Let me start by saying that I don't really know anything about philosophy, but I know a lot about Harry Potter. I thought these essays did a nice jobLet me start by saying that I don't really know anything about philosophy, but I know a lot about Harry Potter. I thought these essays did a nice job of explaining basic ideas of philosophy and relating them to the Harry Potter series. I rarely felt lost or confused when reading the essays.
The book is divided into four sections of four essays each; each section is named after a Hogwarts House and the essays therein are themed accordingly.
It's a little disappointing that, because the book was published in 2003, it was impossible for them to take the events of the last two books into account. Many of the essays wouldn't change, but there were instances where I wondered how new revelations from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would figure into the authors' arguments. For example, in Benjamin J. Bruxvoort Lipscomb and W. Christopher Stewart's essay "Magic, Science, and the Ethics of Technology", they mention that Harry is unable to perform the Cruciatus curse properly at the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix because he is too "good"; that "only the corrupt can perform [the Unforgivable Curses]". In Deathly Hallows, Harry performs two Unforgivable Curses without hesitation or consequence. Other important plot devices and character developments, like the introduction of the idea of Horcruxes or Dumbledore's backstory, also would've added interest to some of the essays. Jennifer Hart Weed's essay "Voldemort, Boethius, and the Destructive Effects of Evil" summarizes Boethius's claims that committing evil actions leads to "an internal division in the evildoer, which in turn leads to misery and greater self-destruction". I noticed that this sentiment was similar to Dumbledore's explanation that "Killing rips the soul apart" and allows for the formation of Horcruxes.
The ways that the various essayists merged philosophy and Harry Potter differed. Some discussed traditional philosophical questions, using only examples from the Harry Potter universe to illustrate their points. Others merged the two worlds very well, discussing characters and plot points in terms of aspects of philosophy, morality, or epistemology. Some were incredibly well written; others read like high school essays (but were nonetheless entertaining in content). Several incorporated other fantasy worlds (Baum's Oz, Lewis' Narnia, and Tolkien's Middle-earth) into their essays as well. All of the essays were clear and concise and well-organized.
The understanding that the writers seemed to have of the Potter universe varied for each author also. Some made analyses of the text that disagreed with mine (that is, they read the book wrong IMO). For instance, Michael Silberstein discusses "Apparition" in his essay "Space, Time, and Magic", using quotes taken from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that were actually describing the sensation of traveling by Portkey. The physical feeling of Apparition isn't described by Rowling until Half-Blood Prince, and it's obvious when you compare the two that they are distinct forms of transportation. It makes sense that Silberstein assumed that traveling by Portkey and Apparition were similar experiences (not having read Half-Blood Prince yet), but the fact remains that the passages he cited were clearly references to Portkeys, and he should've identified them as such, rather than referring to them as if they spoke of Apparition.
All in all the book was really enjoyable for someone who likes Harry Potter an awful lot and is really ignorant about philosophy. All of the essays referenced philosophers from throughout history and sparked my interest in some of their writings. I'd say that, for me, the book was an excellent portal into the expansive world of philosophy; after reading it, I'm really interested to learn more....more