Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone
Harry Potter and The Last Unicorn: Can the Supporting Characters be the Hero?
In almost every fantasy book or film, the major protagonist is represented as a hero who must struggle to overcome life-threatening obstacles and potential defeat. Peter Beagles novel The Last Unicorn published in 1968, and J. K. Rowling’s novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone published in 1997 are two vastly different stories, yet they share a copious amount of similarities regarding heroism. Harry Potter and The Last Unicorn share a similar ideology of what is a hero, in the sense that a hero is portrayed as a single entity. It is common nature to read a fantasy novel and depict the major protagonist as the hero; however, when looking at Harry Potter and The Last Unicorn, the supporting characters show far more heroic qualities than the major protagonists themselves. Harry Potter and the Unicorn are the major heroes of the novels, yet it is the supporting characters who aid in giving them their sense of heroism, which subsequently leads the supporting characters to becoming heroic themselves.
When comparing both Rowling and Beagles novels, it is obvious that there is a major protagonist — that being Harry and the Unicorn, or Lady Amalthea — and other supporting characters, such as Ron, Hermione, Schmendrick, and Molly. However, the protagonists are not the only heroes present in the novel. If heroism is based on ones nobility and courage, Lady Amalthea may not even be considered a hero at all. Upon being turned into a human, Lady Amalthea loses her sense of heroism and becomes merely a damsel in distress struggling with her love interest, Prince Lir. She only restores her sense of heroism once she returns as a unicorn and defeats King Haggard and the Red Bull. Before Schmendrick turned Lady Amalthea back into a unicorn, she was contemplating remaining as a human in order to stay with Prince Lir, and evidently leaving all of the other unicorns in captive by King Haggard. Schmendrick and Molly had to persuade Lady Amalthea to make the righteous decision to leave Prince Lir and save the other unicorns. Without the encouragement and aid from Schmendrick and Molly, the unicorns would be left in captive of King Haggard, and Lady Amalthea would have remained a damsel in distress. There may only be one sole protagonist, but there is not one sole hero in these novels. Harry Potter and the Unicorn both are the central focus of the two novels, yet the supporting characters serve to advance the plot by keeping both Harry, and the Unicorn prevailing against Voldemort and King Haggard.
In The Last Unicorn, Schmendrick’s definition of a hero is that, “[t]he hero has to make a prophecy come true, and the villain is the one who has to stop him.” Schmendrick further claims, “a hero has to be in trouble from the moment of his birth, or he’s not a real hero” (Beagle, 127-128). Schmendrick’s definition of a hero identifies with the Unicorn, but strikingly with Harry Potter as well. By definition, Harry and the Unicorn are heroes. Their names being the titles of both novels represents Harry and the Unicorn as the sole heroes, prior to even reading the stories. The reader is set up knowing who the focus of the narrative is about, and is thereby only analyzing and critiquing the major protagonists, while failing to look further at the other supporting characters. The supporting characters do not have the same opportunities to be considered heroic due to a lack of attention, and a stringent definition of what it means to be a hero. By Schmendrick’s definition, it is clear that he does not consider himself a hero. His decision to help the Unicorn was not because he thinks of himself as a hero, or as her ‘knight in shining armour,’ but because he simply wants to help the unicorns. Schmendrick considers himself an amateur magician, but still uses what little magic he has to help save her. Schmendrick’s ignorance of his own heroic qualities further highlights his humbleness and goodheartedness as a character.
Harry Potter and the Unicorn are heroes, however they do not become heroes by defeating King Haggard or Voldemort on their own. The two villains in the novels — King Haggard and Voldemort — only target the Unicorn and Harry. King Haggard sought to capture the last Unicorn, just as Voldemort’s only vengeance was against Harry Potter. In spite of this, the supporting characters still made the choice to join forces with the protagonists, risking their lives to support a friend who they have only met for a short period of time. In Harry Potter, Voldemort targets Harry because he is the only one that he is unable to defeat. Voldemort without any difficulty would be able to kill Ron and Hermione, as they are not a threat to him by any means. Ron and Hermione prove themselves to be heroes, because despite the terror and anxiety that surrounds Voldemort’s name, they made the decision to fight alongside Harry and use whatever magic they could to help him kill Voldemort. When Harry was planning to search for the Philosopher’s Stone alone at night, Ron and Hermione reacted by saying,“… you don’t think we’d let you go alone?… Of course not. How do you think you’d get the stone without us? I’d better go and look through my books, there might be something useful” (Rowling, 291). Ron and Hermione show their loyalty to Harry unceasingly despite their own fears and insecurities. Their friendship with Harry was short, however, as soon as the threat of Voldemort’s return became a reality, Ron and Hermione — despite their freshman level of magic — did not let Harry go through anything on his own.
Just as Voldemort only targets Harry Potter, King Haggard only targets and preys on unicorns. King Haggard and the Red Bull’s terror has no impact on Molly and Schmendrick, yet they jeopardize their own safety in order to help the Unicorn find others of her kind. Molly and Schmendrick even degrade themselves by working as the King Haggard’s clown and kitchenmaid, allowing Lady Amalthea to secretly search for the captive unicorns. Unlike Schmendrick, Molly has no magical powers or abilities of any kind, which puts herself further in danger, however; as a woman, she is able to see the Unicorn for what it truly is. On account of Molly’s infatuation with unicorns, she begs Schmendrick to allow her to come along on their journey to King Haggard’s castle. She argues with Schmendrick, “[s]he’s letting you travel with her, though I can’t think why, but she has no need of you. She doesn’t need me either, heaven knows, but she’ll take me too” (Beagle, 99). Molly and Schmendrick are aware of what little influence and capability they have against King Haggard, but their passion and nobility surpasses their strength.
