What can the Ministry of Magic do for you?
June 9, 2011 4:36 PM   Subscribe

In the Harry Potter mithology, what are the responsibilities of the Ministry of Magic and who elects the Minister?
posted by vega to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
A fairly detailed and accurate breakdown of the Ministry of Magic can be found on Wikipedia:

posted by patronuscharms at 4:42 PM on June 9, 2011

There is some kind of election or promotion process (Dumbledore was offered the job, for example) but it's never fully explained in the books.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:45 PM on June 9, 2011

or on the scarily comprehensive Wikia
posted by acidic at 4:45 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Minister is elected - Dumbledore was asked to run but refused; presumably he was asked by members of the wizarding elite and/or his allies (Bathilda Bagshot, Griselda Marchbanks, etc.)

But please, be aware that this mythology evolved as Rowling wrote the stuff, and that the books and movies are not consistent with one another. Her political science is only slightly less hopeless than her math skills.
posted by SMPA at 5:01 PM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Her political science is only slightly less hopeless than her math skills.

What's up with her math skills? I read the books and can't recall anything particularly glaring on that front.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 6:07 PM on June 9, 2011

What's up with her math skills? I read the books and can't recall anything particularly glaring on that front.

I can't speak for SMPA, but I always felt that the sheer number of wizards (in Diagon Alley, the World Cup, St Mungo's, the Ministry etc) didn't match up with the assertion that Hogwarts was the only wizarding school in Britain. There are further discrepancies: Rowling said in an interview that there were a thousand students at Hogwarts at any time, but another time said the entire British wizarding population was three thousand. And if her first estimate is accurate, there should be ~35 Gryffindors in Harry's year-- yet we only know eight and there's no indication of others, plus the small number of names mentioned by the Sorting Hat doesn't support that idea. Grrrrr-- would've been so cool if there were other British wizarding schools, perhaps of varying prestige.
posted by acidic at 6:58 PM on June 9, 2011

further on the population with her reference to some few thousand wizards, she has no idea how many people would be needed to actually have a (nearly) completely independent and functional society as developed as the one she described.
posted by 6550 at 7:20 PM on June 9, 2011

She also has 7 years of classes in each of the major fields, and 2-4 classes for the first 5 years (Potions and Herbology are often with another house, transfiguration not), so Snape/Flitwick/etc are teaching 13 or so different classes in a year, maybe more.

The way money works doesn't even begin to make sense, either.

The Minister of Magic is elected, ish. He seems to make general strategic decisions about how the Ministry should respond to things like half bloods and muggles and dark magic. It is entirely unclear how the ministry is funded.
posted by jeather at 7:21 PM on June 9, 2011

I suppose all will be explained when Rowling's HP encyclopedia is published.
posted by brujita at 7:59 PM on June 9, 2011

We know of "hundreds" of Slytherins in the stands at a Quidditch match. We know that there are about 6000 wizards (her most sensible/consistent answer) in a country with 60,000,000 people in it, but fully 3/4ths of Hogwarts students are less than pure blood, but magical genes are dominant and families like the Blacks and the Weasleys are not so uncommon as to be extraordinary.

There are apparently something like 80 people in an "army" that terrorized not just this population but a good chunk of the rest of the world. We met 38 named and 2 unnamed people in Harry's year (class of 1998, except every date for the entire series is based of a 1982 calendar,) and through the fourth book less than half a dozen people in the year that Cedric/Fred/George/Lee were in, two people in Penelope/Percy's year, and three people from Ginny/Luna/Neville's year, even though only 70 people total were ever supposed to be in the Gryffindor common room, and there should have been at least five Gryffindors in each of those years.

Hermione was the youngest of the trio until Rowling wanted her to be old enough to realistically attract Krum, and suddenly she was a whole year older.

That population of 6000 supports dozens of professional sports teams, a high school with somewhere between 250 and 1000 students (depending on the chapter), two fully isolated villages, a shopping and cultural hub big enough to host a "wrong side of the tracks" section, and a complex, multi-level bureaucracy that finds time to regulate trade, conduct raids on random armed citizens, suppress at least two major sentient species and negotiate an uneasy peace with a third, and periodically host international sporting events attracting crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands. And almost no one we meet actually lives in either of the villages - but the Diggory, Weasley, and Lovegood families live within walking distance of each other (and Mr. Diggory refers to others in the neighborhood.)

And that's just what I can come up with while I sit here in bed typing on my phone. To say that details are not Ms. Rowling's strong suit is like saying that the guys who run South Park can get a little bit inappropriate at times.
posted by SMPA at 8:35 PM on June 9, 2011 [15 favorites]

And this lessens my enjoyment of the books not one whit.
I am sure that many wizards were home-schooled, just as they are today.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:26 PM on June 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

three people from Ginny/Luna/Neville's year

Neville is in Harry's year. He loses his toad on the train the first year they all go to Hogwarts, and a fairly major plot point hinges on his being born at around the same time as Harry.

I always assumed that we weren't introduced to all the students of Hogwarts, even Gryffindors in Harry's year.

