The low opportunity cost attached to magic spills over into the thoroughly unbelievable wizard economy. Why are the Weasleys poor? Why would any wizard be? Anything they need, except scarce magical objects, can be obtained by ordering a house elf to do it, or casting a spell, or, in a pinch, making objects like dinner, or a house, assemble themselves. Yet the Weasleys are poor not just by wizard standards, but by ours: they lack things like new clothes and textbooks that should be easily obtainable with a few magic words. Why?
The answer, as with so much of JK Rowling’s work, seems to be “she didn’t think it through”. The details are the great charm of Rowling’s books, and the reason that I have pre-ordered my copy of the seventh novel: the owl grams, the talking portraits, the Weasley twins’ magic tricks. But she seems to pay no attention at all to the big picture, so all the details clash madly with each other. It’s the same reason she writes herself into plot holes that have to be resolved by making characters behave in inexplicable ways.
This matters. If the cost of magic isn’t well defined, how do we know what resources, other than plucky determination, Harry needs to defeat Voldemort? We certainly can’t rely on his mental acumen; he’s spent the last two books acting like a brain-damaged refugee from The Dirty Dozen.
I especially like that last clause – a concise summary of an earlier paragraph:
JK Rowling is not, to put it mildly, known for her seamless plotting or the gripping realism of her characters, most of whom spend the latter books pointlessly withholding information from each other that, if shared, would end the installment somewhere around page ten.
Now begins my impatient wait for the paperback release.