In fantasy, there is substantial importance placed upon magic and becoming a superb wizard, or magician. In Schmendrick’s case, his struggle with becoming a good magician started when he was unable to free the Unicorn from Mommy Fortuna’s cage. Despite his constant struggle, Schmendrick was always able to use his magic in dire straits in order to save Lady Amalthea and the unicorns. When Schmendrick was put to the test and had to use his magic to make wine out of water, the skeleton exclaimed “ah that was the real stuff, that was wine! You’re more of a magician than I took you for” (Beagle, 237). Initially reading this novel, Schmendrick would not be considered a hero due to the fact that his magic tricks often fail, and he is not taken seriously as a magician. In spite of Schmendrick’s magic being inconsistent, he is continuously needed by the Unicorn throughout the novel, and is always able to prevail.
In Hermione’s case — although all wizards at Hogwarts place an importance upon magic — is especially keen on her studies and becoming a stronger, more powerful wizard. Hermione studies for months prior to her exams in order to be the best, however, being a hero does not simply mean that one demonstrates impressive magical abilities. Hermione is not a hero for coming in at the top of her class, but for her aid in defeating Voldemort and saving Harry. Schmendrick is a failing magician that struggles to perfect his magic tricks, and Hermione is a first-year student at Hogwarts just beginning her studies as a wizard. Schmendrick and Hermione are not heroic for what they are capable of, but for the ways in which they use their magic to save the major protagonists from defeat. Although the supporting characters do not have as much power as Harry and the Unicorn, with their help they are powerful enough to defeat King Haggard and Voldemort. This struggle and perseverance is what the genre of fantasy captures as being heroic.
Harry and the Unicorn are born heroic prophecies, but it is the supporting characters who help them discover their full potential. Harry was dumbfounded when he began receiving letters addressed to “Mr H. Potter: The Cupboard under the Stairs,” and was even more perplexed upon discovering that he is a famous wizard (Rowling, 36). When Harry went to Hogwarts and the Potter name was quickly circulated, Hermione asks him, “are you really?… I know all about you, of course — I got a few extra books for background reading, and you’re in Modern Magical History, and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts, and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century” (Rowling, 113). Likewise, in The Last Unicorn, the Unicorn overhears hunters discussing the extent to which unicorns were becoming extinct. In a moment of distress and confusion, she claims “all I want to know is that there are other unicorns somewhere in the world. Butterfly, tell me that there are still others like me” (Beagle, 15). Both Harry and the Unicorn share a similar humble and heroic virtue, and are unaware of the magnitude of their powers. Harry and the Unicorn discover their heroic qualities and potential to their full extent because of the encouragement and constant reassurance from the supporting characters.
Harry Potter and the Unicorn were born as prophecies; however, their popularity plays an incremental role in their reputation as heroes. The Potter name was known by everyone at Hogwarts prior to Harry’s arrival, which resulted in Harry being treated similar to a celebrity by both students and faculty. His fight against Voldemort as an infant which lead to the death of his parents, and the lightning scar across his forehead, made history in the world of magic. Correspondingly, in The Last Unicorn, the Unicorn was given similar treatment as a result of her magic, beauty, and horn. She was sought after to be a part of Mommy Fortuna’s Midnight Carnival, for her beauty was seen as lucrative. Even under the male gaze, she was still considered to be a “pretty little mare” (Beagle, 9). Popularity and heroism are not interchangeable, yet it can be misconstrued that Harry and the Unicorn are looked up to as prestigious because of who they are, rather than what they have accomplished. Defeating King Haggard and Voldemort is heroic; however, their defeat cannot be accredited to only Harry and the Unicorn. The supporting characters in the novel are indisputably the cause of both heroic defeats due to their endless support, encouragement, and aid in magical abilities.
Supporting characters tend to be over looked in fantasy because they are often not considered important enough to have a specific title or role aside from the ‘side kick.’ As a result of the supporting characters rarely becoming the central focus of the novel, they often tend to fly under the radar, and are only turned to when the major protagonist is in trouble, or needs support. Nevertheless, in both The Last Unicorn and Harry Potter the supporting characters prove themselves to be more heroic than the major protagonists. In Beagle and Rowling’s novels, Ron, Hermione, Schmendrick, and Molly help the major protagonist throughout their journey to become a hero, which subsequently results in the supporting characters becoming heroes themselves. Despite all of the danger and peril that the supporting characters endure in attempt to save the major protagonist, they do not get any acknowledgment or reward for their actions. Harry Potter and the Unicorn outshine the supporting characters throughout the entire novels, even though they were responsible in contributing to the overall success. Harry and the Unicorn have no choice but to be heroic in the event of their potential defeat, but Ron, Hermione, Schmendrick, and Molly choose to be heroic by fulfilling the supporting role. In fantasy, the hero is traditionally depicted as a singular entity; however it is rare that a hero stands alone. Harry Potter and the Unicorn may be heroes by definition, but if the preconceived notion and definition of a ‘hero’ is ignored, it is clear that the supporting characters — being Ron, Hermione, Schmendrick, and Molly — show a far greater sense of heroism than the major protagonists in terms of courage, strength, and bravery.