As for some of your other points, I think if any series can get away with a 'a wizard did it' type explanation, Harry Potter can. Also, in a society where almost all the members can use magic, I don't think a relatively large proportion of the population working in government is unrealistic. A lot of industries wouldn't be required since people can meet a lot of needs themselves, but controls and regulations on the use of magic would most definitely be required.

Which was, I thought, the major responsibility of the Ministry of Magic - preventing (or trying to) the abuse of magical abilities.
posted by lwb at 10:18 PM on June 9, 2011

A huge amount of the criticism leveled here (and elsewhere, on other) has to do with one simple numerical discrepancy -- with regard to the number of students at Hogwarts. I think the criticism is a little unfair to Rowling.

The calculations go as follows:

When we start at the very lowest level of calculations (how many male students per house per year? Twice that is the number of students per house year, 4x that is the number of students per year, etc.) it is very clear that there are about 10 students per house, per year. That means 40 students per year (or ~280 students at Hogwarts). 40 wizards per year means -- given a 150-year wizard lifespan, 6000 living wizards. This seems to be too low to support the society that exists in wizard Britain.

On the other hand, whenever Rowling in the books gives a number for students in Hogwarts as a whole, we end up at around 1000 students at Hogwarts -- which would at least 20,000 British wizards. I think that this is a reasonable number to constitute British wizard society. This could certainly include two small towns plus assorted people elsewhere. This is about the population of Medieval London, or the Cahokia civilization at the same time period. It's not nothing. Particularly considering the fact that much of manufacturing and production backbone of human society is unnecessary because of magic, it's believable that a bureaucracy-heavy society of this size could exist.

My main point is this -- a) is it not reasonable to say that Rowling intended for Hogwarts to be ~1000 students on the large scale of the school as a whole but b) didn't want to create four times that many students on the small scale of Harry's individual Gryffindor year, because that many random characters would be bad for storytelling purposes?

(tl;dr Aside from one small shortcut which is necessary for narrative reasons, Rowling's numbers actually work out okay.
posted by lewedswiver at 12:34 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, I don't disagree that they're enjoyable - it's not even that it can't make sense. It's that Rowling puts no effort into making it logical, and doesn't appear to understand why her off-the-cuff math is confusing. Questions like "how exactly is the Minister for Magic selected" and "how many students attend Hogwarts" are best answered using common sense and friendly debate, instead of appeals to the actual text or her statements in interviews or what we're shown in the movies.

I'm forced to conclude that the wizarding world holds elections that all of our "with it" characters know a lot about, but Harry never bothers to ask. The bit about Dumbledore being asked by friends comes from the fact that he only ever seems to get random letters from the community and personal entreaties from important people. Mr. Weasley is insufficiently empowered to make that kind of suggestion personally, but is too involved to get away with the "random constituent/worshiper" model. Assuming most of the adults we meet are in one of those two groups and that random letters aren't really relevant, that leaves us with enemies (Malfoy,) syncophants (Fudge) and allies of the Bagshot model. The "Harry could ask but never bothers" thing is well attested in the actual books.

As for population: I assume that vast numbers of school-age British wizards either attend a foreign school or are home educated (and that many drop out after getting just enough OWLs - cf Stan Shunpike.) And yeah, the number of people in the human magical community in Britain, including squibs and part-humans and non-magical spouses and some siblings/cousins/parents, must number in the low tens of thousands, of whom close to 1,000 work for the government, including Hogwarts and St. Mungo's. About a quarter of them are apparently in law enforcement (including Mr. Weasley), which compares nicely with the structure of Muggle municipal governments. I stick with the 280 student number only because that's what we revert to outside of Yule Ball and Quidditch match scenarios - we see about 100 kids go to Hogsmeade on the weekend, all of Gryffindor can fit in the common room simultaneously, and so on.

I further assume that virtually anyone who "can" play Quidditch at a decent level (all the Weasleys save perhaps Percy, all the boys in Harry's dorm room save Neville) could get a (low) paying job playing Quidditch professionally. Even a population of 20,000 wouldn't support a league like the NFL, even when every team has exactly 7 players instead of 100. Indeed, I am convinced that almost everyone in the community gets to work in whatever industry they'd most like to, and that only very critical jobs (Auror) have significant barriers to entry. For instance, any schlub with a few NEWTs who doenst completely piss Dumbledore off can get a teaching job at the only high school in the country, and be immediately and fully responsible for every aspect of instruction for an entire subject, with effectively non-existent oversight. The no-pissing-off-Dumbledore thing is negotiable.

And I meant Colin, not Neville. HP analysis in bed is fraught with risks of all kinds, especially of the brain fart variety.
posted by SMPA at 6:42 AM on June 10, 2011

As for population: I assume that vast numbers of school-age British wizards either attend a foreign school or are home educated (and that many drop out after getting just enough OWLs - cf Stan Shunpike.)

It's made clear in book 7 when attendance at Hogwarts becomes mandatory that most parents send their children to Hogwarts, but a few homeschool (or send them elsewhere? I forget the details and don't have the books to hand). I think Ron is the one who tells this to Harry and Hermione.
posted by jeather at 7:00 AM on June 10, 2011

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