5 YA Series Fictional Governments That Teach Us Real Political Issues

*warning: spoilers ahead!

In today’s day and age, it seems like politics is everywhere. On social media, in the classroom, even in awkward conversations during Thanksgiving dinner. Politics are impossible to avoid, and it can be daunting when someone is talking about “lame ducks” and “filibusters” and you have no idea what any of it means. But have no fear! A source of education on the subject is right under our noses, secretly feeding us ideas that pertain to the real world: YA novels. Though dragons and magical dystopian universes don’t exist (sadly), many of the themes and concepts present throughout some of our favorite series can be applied to real-life issues. Here are five examples: 

  1. Harry Potter: A Corrupt Ministry of Magic
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter #1) – 1/28/97
by J.K. Rowling
Original Mary GrandPre’ cover design

In the Harry Potter series, the British Wizarding World is run by the Ministry of Magic.       The Minister of Magic is an elected position, with elections held democratically “at a maximum interval of seven years”, according to the official Wizarding World website. Ministry workers in each department are not elected but instead hired by the Ministry. The Wizengamot acts as the government’s judicial system, with a Chief Warlock appointed by the Minister of Magic presiding over the court.

But throughout the series, the Ministry becomes more and more corrupt. First, Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic in Harry Potter books 1-5, denies the return of Voldemort until it is too late, choosing instead to frame Harry as a liar. He also favors former Death Eaters such as Lucius Malfoy and essentially paves the way for future internal corruption of the Ministry. When Rufus Scrimgeour becomes Minister in The Half-Blood Prince, his actions mirror the blacklisting done during the McCarthyism era when he arrests innocent people to make it seem as if the Ministry is successfully fighting Voldemort. In the final book, The Deathly Hallows, the Ministry is fully controlled by Voldemort’s Death Eaters and people prejudiced against muggle-born wizards, or wizards with non-wizard parents. The government has total censorship over everything and creates the Muggle-Born Registration Commission to unfairly imprison muggle-borns. 

Thankfully after Voldemort’s defeat, the Ministry improves and gets rid of any corrupt members. But the corruption infiltrating the government affected almost as much of the plot as Voldemort and Harry’s battles had, creating a lesson on the dangers of having the wrong people in leadership positions. 

  1. The Hunger Games: Totalitarianism in the Capitol
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games trilogy is set in Panem, a dystopian country created after a series of droughts, famine, and war. Panem is split into 12 districts and run by the Capitol, a name for both the capital city and the governing body. For most of the series, the ruler of the Capitol is President Snow, a tyrannical and sadistic leader. Every year, two tributes are selected from each of the 12 districts to compete in the “Hunger Games”, a brutal game named for the districts’ ever-present famine issue and created by the Capitol as a reminder and punishment for the districts’ failed rebellion 74 years earlier. The tributes are locked in an arena to fight to the death until one comes out victorious. After the Second Rebellion, Panem eventually becomes a constitutional republic similar to the United States’ form of government. 

Throughout The Hunger Games and its following books Catching Fire and Mockingjay, the Capitol is an oppressive force looming over everything the main character, Katniss Everdeen, does. Panem is a totalitarian state, totalitarian meaning “of or relating to a political regime based on subordination of the individual to the state and strict control of all aspects of the life and productive capacity of the nation” according to Merriam Webster. Similarities can be drawn between Panem and historical real-life examples, such as the Soviet Union under Stalin or Nazi Germany under Hitler. Even today, North Korea stands as an autocratic state isolated from the rest of the world and controlling as many aspects of its citizens’ lives as possible.

The Hunger Games, though an extreme example, provides a backdrop that highlights the issues that arise from too much government control, while rebels fight against the Capitol for a better future.

  1. Divergent: A Severely Divided Nation.
Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent is also set in a futuristic society created to prevent more disaster, only the nation (a futuristic version of Chicago) is divided into five factions. Abnegation is selfless, Erudite is intelligent, Amity is peaceful, Dauntless is brave and Candor is honest. The factions were created out of the belief that if people stick to the ideas of only their faction, there will be no conflict. People choose their factions when they are 16, and if they fail their faction’s initiation they become “factionless” and outcasts. This concept is of course thwarted by those who are divergent, people who take an Aptitude test to see where they fit in and find that they match with more than one faction. Those who are divergent are a “danger to society” because they don’t fall into the same brainwashing methods used to keep people separate in their factions. The government is made up of fifty Abnegation council members, Abnegation in control because it was thought that the selfless faction would make the best decisions for the government. 