Beagle, Peter S. The Last Unicorn. A Roc Book. 1968
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter. Bloomsbury. 2014
The Terrifying Traits Keeping Harry Potter from Being a Positive Influence in a Children’s Curriculum
J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone — later retitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the book’s release in the United States — was first published in 1997. Beloved by young readers worldwide, the novel recounts the exploits of the titular Harry Potter, an orphan who discovers he is a wizard when he is accepted into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As he takes in this new world, it becomes clear that not every all its inhabitants are as welcoming as they seem; for there are dark forces seeking to destroy Harry and the balance of the wizarding world in the process. Rowling’s book focuses on the theme of good’s triumph over evil. However, because it excuses rule-breaking and presents a biased perspective on “evil characters,” Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone should not be included in the school board curriculum.
Be it federal laws or classroom regulations, an important lesson for children to learn is that the rules apply to everyone equally. Unfortunately, this lesson is not applied in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as it partakes in a number of double standards, exempting the main characters from consequence when they break the rules. For example, Draco Malfoy points out that “first years aren’t allowed [broomsticks]” (131) when he discovers Harry’s new Nimbus Two Thousand. However, not only does Professor Flitwick ignore Draco as he tries to report Harry, the broom is actually a gift from Professor McGonagall after she sees Harry disobey the instruction to stay on the ground during the flying lesson. She even acknowledges that it is against the rules but allows it anyway, explaining in a note that arrived with the broomstick: “DO NOT OPEN THE PARCEL AT THE TABLE. It contains your new Nimbus Two Thousand, but I don’t want everybody knowing you’ve got a broomstick or they’ll all want one” (131). Similar scenes of the main character not being punished, or even being rewarded for major infractions can be found throughout the novel, however when a side character or even an antagonist breaks the rules, they are swiftly punished without second thought. The reader sees this exact scenario unfold when Draco once again attempts to report Harry, this time to McGonagall: “Detention! And twenty points from Slytherin! Wandering around in the middle of the night, how dare you” (192). Unlike with Harry, McGonagall is unwilling to make an exception. She will not even entertain the notion that Draco may have a legitimate reason for breaking the curfew. When Draco tries to explain the situation, McGonagall refuses to listen, saying, “What utter rubbish! How dare you tell such lies” (192)! Her reaction is completely justified as she is an authority that must uphold certain values in the environment she looks after, but there can be no exceptions. If Harry can defy the rules for a good reason, then so to should Draco be afforded the same liberty when he has a similarly valid reason, yet this is not the case. Harry Potter’s explicit use of double standard in regard to rule breaking conveys the dangerous message that rules do not apply to everyone equally. This message, if taught to young children, can be toxic and is one of the reasons why Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone should not be included in the school board curriculum.
In many respects, Harry Potter’s main theme is the triumph of good over evil. However, the way in which novel portrays evil is extremely conducive to bigoted thinking, specifically in the way it portrays the Slytherin house and the characters associated with it. One of the first things said about Slytherin comes when Harry asks Hagrid about the houses, and Hagrid explains, “There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin” (62). Hagrid does not acknowledge in his statement that not all Slytherins grow to be evil. He ignores facts to justify his prejudice. A young reader can easily adopt an exclusionary mindset from this attitude. One can see this exact effect take hold of Harry at the sorting ceremony: “Perhaps it was Harry’s imagination, after all he’d heard about Slytherin, but he thought they looked like an unpleasant lot” (95). Overcoming prejudices is hard even for adults who know the harm bigotry can cause, so modern education tries to encourage a more accepting mindset in children. People know not to assume things about others simply because they have certain traits, but one cannot read Harry Potter, with its open, unchallenged hatred of a group, and say it champions this understanding, or that it encourages overcoming ignorance. For this reason, it is plain to see that this novel would be a detriment to the goal of the education system, and should therefore not be included in the school curriculum.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone should not be included in the school board curriculum because it presents no consequences for rule breaking and encourages a bigoted mindset. The book is extremely well-written; it is a beautifully crafted world that comes from a place of innocence and wonder. No one could claim that J. K. Rowling set out to write a corrupting influence. However, the attitudes presented in this novel can be damaging if adopted by children — one cannot exempt themselves from the rules, nor can they go about their lives deciding that a person is good or evil because of what they are, rather than who. If the purpose of school is to teach children to be a part of society, then this novel is counterproductive to intention.
A First Year’s Year of Food: Cuisine and Character in ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’
You are what you eat, they always say. This timeless proverb holds true for the wizarding world, as well. Harry Potter might be able to escape the muggle world after he becomes a wizard, but no one is immune to the truth behind proverbs. Throughout Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling uses food-related imagery to complement the emotions Harry has. In his first year at Hogwarts, Harry experiences a vast change in his surroundings, feelings, and sense of self. These stark life changes are mimicked by the different flavors and connotations of food Harry is surrounded by.
