Today I’m delighted to be participating in the Potterhead July blog festival, hosted by Aentee @ Read at Midnight. All through this month many other wonderful bloggers are writing about a wide variety of topics to celebrate the release of the Cursed Child script! You can check out the full schedule here.
I decided to write about something which I have a deep interest in — Wizarding law! Even though you might not think it features a lot in the books, there’s a LOT of fascinating material to look at. *nods* (If you couldn’t tell: I am nerdy when it comes to Wizarding law.) But the whole of Wizarding law is rather a broad topic, and neither you nor I would have the willpower to read and write a massive sprawling paper on it. Although I am kind of sad not to be able to write about werewolves. But ANYWAY. In this post I’m focusing on the Unforgivable Curses! I’ll be looking at the reasoning behind them, their flaws, what they mean for morality in the Wizarding world.
As I’m sure many of you know, there are three Unforgivable Curses: the Imperius curse, the Cruciatus curse, and the Killing curse. (AKA Avada Kedavra. For ease that’s what I call it most of the time. SORRY, TECHNICALITIES.) Imperius makes the victim unquestioningly follow the will of whoever cast it — i.e. mind control — Cruciatus causes extreme pain/torture, and Avada Kedavra instant death. The penalty for casting an Unforgivable Curse is an automatic life sentence in Azkaban.
“And they are so named?”
“Because they are unforgivable. The use of any one of them will….”
“Earn you a one-way ticket to Azkaban. Correct.”
(This is from the movie of The Goblet of Fire, by the way. Not actual canon, but I though it was a rather nice explanation.)
The reasoning behind them is essentially that these spells are so evil that you can never be forgiven for using them. (The clue is in the name.) They’re some of the — if not the — worst crimes a witch or wizard can commit. It seems fairly logical; after all, in the Muggle world we usually have strong penalties for murder, torture and slavery. (There isn’t a completely direct Muggle Imperius comparison, but that seemed most fitting .) In many places people can go to prison for life for these crimes.
However, if you look into them a bit more then the concept becomes rather flawed. Firstly, the inconsistent reasoning behind the Unforgivable Curses themselves. Although many people would call them the ‘worse’ of the three Curses, Cruciatus and Avada Kedavra are both rather problematic. Like I said earlier, there isn’t a direct comparison to Imperius in the Muggle world — you can’t get the same effect in any other way. But the results of Cruciatus and Avada Kedavra can be achieved fairly easily via non-Unforgivable means, whether that’s with other curses or through Muggle means. The penalty is placed on the method rather than the result.
Avada Kedavra has the weakest argument, to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very strongly against murder! But there are many other ways to be killed in the Wizarding world and the same punishment isn’t meted out, particularly in reference to Aurors. It doesn’t figure that only people who murder using Avada Kedavra should be punished with the Unforgivable penalty. So the first problematic element to the Unforgivable Curses are their inconsistency.
The second problem is the automatic sentence to Azkaban. It’s unclear whether this includes a trial or not, but as you might now the Wizarding judicial system isn’t exactly trustworthy. *coughs*
let’s hope they did some reforms Normally a judge would decide the punishment. But it seems as though with the Unforgivable Curses, the caster is given no option but to go straight to Azkaban. (Which is especially unfair if that’s without a trial.)
Following these rules, several characters we see as good — including Molly Weasley and Harry himself — should be in Azkaban. In the books they did escape this, but what of those without fame and some form of trust from the establishment on their side? It’s far more fair and logical to hold a trial, consider the situation and evidence and then punish the caster. Considering the horrific conditions of Azkaban, you don’t really want to be sending the wrong person there. (Although that seems to happen, er, fairly frequently.) (Okay, I know this post isn’t a discussion about the prison system, but we should probably consider whether Azkaban is actually a useful place for criminals to go. I mean, it wouldn’t be beneficial for the world if Harry Potter was locked up in prison, so…?)
As well as these two major problems, there are also many other terrible fates out there in the Wizarding world that aren’t branded Unforgivable, such as the Dementor’s Kiss. It just doesn’t make sense to single out these three for particular attention and then disregard others.
The strong penalties aren’t even very effective. Many wizards seem unafraid to cast Unforgivable Curses. Like I said before, this includes many characters we’d see as good, and brings into the equation the question of their own morality. Ultimately, the governing system is still very flawed and practices violence despite their laws. And, as Hermione might point out, they don’t have very good relations with non-wizard magical beings. It’s pretty unclear as to what the law is concerning Unforgivable Curses in this manner. You’d think it would be the same, because a lot of the phrases are to do with the method rather than the effect, but the Ministry of Magic seemed pretty content with killing Buckbeak so it’s difficult to say.
In summary, although I find the concept of Unforgivable Curses very interesting, I think that they’re a rather flawed concept and — like many aspects of Wizarding life — require changes. If you fancy reading up on a bit more, then it turns out there are some rather excellent legal articles out there (by actual law students) about Harry Potter! Yes, that’s an actual thing. 😛 I found this one by Aaron Schwabach extremely useful, but this is also great if you want some broader information about the Law in Harry Potter.