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Harry Potter: The Archetypal Child Hero in Book 1

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Poet, blogger, college professor, literature, and film enthusiast. Excited about critical and creative writing. Pursuing a Ph.D. in English.


The Boy Who Lived : Harry and the Tradition of British Child Heroes

Joanne Kathleen Rowling’s Harry Potter is an epic series of universal significance. Rowling has created a whole new universe of magic through her adventure-tales of the boy Harry Potter, the boy who lived. In the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the readers get an introductory glimpse of the central character. It is in this book that the seed of Harry’s future development as a complex character is successfully planted.

As the book begins, Harry is presented as a neglected orphan, reminiscent of Dickens’ child-heroes. However, alongside his deprived childhood, Rowling establishes, quite early in the book, Harry’s unique magical prowess. His ability to make the glass disappear at the reptile house, to speak with the snake, all prepare the readers for future magical exploits and adventures. It is interesting to note that magic is associated with emotion, especially the kind of magic which is uncontrolled. When Harry expresses his doubts whether he is really a wizard, Hagrid asks him, “Never made things happen when you was scared or angry?”

Magic: Training the Mind

Hogwarts, therefore, for Harry, is an experience in learning the art of channelizing his emotions. Harry’s confusion and doubt in himself is increased when he first enters the magical world of wizards. Rowling draws an authentic picture of this confused and insecure child’s mind and gradually shows a steady transformation.

Harry’s central emotion of Homelessness is transformed to a feeling of belonging. He could find in the towering castle of Hogwarts, the home which he never found at Privet Drive. However, this journey is full of ups and downs. The first night that he spent at Hogwarts dormitory is full of foreboding. His dream, about him wearing Quirrell’s turban, about that voice from the turban urging him to shift to Slytherin is very significant. Harry’s dreams, as we find out later in the series, are pointers to his connection to the mind of Voldemort.

The first book, even with all its magical qualities, is all about Harry’s emotions and desire. The Mirror of Erised (“Desire” spelt backward) showed Harry images of his parents and his family. Speaking about the mirror, Dumbledore said that it showed the “deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts.” Dumbledore further advised Harry that next time he should be prepared if he saw the mirror again.

What Dumbledore really advised Harry was to control and redirect his desires, so that he no more saw his parents in the mirror next time. Towards the end this advice comes handy. Harry is able to manipulate his desires to prioritize his need to have the sorcerer’s stone over seeing his parents. His ability to defeat Voldemort in the first book was because of the strength of his mother’s love, casting a protective spell while she died. Harry’s superiority over Voldemort is not because of his magical skills but because of something Voldemort never valued or understood: love.

Harry, Ron, Hermione: The Magic-Trio

Harry, Ron, Hermione: The Magic-Trio

Harry: Strengths and Transformations

The Quidditch gives Harry his sense of excellence. It is one thing where he is an undisputed hero. His experience of daily class lessons is moderate, with the exception of Potions, where he spent a miserable time. Rowling creates the character of Harry not as an exceptional wizard because of strength, or wit, but because of his temperament, and his fate.

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Harry makes many errors of judgement, in the first book, as well as in the rest of the series. His mistrust of Snape is one of the biggest ones. Despite Dumbledore’s assurance that Snape would never harm Harry, Harry could never trust Snape till the very last part of the last book. On the other hand, the blind loyalty he shows towards Dumbledore, considering him to be able to answer all his questions, is seriously put to test later in the series.

Harry’s character goes through multiple transformations in the course of the series. The first book, showing his pre-adolescent stage, is a prologue to these transformations, throwing hints and creating stage for Harry’s eventual emergence as a hero.

Love, Empathy, Friendship

Speaking of love, Harry is shown to be blessed with rare gift of friendship. His adventures are made more fun, his pain more bearable, because of his companions Ron and Hermione. However, Rowling does not present the three of them as a uniform homogenous unit but as individuals with unique qualities and personalities. Harry is neither the most erudite nor the most outspoken of the three. Yet he emerges as the lead-figure because of his ability to keep an open mind and his humility and compassion.

Harry is also blessed with love of most of the teachers and staff. Hagrid shows a special bond with Harry, perhaps also because it was he who carried Harry away from the wreck where his parents were killed. Professor Mcgonagall, despite her apparent severity and strictness, becomes a powerful figure of love and affection for Harry. Above all, the towering figure of Dumbledore offers Harry the comfort of a shelter he never had all his childhood. Harry is shielded not just by the love of his dead mother but the affection of his well-wishers. Ironically Professor Snape, despite his open revulsion at Harry, is instrumental in securing his life more than once.


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© 2019 Monami


Monami (author) from India on October 16, 2019:

Thank you Tori for your encouraging words. I admit that the movies disappoint me. They can never match the world painted by Rowling in her books.

Tori Leumas on October 12, 2019:

This is an interesting article. I have never read the Harry Potter books before. I have seen the first movie, though. Some of my family members don't like Harry Potter, but I'd like to read it myself to come up with my own judgement of the books.

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