For the first ten years of Harry’s life, he lives with his only remaining relatives, the Dursleys. Unloved and unwanted, he lives in the cupboard beneath the stairs. His spoiled cousin Dudley has everything he can get his hands on, but very rarely is Harry allowed to have anything. While Harry does not starve at the Dursleys’, he is never shown what it feels like to have a full stomach or allowed a treat. On the one occasion that Harry is allowed to attend Dudley’s birthday party, the Dursleys, “Buy Dudley and Piers large chocolate ice creams…(and) Harry a cheap lemon ice pop” (Rowling 26). This simple treat is a joy for Harry, even though his popsicle is not as decadent as his cousin’s. Being allowed to go to the zoo and have a treat is something Harry appreciates more than Dudley and Piers. Harry’s life has improved greatly for just this one day; it is as sweet as the lemon ice pop. But, it is not nearly as self-indulgent as Dudley’s life and his large chocolate ice cream cone.
On his eleventh birthday, Harry experiences an extraordinary discovery about himself and his place in the world. Hagrid, tasked with the duty to inform Harry of his magical heritage, discovers the boy hidden away with the Dursleys. After introducing himself, Hagrid presents Harry with a, “Large, sticky, chocolate cake with Happy Birthday Harry written on it in green icing” (48). Birthday cakes are full of wonder and wishes, and this cake is the first thing that has ever truly been made specifically for Harry. It is just the same as Hogwarts’s letters and Hagrid’s news: meant specifically for Harry. In the morning, Harry cannot believe what has happened. He thinks that the cake and Hagrid must have been a very nice dream (61). For the first time, Harry has a reason to hope and wish. Soon, on Platform 9 ¾, Harry is alone in the wizarding world for the very first time. After boarding the train, he meets his future best friend, Ron Weasley. Harry is optimistic and full of excitement about leaving the horrible Dursleys behind and discovering what is waiting for him at Hogwarts (98).
The very beginnings of childhood friendships are full of excitement, as well. After the train leaves the station, a smiling woman offers the two new friends a variety of treats from the trolley. Harry is excited to discover that the cart contains no candy like he has ever seen before (101). Indeed, the woman with the cart delivers a medley of wizarding candy including, “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum, Chocolate Frogs, Pumpkin Pasties, Cauldron Cakes, Licorice Wands, and a number of other strange treats” (101). A few chocolate wrappers later, Harry is well on his way to discovering friendships, the wizarding world, and strange candy. Hogwarts is famous for its banquets, and Harry’s first does not disappoint. Dinner is served immediately after the Sorting Hat, and all of the first years are rather excited about what is to come. Harry eats to his fill from a dinner plate as large as his eyes. All of his favorite foods are featured, including, “Roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak…Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots…(and) peppermint humbugs” (123). This mountainous amount of food doesn’t even include what Hogwarts served for dessert! The possibilities for what Harry can eat have become wide and endless, the same as the possibilities for what Harry can make of himself in his new home.
By Christmas time, Hogwarts truly has become Harry’s home. He has become close with his friends, Ron and Hermione, he has mastered the sport of Quidditch, and he has finally found a place where he belongs. On Christmas morning, Harry awakes to a lumpy parcel from Mrs. Weasley. Inside, Harry finds a, “thick, hand-knitted sweater in emerald green and a large box of homemade fudge” (200). Homemade fudge tastes like just that: homemade. Mrs. Weasley’s gift has come at the perfect time to help Harry expand on his emotions. Three days after Harry survives his second encounter with Voldemort, he awakes to find Dumbledore sitting bedside. What follows is an important conversation between the two, with Harry asking questions and discovering what really happened behind Fluffy’s trapdoor. This conversation is full of discovery for Harry. He discovers why Professor Snape hates him, why Professor Quirrell couldn’t touch him, and how he managed to get the Stone out of the mirror (299-300). A few of these answers are not what Harry was expecting to hear, particularly the answer Dumbledore gives him about Snape. After this conversation, Harry is left to wonder about certain questions, as Dumbledore pulls out a pack of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Bean. Opening the box, Dumbledore, “Smiled and popped (a) golden-brown bean into his mouth” (301). But, his smile soon turns into a cough, as the bean happens to be earwax flavored. Dumbledore is surprised by this unfortunate flavor in the same way that Harry is surprised about Snape and other answers.
As often as people turn to comfort foods when they are sad, they turn to party foods when they are celebrating. Certain meals can balance or strengthen emotions. Harry Potter experiences of plethora of different emotions throughout his first year at Hogwarts. J. K. Rowling strengthens and complements these feelings through the use of food-related imagery and underlying metaphors. For Harry, this comparison might go undetected. But, recognizing these parallels in literature can add to the joy of reading and deepen our understanding of a character. We might even be able to spot these correlations in our own daily lives, and be able to appreciate our heightened emotions.
No Place Like the Dursleys’: The Effect of Harry’s Harsh Childhood in ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’
In the Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone by J.K. Rowling, the protagonist, Harry Potter, lives through a terrible childhood where he is constantly bullied and insulted by the Dursleys. Even though Harry has an extended family, the Dursleys only provide him with the bare minimum. They are very selfish and treat Harry as a servant instead of a relative. However, due to Harry’s horrible circumstances, he slowly develops a trait that helps him become a hero. This trait is called being humble. He shows humility when he sacrifices and risks his own life to save others since he knows what it feels like to be bullied by Dudley. He is not ignorant about his parents’ fame. Lastly. he appreciates little things where other people think it is normal. In the story of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, having to deal with a terrible upbringing helps Harry develop a heroic trait, humility, which saves the wizarding world.
