There are many critics of the Harry Potter books, but most of those who have bothered to read the books can't deny that the books are extremely readable. Critics of the Harry Potter books critique them mostly because they find them in simplistic in some way. When I read the Harry Potter books for the first time, this was my view, that the books were a good read, but seemed to be based around a simplistic, good vs. evil theme. The books seemed to be written in black and white.
I have read the books three times, and with each rereading, it becomes more apparent that there is more to the books than good wizards fighting evil wizards. Perhaps the foremost example of this is the Ministry of Magic, the governing body of the wizarding world. In the action of the books, it often is providing as much of a threat to Harry Potter and his cause than is Voldemort. In all but the first book, the Ministry of Magic's actions range from annoying, to bureaucratic, to cruel. The first book, while it does not have the Ministry playing an obvious role, has a bit of foreshadowing, the first words spoken about it are: "Ministry o' Magic messin' things up, as usual". In the next five books, we see how they mess things up:
- In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the Ministry dismissed Dumbledore and imprisons Hagrid to stop students being injured at Hogwarts, mostly because they have to be seen to be "doing something".
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban shows an even darker side to the Ministry, as we find out they use creatures who verge on the demonic to guard their prisons. The plot of the book centers around the Ministry's attempts to execute Sirius Black, an innocent man, and Buckbeak, an innocent hippogriff.
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire gives us a much wider view of the wizarding world, and we see many different people from the Ministry of Magic. Throughout most of the book, the worst face of the Ministry is shown by Percy Weasley, who is vain, petty and bureaucratic, worrying about "trying to standardize cauldron thickness" because "leakages have been increasing at a rate of almost three percent a year". By the end of the book, almost all the Ministry officials we meet are shown to have much worse problems than sheer pettiness. Bartemious Crouch was an inflexible man who allowed his secret police to torture suspects, and let his own son be dragged away to his death. Ludo Bagman, the head of Magical Games and Sports, is a corrupt gambler. And Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, refuses to believe that Voldemort has returned, because it would upset his status quo.
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has the Order of the Phoenix fighting against a returned Voldemort, while the Ministry attempts to discredit and persecute the Order. To this ends, they send Delores Umbridge to Hogwarts to spy on and persecute Albus Dumbledore and his followers. While supposedly just there as a teacher, she uses her power to inflict small crueleties on Harry Potter and his friends, and at the end is revealed to have sent Dementors to attack Harry. This book also points out the speciest, snobbish nature of the Ministry. At the end of the book, however, the Ministry is attacked by Voldemort and must finally admit that they were wrong.
- in the latest book, the Ministry takes a less active role in the books events, but we do learn that Cornelius Fudge has been replaced by Rufus Scrimgeour, a man who while somewhat more competent, seems more interested in "raising morale" than in fighting the war. He raises morale by imprisoning people on suspicions, and keeping them imprisoned to make it look like he is "doing something".
So, with all of this, is the Ministry evil? Could it be that they have been controlled and manipulated by Voldemort throughout the books? While just about anything can happen in Harry Potter, I don't think that that is one of the likely revelations in Book VII. For one thing, in 2005, having a large government or corporate body being secretly evil or undermined by a conspiracy is too cliched to be a good literary technique. For another, the Ministry is never portrayed as evil, they are portrayed as bad. They are known to lie, cheat, slander, harm, kill, mislead, and many of the top levels seem to be full of people who are bureaucratic, cruel, prejudiced, officious, petty, vain and greedy; they are not evil, not in the way that Voldemort and his Death Eaters are. While the Ministry's badness may in some way enable the evil of Voldemort, they are not in themselves evil. They are simply bad, driven along haphazardly by their own confusion and selfishness.
Perhaps one of the not so obvious moral lessons that JK Rowling is trying to teach us in the books is the difference between Good, Bad and Evil.