Trouble ensues when Erudite, who believes that they should be in control of the government, uses mind-controlling devices to turn members of Dauntless into soldiers to attack Abnegation. A war ensues, and the factionless surprisingly take over by the end of the second book, Insurgent. In the final book, Allegiant, faction members who want to return to the old way of life rebel against the factionless, calling themselves the Allegiant. Eventually, the faction members, the factionless, and the divergents learn to coexist with each other peacefully. 

Many compare Divergent to The Hunger Games because of their similar controlling dystopian governments. But Divergent puts emphasis on the importance of unity in a government that already exists, as the factions can feasibly provide a metaphor for the separation caused by political parties and the need to unite more often and compromise.

  1. His Dark Materials: A Terrifying Theocratic Magisterium
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

The His Dark Materials trilogy takes place in an alternate universe to ours, where people’s souls live outside of their bodies in the form of animals called dæmons. The world is controlled by the Magisterium, a religious organization loosely based on the Catholic Church. It seeks to control everything and believes that Dust, invisible particles that attach themselves to adults, is original sin and should be destroyed. One way the organization accomplishes this is through the General Oblation Board, which kidnaps children and separates their dæmon from them (a very painful and fatal process) in an attempt to prevent them from attracting Dust when they grow up. 

His Dark Materials is unique in its portrayal of religion because it describes the fall of Adam and Eve as the acquisition of knowledge for humankind rather than original sin. Main character Lyra is destined to be the second Eve of the universe and be tempted in order to restore freedom of knowledge. This portrayal of religion has made the series highly controversial since the first book, Northern Lights (The Golden Compass to American audiences), was first published in 1995. Nonetheless, the Magisterium provides an example of a theocracy, or as defined by Merriam Webster, “government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided”. Theocracies throughout history include Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, leaders and their subjects believing that the gods had bestowed the right to rule upon the current ruler. One modern-day theocracy includes the Catholic Church ruling over the Vatican City. Others include some Middle Eastern countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, where the foundations of their governments are based on Islamic law. 

The Magisterium is clearly portrayed in a negative light as a totalitarian form of government disguised by religious beliefs, and that message serves to question the importance of religion in a government and whether or not there should be separation. 

  1. The Lunar Chronicles: A Dystopian United Nations
The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

The Lunar Chronicles series is a futuristic take on fairy tales, set in the Earthen Union. The Earthen Union is an alliance of six nations formed by signing The Treaty of Bremen after World War IV. Though each nation has a different form of government, all nations use the same currency and have a universal language. The moon is also a country called Luna, and though the Earthen Union has tried to get Luna to sign the treaty, it has refused. The people of Luna are not trusted by the people of Earth because they have an ability called “glamour”, which allows them to manipulate the thoughts and feelings of others. However not all Lunar people have this ability and are immune to the effects of glamour; such people are called “shells” and either killed or imprisoned. The blood platelets of shells are later found to be the cure for a plague called letumosis that kills only people on Earth and was carried over by Lunar people.

Main protagonist Cinder is a cyborg living in New Beijing who is eventually revealed to be the Lunar Princess Selene, thought to have perished in a mysterious fire when she was a baby. She teams up with other characters (also loosely based on fairy tale characters) to gain control of the Lunar throne that is rightfully hers but controlled by her cruel aunt, Queen Levana. Cinder succeeds and becomes the new queen, signing the Treaty of Bremen and distributing the letumosis anecdote to Earth. She then asks that Lunars be free to go to Earth, frees the imprisoned shells, and dissolves the Lunar monarchy. Luna becomes a republic, with Cinder as the new ambassador to Earth.

Though the issue of authoritarian rule certainly comes into play in the series, another political concept is present when Luna becomes part of the Treaty alliance and Earth receives a letumosis cure that saves millions. The real-life United Nations functions in a similar manner, stating on their website that they are “committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights”. The Lunar Chronicles, therefore, stresses the importance of cooperation between countries in creating a more peaceful world (or world and moon, in this case). 

While YA novels are no Government and Politics class, the books on this list and so many others explore political themes in a way that is more fun and easy to digest. So next time you’re questioning a political issue you saw on the news, try turning to your favorite book series for comparison!