Because of the Dursleys’ torment towards Harry, he gets into risky situations that involve sacrificing himself to accomplish his tasks; this shows his humbleness. He does not think twice about the consequences of his actions. He does what he believes is the right choice without thinking of the safer option. For example, during a flying lesson, Neville accidentally breaks his wrist and Madam Hooch takes him to the hospital. When she leaves, Malfoy begins mocking Neville and picks up his Remembrall. Harry tells Malfoy to return the Remembrall, but he provokes Harry even more,'”Give it here,’ Harry called, ‘or I’ll knock you off that broom!'”(118). Harry is mad at this scene. He is emotional and irrational because he knows what it feels like to be bullied. Harry has been bullied by Dudley until Harry came to the wizarding world. He knows what it feels like when someone hurts and insults him. He is not craving personal glory; he wants to save Neville. This shows Harry’s humility. If he were ignorant, he would only care for his benefit. People would not appreciate him and would not be able to sacrifice himself since he would be selfish. Humility is an attribute that Harry develops from his difficult childhood; if he did not, he would not sacrifice himself for the greater good of others.
Harry once again shows his humility, after finding out Harry’s true identity. Rather than feeling excited, he feels uncomfortable. Harry states, ‘“Hagrid,’ he said quietly, ‘I think you must have made a mistake. I don’t think I can be a wizard”’(44). People know more about his family than himself. It is overwhelming for him. The reason is because he endured so many years with the harsh treatment from the Dursleys. It is hard for him to believe that he is an important person. They keep all the knowledge about Harry’s parents from him. They tell him that his parents died in a car crash. Because of this horrible treatment, Harry feels that he is unimportant. He also understands that he did not do anything to earn it; it is his parents’. Taking their fame does not feel right to Harry. This show his humility. If he is not humble, he would not do anything to achieve that fame. He would live off his parent’s fame and would not sacrifice himself to save others. Thus, he tries to prove himself that he should earn those admirations. These admirations will help Harry feel good about himself and would want him to achieve more goals. Harry’s humbleness will make him work harder towards his heroic goals to gain or accept the fame.
Since the Dursleys only provide Harry with the bare minimum, he appreciates the common things that he has never received. The Dursleys take every opportunity to insult Harry and show him no form of love. Therefore, because of the treatment he received, Harry is able to appreciate things that he never had before. This admiration is shown during Christmas,‘“Will you look at this? I’ve got some presents!’ [states Harry] ‘What did you expect, turnips?’ said Ron, turning to his own pile, which was a lot bigger than Harry’s”(159). Ron is unimpressed by the present he received. He always receives the same present during each Christmas to the point where it is ordinary for him. He wants something expensive or something new. He has more interests in Harry’s present, the fifty pence, which he never saw before. However, Harry’s reaction is the total opposite of Ron’s. Harry greatly appreciate receiving the gift that Ron’s mother gives him. It gives him a sense of belonging to the family and being loved. Also, he will know what or whom is important to his life so he can protect them and would not care if his life is in danger. Appreciation is another example of Harry showing his humbleness.
In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, due to Harry enduring many years of torture from the Dursleys, he develops the quality of being humble which becomes useful when accomplishing his goals. He shows this by being able to sacrifice himself. Since he was constantly bullied, he wishes someone would save him. That is why when he saw Malfoy is mocking Neville, he wants to fight for the injustice, even if it means risking himself. Being able to appreciate things where others cannot recognize and being hesitant to accept fame shows how humble he is. In other words, being able to take risks, not accepting his fame and appreciating things that one’s cannot recognize are examples of Harry’s humility that he acquires from his difficult childhood that becomes an essential part of his life.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The Sorcerer’s Stone – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.pdf, 1997
Taran’s Arrogance in The Book of Three versus Harry’s Humility from the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
In The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander, the protagonist, Taran, faces similar situations as Harry Potter from the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, which involves seeking victory against the evil villain to become a hero. Both young boys are eleven-years-old who have been raised as orphans with little to no knowledge of who their real parents were. Even though these boys share similar attributes, how they are raised is still vastly different, causing one of them to be the true hero. A hero who can sacrifice themselves to save others and show character growth quicker. Harry lives through a miserable childhood where he is constantly bullied and insulted by the Dursleys, whereas, Taran’s foster family loves him dearly. These differences cause Taran to behave arrogantly, spoiled and childish while Harry remains humble. Taran’s arrogant behaviour causes him to be disobedient because he wants to show his greatness. He also has an unrealistic view of the world and what it means to be a hero. However, Harry’s humility makes him able to sacrifice himself for the greater good and have a sense of the real world which makes Harry the better hero. Due to the different environments Harry and Taran live in, Taran becomes more spoiled or arrogant, while Harry grew to be humble; this affects the journey of their success when they go through character development where Taran is blinded by too much pride and keep making mistakes and Harry contributing to the society with humility.
