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The Antisemitism of ‘Harry Potter’ Returns in ‘Hogwarts Legacy’

Goblins in Hogwarts Legacy

Here at The Mary Sue, we’ve been taking a deep dive into the Hogwarts Legacy controversy as well as the bigoted views of the author responsible for the Harry Potter universe. So far, J.K. Rowling’s anti-transgender statements have received the brunt of the attention. After all, she just can’t stop tweeting them.

However, it’s important that we shift our focus toward another, somewhat less-publicized criticism of the game and of Rowling’s wizarding world as a whole. Both Rowling and the team behind Hogwarts Legacy have come under fire for propagating antisemitic tropes in the form of a certain magical creature: goblins.

Who are the goblins in the Harry Potter universe?

Goblins are present throughout Western European folklore, and are known chiefly as thieves, malicious entities, and mischievous spirits.

In the Harry Potter universe, the goblins are a race of magical creatures that have coexisted with the wizarding world for centuries. They are are small in stature and possess “dark, slanted eyes” and hook-shaped noses. They are often described as greedy, and control a large portion of the wizarding economy through a magical banking system.

Starting to see the problem?

The internet certainly did. Descriptions such as these have long been associated with harmful stereotypes about Jewish people.

A brief literary history of a hateful stereotype

Examples of Jews as tricksters and thieves are also plentiful in the canons of well-known authors. Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist features a thief character named Fagin who is also called “The Jew.” Antisemitism is even present in the works of Shakespeare. The Jewish moneylender Shylock serves as the antagonist in Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice, demanding to be paid a “pound of flesh” after the his Christian rival Antonio is unable to repay a debt.

Many harmful depictions of Jews are found in early Christian writing, as Christians became increasingly prejudiced toward the Jews for rejecting Catholicism, and later, Protestantism. Historically, finance was one of the few careers available to Jews due to similar prejudices. In the Middle Ages, Jews were allowed to become money lenders, bankers, and tax collectors because such positions were deemed by Christians as sinful. Christians were prohibited from taking these positions, which required committing the “sin of usury,” or making monetary loans that benefit the lender. As such, Jewish people who worked with money were associated with sin.

In the 20th century, Nazis infamously used similar tropes in Germany, and Jews were often depicted as grotesque figures with hooked noses in Nazi propaganda.

How Hogwarts Legacy revives the antisemitic trope

It appears that similar prejudices are present in the wizarding world as well. In the Harry Potter universe, goblins are said to have historically practiced metallurgy and silversmithing, and were responsible for minting the coins used in present day magical banks. To the wizarding community at large, goblins are seen as an untrustworthy and inferior species. In the story of Hogwarts Legacy, this unease between wizards and goblins eventually reaches a boiling point.

According to the Harry Potter mythos, goblins revolted against the wizards in an insurgency movement known as the “Goblin Rebellions.” Per the Harry Potter Compendium, this happened for a number of reasons, including “lack of goblin representation in [magical Parliament], attempts to enslave goblins as house-elves, stripping of wand privileges, wizard attempts to control Gringotts, or the brutal goblin slayings of Yardley Platt.” Yikes.

While the Goblin Rebellions lasted for centuries, the story of Hogwarts Legacy concerns itself with a particular rebellion led by a goblin named Ranrok. According to the designers of the game, players will be able to make the decision to support or oppose the Goblin Rebellions. Yes, you read that correctly. You can support or oppose the movement. And considering that Ranrok is said to have ties to dark wizards, the game seems to be of the opinion that the “moral” choice is to crush the rebellions, thereby returning goblins to subjugation. After all, that’s how it happened in Harry Potter canon. The goblins lost.

How is the internet responding?

Many members of the gaming community aren’t happy. In a viral Reddit post, one critic blasted the plot of Hogwarts Legacy for portraying Ranrok as “a greedy individual,” and for showing what appears to be Ranrok and the dark wizard Victor Rockwood discussing a “child abduction scheme” in gameplay videos. Yes, “child abduction” is one of a slew of antisemitic stereotypes leveled at Jewish people, who were said to steal non-Jewish children away from their families so they could use their blood for rituals. The Redditor called upon fans of the Harry Potter series to “walk away from Rowling and the wizarding world.”

This Redditor is hardly the first to criticize Rowling’s depiction of goblins. Most notably, former Daily Show host Jon Stewart took aim at the Harry Potter franchise on his podcast, The Problem With Jon Stewart. Stewart immediately drew parallels between the depiction of the goblins in the Harry Potter films and the descriptions of Jews in the antisemitic illustrations featured in the 1903 book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion:

“Here’s how you know Jews are still where they are. Talking to people, here’s what I say: Have you ever seen a Harry Potter movie? Have you ever seen the scenes in Gringotts Bank? Do you know what those folks who run the bank are? Jews! And they’re like, ‘Oh, [that illustration is] from Harry Potter!’ And you’re like, ‘No, that’s a caricature of a Jew from an antisemitic piece of literature.’ J.K. Rowling was like, ‘Can we get these guys to run our bank?’ It’s a wizarding world … we can ride dragons, you can have a pet owl … but who should run the bank? Jews. But what if the teeth were sharper?”

Conversely, the Campaign Against Antisemitism does not share Stewart’s opinion. In a recent tweet, the charity acknowledged that Rowling is propagating harmful Jewish stereotypes in her works, but that she should be exempt from criticism because “those who continue to use such representations are not thinking of Jews at all, but simply how readers or viewers will imagine goblins to look, which is a testament more to Christendom’s antisemitism than it is to malice by contemporary artists.” The group went on to call Rowling a “tireless defender of the Jewish community.” Users in the comments section were quick to criticize the statement, accusing the Campaign Against Antisemitism of “both sides-ing” an issue that should be black-and-white. One user replied, “is your argument really that antisemitism okay if it’s already there???”

Apparently it is, if Rowling and her team have anything to say about it. Just another reason not to buy the game.

(featured image: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment)

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