To the delight of her fans, particularly those across the pond, J.K. Rowling has announced she’ll be adding to her much loved Harry Potter series. A new chapter, “The Horserace,” will appear as an insert in a rerelease of book six, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, available in the U.K. and U.S. later this month.
The new material features a Muggle Studies (the study of non-magic peoples) lesson with professor Charity Burbage, first named in the opening chapter of book seven. Students, including Harry and Ron, (Hermione, raised by Muggle parents, having declined to take the course in favor of more scholastic pursuits), will be required to go over the political records and historical contexts of American presidential nominees and, based on their understanding, classify the gentlemen into the houses of Hogwarts: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin.
“Puritanical, New World superpowers don’t have magical communities,” Professor Burbage explains. “Making them ideal regions for Muggle settlement and the perfect theatre for the observation and codification of their behaviour. Remember,” she says, “Politics is calculation, not magic.”
The insert is aimed at adult fans, offering a balance of sophisticated, tongue-in-cheek comedy and topical social commentary, pulling them, perhaps unwillingly, into an adult context, both in time to bear on the November U.S. election and boost the sales of her freshly released adult novel, The Casual Vacancy.
“Kakis.” Professor Burbage instructs, conjuring a demonstrative projection from her wand. “Spangled signage.” Another image. “Power neck ties. Indirect Election.” — This one requires an extended explanation. “Money. Lots of money made of paper with former leaders printed on it — similar to chocolate frog cards.” The conjured data on this horrify the class.
The addition also provides a better introduction to Burbage, who spends her time in the Deathly Hallows suspended in mortal peril above a table before being killed and eaten by a snake. According to most informed, dedicated fans, what’s missing, and dearly missed, in book seven is seeing the kids at school, daily life at Hogwarts. With this move Rowling gives fans more of what they crave, enriches a character with a very dramatic death (and no life) and cracks wise at American politics with a bit of enterprising cheek.
Harry and Ron work together to compile the list of nominees they must sort:
Originally, their answers differ slightly:
Seeing that Ron labeled every candidate: Slytherin and forgot to classify George W. Bush entirely, the boys get into a pretty good row. Ron is adamant. Harry is concerned that they’ll be marked down for failing to include a Gryffindor. Neither believes there’s a Gryffindor – someone who could belong to their own house — in the bunch. Spoilers: Ron hangs onto most of his Slytherin responses, “squib” (a magical person with no magical ability) is used as a prefix and there’s a hilarious passage concerning the “house status” of Al Gore.
As a cross-cultural literary mogul enjoying a mixed demographic support seen only by the likes of Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Rowling neither needs nor has the time to tweet cutting burns following nominee gaffs, but she seems to notice, astutely, that this current election has remarkable similarities to the election that immediately preceded the publication of Half Blood Prince in 2004: an incumbent with desperately low approval ratings, having disappointed his base and royally enraged contrarians, up against an un-ideal, somewhat unacceptable alternative figure.
An unexpected turn from Rowling but, predictably, asking more of her audience than contemporary easy-reach fiction: condoning curiosity outside of existing paradigms and casting light on received, supremacist ideology, oft vilified in her work. Intelligent, as always, she avoids tossing her hat into the fray and offending partisan readers by tackling only the politics of the past and, more importantly, offering substantive content to her hungry, worshipful public. Fairly irresistible.