While Harry is treated harshly by the Dursleys, Taran is spoiled from being blessed with a loving family which causes him to be arrogant around those who tries to help him. He disobeys because he wants to show his amazing capabilities. Taran does not listen to his guardians. Taran protests, ‘“I could do better at making a sword…I know I could.” And before Coll could answer, he snatched the tongs, flung a strip of red-hot iron to the anvil, and began hammering away as fast as he could’(Alexander 3). Taran goes against what Coll tells him not to do and even in front of him. He believes Coll is him holding back from his true greatness. Coll does not even punish Taran for his disobedience. In fact, he always gets away from punishment unless he touches The Book of Three. This makes Taran feel it is okay to not listen to his guardians. He does this because he feels he is invincible; he does not need to ask for help and show his awesome capabilities. This belief hurts him when he ignores Gwydion’s instruction to run away when the soldiers attack them. This ends up with both being captured. He goes against his guardian and handles things to impress others, thinking he knows something but it ends up disastrously. He continually does this because he feels insecure. He is not willing to admit that he is wrong; this hinders him from learning faster. Unlike Harry, Taran is the realistic version of the eleven-years-old hero, always thinking he is right and everything should go in his way. Taran’s upbringings delay him from character development which is essential because his arrogance causes more problem to other people around him and from their goal.
Taran’s unrealistic view of the world hinders him from knowing what it means to be a hero, making him the less suited hero. Having to live in a rural town, he is cut off from the rest of the world. He does not know anything unless he reads or hears tales from Dallben or hero stories. This may cause him to form an unrealistic view of the world. He believes being a hero is fun and glorious. Because of that, he strives to become a hero without putting all the work in, thinking he has all the qualities he needs to become a hero. One way Taran reveals his fantasies is when he tries to cross the river even though he does not know how to swim. He thought he has a special ability where he could learn to swim on the first try. Rather than apologizing, he gives an excuse that it is Melyngar’s fault. Because of these fantasies, he does not want to admit he is wrong. He keeps making the same mistakes because he does not want to replace his concept of hero or view of the world with the truth. That is why he takes longer to learn from his mistakes since he never wants to admit them. He is blinded by pride and thinks he does not need help. For example, even though Eilonwy saves him from the prison, he acts as if he saves her instead when it is the opposite. Like in a fairytale, he believes the hero does everything by himself and it is the man who saves the girl. When Taran and others are on their way to Caer Dathyl, he wants to Eilonwy to go away: ‘“You’ll make a fine sight—a little girl carrying a sword…Instead of a sword, you should be carrying a doll…There is risk enough…without having to worry about a girl”’(87-88). Rather than appreciating his companions’ help, he tells her to go away even after what she has done. He is not accepting that it is Eilonwy that saved him. Since she is a girl, he believes she needs to be protected and cannot handle the hardships, even though she has proven herself enough to be better than Taran himself. This is not a trait a hero should have. He needs to be modest and know that there is nothing wrong with asking for help. However, Taran does not see that; he is being arrogant. Having to accept reality would help him to become a better hero but because he was isolated from rest of the world, it interferes Taran’s character development where he keeps denying the truth and continues making mistakes.
Harry’s humbleness is due to growing up in a different environment than Taran’s which causes him to have an idea of the reality which helps him be a better hero. The Dursleys provide him with the bare minimum and treat Harry as a servant. Harry knows the world does not revolve around him. He thinks he is unimportant and uncomfortable even after Hagrid tells him his true identity:‘“Hagrid,’ [Harry] said quietly, ‘I think you must have made a mistake. I don’t think I can be a wizard”’(Rowling 44). While being a hero does not cross Harry’s mind, Taran goes all-out to achieve it. Because of Harry’s earlier experiences, he knows how people can be treated unfairly and he finds it unjust. Since he knows the realities, he does not hold much pride, unlike Taran. This way Harry learns from his mistakes and does not make the same mistakes again. He also tries to get help much as possible because he knows his own capabilities, where Taran does not. Because Harry is humble, he only sacrifices himself because he knows what it feels like when someone physically or emotionally hurts him. For example, when Malfoy mocks Neville and steals the Remembrall from him, Harry immediately tries to get it back for him. He truly wants to help others. He is willing to take risks only with moral intentions. Harry’s humility is a very important trait to become a hero. Harry’s character development of humility came from his upbringings, resulting him being a better hero than Taran.
As Harry and Taran go through the journey of becoming heroes, Taran’s arrogant personality and Harry’s humility affect their success. Because Taran’s family is easy with him, he feels everything revolves around him. He does not receive any punishment, making him seem it is okay to disobey others. Since Taran lives in a rural area, he is isolated from the rest of the world. Therefore, he has his own concept of the world and what a true hero is. He thinks of his power and glorifies the hero role as fun. When he starts noticing that his fantasies are false, he does not want to believe it and thus, keeps making the same mistakes. Harry, who lived through a harsh childhood, is different from Taran. He knows the world is not as fair as it should be. He is humble and cares for other people. He is willing to sacrifice himself without seeking any glory. He is not too proud to ask for help nor arrogant. With a different childhood in experience, Taran’s faces problem with character growth; his arrogance holds him back from becoming the hero that he wants to be, and Harry’s humility makes him the better hero.
Alexander,Lloyd.The Book of Three. Henry Holt and Company New York,1964
Rowling,J.K.Harry Potter and the Philosopher Stone. The Sorcerer’s Stone – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.pdf,1997
Family Isn’t Everything: How Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Challenges Our Preconceptions About Family Ties
J.K. Rowling explores the expression “blood is thicker than water” in her novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The expression leads many to believe that its message is that family is stronger than the relationships that we build in our daily lives. However, when the full expression, “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb” is considered, the true meaning is revealed to be the opposite. J.K. Rowling executes a similar switch with her readers during Philosopher’s stone when she leads the reader to the realization that one’s biological family is often the source of more of their problems than their self-created family, which can heal and support an individual. She shows that an external support network can greatly benefit someone and encourages the reader to reconsider their own definition of “family”. Biological family has a negative impact on the protagonists in Philosopher’s Stone, impeding them from reaching their potential, preventing the development of independence, and being the root of some deeper psychological issues as well. On the contrary, external family figures are all supportive and nurturing to the characters, aiding them to overcome their neuroses and become well functioning members of the community.
