mysterious and antiquated feel, and that’s fine. But they’ve also established that an old Muggle camera with no electronics in it will work. So while electrical things will break, mechanical things will not. Hagrid’s job as Hogwarts’ groundskeeper frequently requires him to go into the Forbidden Forest, which is filled with horrible hairy whatnots. And he goes in with a crossbow. Crossbow? Those things take like five minutes to reload! If you’re getting attacked by a rampaging acromantula, time is not on your side.


(Image courtesy of a rapper's t-shirt.)

Money in the Potterverse is a tricky thing. Consider American money. Basic unit: Dollar. Denominations: Four common coins under a dollar, coin and bill forms of the dollar, and five common bills for multiple dollar amounts. The subdivision is the cent, of which there are 100 in one dollar. This makes taxes and change simple to calculate. Easy, right? Now let’s look at wizard money. Basic unit: The galleon, worth about eight dollars. Denominations: Two coins under a galleon, one coin for the galleon. Division: 17 sickles in a galleon, 27 knuts in a sickle, making taxes and change not only difficult to calculate, but downright counterintuitive.

As if that wasn‘t annoying enough, just as Hogwarts appears to be one’s only schooling option, there is also only one bank for wizards, namely Gringotts. Financial issues are conducted by goblins, who are short, greedy, and have big noses. Did George Lucas come up with this part? But the enchanted mystical Jews are among the smaller problems with this system. For example, unlike Muggle banks, where they keep a record of how much money you have, and you can withdraw it at any branch, at Gringotts, everyone keeps their money, as in the actual coins that they own, in a special vault in one branch. These vaults may be accessed by underground roller coaster. Practical!

(Plus the place was designed by Bloody Stupid Johnson.)

Of course, given that the goblins are so concerned with protecting the wealth within, and given the crazy levels of security, Gringotts has a reputation for being the safest place in the world to keep anything. It’s as secure as Azkaban! By which I mean apparently really easy to break into. Just as a dying looney and a dog can leave Azaban whenever they like, Gringotts’ number-one top-security vault is broken into by a fat clown with a face growing out the back of his head. The goblins were baffled, and there were no leads. I’d recommend security cameras, but they’d just ignore me.

(The Gringotts staff.)


Speaking of that one school, one bank, etc thingy, has anyone noticed that there seem to be only three drinks in the wizarding world? Seriously, do they ever drink anything besides pumpkin juice, butterbeer, and firewhisky?

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