Rowling writes the characters this way to impress that blood relation is not everything, and it is more often beneficial to have an external network of people for support. Harry has only the Dursleys as his living biological family, and because his parents are dead, and Harry has no other existing family, Vernon, Petunia, and Dudley are his only support system. In this role, the Dursleys only neglect and abuse Harry, barely providing him with necessities and forcing him to go without food or locking him in his cupboard when they determine he has misbehaved, or even when something goes wrong around him. Harry has “baggy old clothes and broken glasses” (27), which shows that the Dursleys haven’t provided him with adequate clothing over the years, and when the Brazilian boa constrictor escapes (26), Vernon is barely able to vocalize the punishment of “Go-cupboard-stay-no meals” (26) due to his immense anger at something that he can’t actually prove Harry did. In living with the Dursleys, Harry has been fully disconnected from both the wizarding and muggle worlds for his entire life. Dudley facilitates his disconnect from the muggle world, bullying Harry outright and making sure he is unable to make friends or develop healthy relationships outside the home, while Vernon and Petunia are the cause of the disconnect from the wizarding world. They purposely hide the existence of the community from Harry until they are physically unable to continue doing so; that is, when Hagrid arrives and tells Harry the truth against their will. The isolation from both worlds has prevented Harry from being able to establish any sense of self or purpose, a universal quest in life. The Dursleys raised Harry using abuse coupled with a lack of any sort of praise and constant belittlement of him. This was done mostly by emphasizing that Harry is alone in the world. Harry’s Hogwarts letter arrives (29), and causes Vernon to sneer at his nephew and ask him: “Who’d be writing to you?” (30). He asks this question with malice, giving the sense that it is said aloud purely to insult Harry. All this negative treatment that Harry has experienced at the hands of his only family gives him the predisposition to dislike them and to distance himself from them later, which is what lead him to developing as a person.
Despite this, Harry has developed several negative traits as a result of his treatment by the Dursleys. He is always quick to his own defense due to having needed to be for so long, and it interferes with his social interactions. When Hagrid is accusing the Dursleys of keeping the truth from Harry (41), he asks them if Harry “knows nothing about anything”. Even though Hagrid is referring to Hogwarts and what Harry’s parents were capable of, Harry automatically assumes Hagrid intended this as a way of saying he is unintelligent, which he thinks is “going a bit far” (41) because “He had been to school after all, and his marks weren’t bad” (41). Harry immediately jumps to his own defense, when Hagrid’s comment was a way of saying that Harry had been kept in the dark, rather than an insult to him. Harry continues to ask Hagrid questions about the wizarding world, but it dawns on him that he knows virtually nothing. Harry’s lack of knowledge is most clear to him during his interaction with Draco Malfoy in Madam Malkin’s shop. Malfoy begins speaking about brooms and Quidditch, which immediately prompts Harry to feel unintelligent, even though he knows he is not. The lack of knowledge not only about the extremely common topic of Quidditch, but about Hogwarts and its houses causes Harry to scramble to tell Malfoy the only relevant piece of information he knows, that is, that Hagrid is the gamekeeper of Hogwarts (60). He is immediately met with the dismaying reality that Malfoy already knows this and is compelled to divulge everything to Hagrid as soon as the conversation is over so that Hagrid can validate him.
Though Harry is the focus of the story, he is not the only character who has experienced negative consequences due to their relationship with family. Ron Weasley, though a member of a loving family, has developed an inferiority complex and a similar defensiveness to that which Harry displays due to his home life. When Ron and Harry first meet on the way to Hogwarts, where the two discuss family and Ron mentions how he will never meet the expectations that he perceives have been placed upon him by his family. He states that he is expected to do everything his brothers did, but to less acclaim as he would not be the first (75). This complex is shown multiple times throughout the novel, most notably after a charms class where Ron makes fun of Hermione (127). Here, Ron insults Hermione because she upstaged him in class, causing her to run away crying. Ron is bitter with Hermione due to her doing better than him like his brothers have, and lashes out unintentionally, showed by the fact that “he looked a bit uncomfortable” (127) when Harry mentions that Hermione was crying.
Journeying to Hogwarts puts the characters in a position where family has little to no influence on them, especially in Harry’s case. They are able to gain independence at school, taking care of their own schedules and obligations. Each one then develops a different method of handling their daily lives. Hermione plans and organizes precisely, Ron puts in minimal effort to succeed, and Harry strikes a balance that allows him to further explore other aspects of his life and his personality- namely Quidditch and relationships with others. Harry’s friends and professors all step into the roles of various family members, and he finds himself becoming his own person and feeling more at home with their guidance. When in need of help or information, Harry is quick to turn to Ron, Hermione, and Hagrid, who each provide him with the aid he needs, if unintentionally. While away from the Dursleys, Harry allows himself to show vulnerability and individual personality traits which had no opportunity to come through when he was being abused. When he and Ron are sitting on the Hogwarts express, Harry’s first instinct is to be generous and share his sweets with Ron, even though he initially refuses. Despite the fact that Harry “had never had anything to share before or, indeed, anyone to share it with,” (76) he doesn’t think twice about offering, showing for the first time a compassion that he couldn’t show in the past when he was oppressed by the Dursleys. At Hogwarts, Harry shows many symptoms of anxiety, which he seems to have developed due to his treatment by his family. While being sorted, Harry irrationally worries that they have made a mistake designating him as a wizard, in spite of the many affirmations he has received that he is one. He fears that putting on the sorting hat will result in it saying that he doesn’t belong and should be sent home (90). When he is called to speak with Professor McGonagall, she refers to “Wood” and Harry’s mind jumps to the thought that she is going to beat him, wondering for a moment if Wood was “a cane she was going to use on him” (112). Wood turns out to be a student, and though Harry begins to see he is being rewarded in this instance, it still takes him a fair amount of time to calm down, even after it becomes clear that he will not be punished.
Though family is typically thought of to be an eternal comfort for an individual, in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone it is the root of psychological and social problems with the characters, causing them to suppress themselves, develop mental illness and even completely impeding them from reaching any kind of potential. Through abuse and extensive expectations, the biological families of the protagonists in Philosopher’s Stone inflict damage on their relatives that is only remedied when the characters distance themselves from their families. Conversely, Rowling presents the characters acting as surrogate family as largely benefitting the protagonists’ development as individuals to challenge what family is viewed as in society, and to provide a more lenient, more accurate definition.
Magic and the Supernatural
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman explore the themes of magic and the supernatural. Harry Potter is a story about a young, seemingly ordinary boy, finding out that he is in fact a wizard. Together with his friends Ron and Hermione, Harry battles enemies within Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and without. Nobody Owens, or Bod for short, from The Graveyard Book grows up in a very unconventional situation being raised by Mr. and Mrs. Owens ghosts of the graveyard he lives in. Silas, his guardian who also happens to be a vampire, teaches Bod the ways of the world all the while trying to protect him from the villainous Jacks of All Trades. Both texts use of magic and the supernatural enable the authors to set up a hierarchal structure between those within the magical world and outside of it. There are clear distinctions between the two worlds, for example ghosts versus humans in The Graveyard Book and wizards versus muggles in Harry Potter. Both texts aim to break down the barriers of this social construction through the characters particularly Bod in The Graveyard Book and Hermione in Harry Potter. The two texts can be described as a hybrid of fantasy fiction and Gothic literature. The elements of these two forms enable the authors to use the grotesque, fantastical and mythical elements to further cement the social hierarchy they have constructed.
Tension between wizards and muggles is evident in the scene between Harry, Hagrid and the Dursleys when Harry finds out that he is a wizard. We are introduced to the word muggle by Hagrid when he explains its meaning to Harry, ‘it’s what we call non-magic folk like them’ (Rowling 57). The label given to them is clearly negative and shows how the wizarding community thinks they are superior to the ‘muggles’. This disdain is mutual with the Dursleys labeling wizards as ‘weirdos’ (Rowling 61), ‘strange’ and ‘abnormal’ (Rowling 58) and Mrs. Dursley even going as far as calling her witch sister ‘a freak’ (Rowling 57). Though it must be said that the majority of muggles do not know of the existence of witches and wizards and reject the idea of their existence. In doing so, they denounce the superiority of the wizarding community based primarily on their ignorance of the situation. These two dominant groups of people, wizards and muggles, are competing in a magically charged environment for the top position in the hierarchy. This is comparable to real world social orders where groups of people are competing for the top spot, such as the USA versus the USSR in the Cold War or even the Liberal Party versus the Labor Party. Rowling portrays this social construction from the perspective of wizards being in the top position on the hierarchy which we will delve into deeper.
Looking closer at Harry Potter the wizarding community can be further categorized into pure-bloods, half-bloods, muggle-borns and squibs who are born to wizard parents but have no magic themselves. There is also a distinction between wizards, particularly pure-bloods and half-bloods, who sympathize with muggles. This particular form of discrimination is evident between Draco Malfoy and Ron Weasley. Ron comes from a pure-blood family who are well-known to have sympathy towards muggles. On the train journey to Hogwarts Harry and Ron are confronted by Draco and his cronies, Draco describes the Weasley family and Hagrid as ‘riff-raff’ (Rowling 116). Draco also says to Harry ‘you’ll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others, Potter’ (Rowling 116) and speaks of ‘the wrong sort’ (Rowling 116). Draco is a pure-blood who is anti-muggle and to him the wrong sort is anyone who isn’t a pure blood and whose views differ to his. There is a sense of Neo-Nazism in the text with the pure-blood wizards being the equivalent of the Aryans and the muggles or muggle-borns the equivalent of the Jews. The segregation of these groups and placement in a social hierarchy is the wizarding equivalent of the world-system theory where the social system is based on wealth and power (Kottak 329), though in the case of the wizarding community it is based on the purity of the wizards family tree.
Throughout Harry Potter, Hermione is often seen as an outsider primarily due to her muggle lineage, she doesn’t entirely fit in to the wizarding community but at the same time she is no longer a muggle either. Bod in The Graveyard Book is similarly conveyed as an outsider, he is neither ghost nor entirely human. Like Harry Potter, The Graveyard Book depicts a hierarchy, though different to the aforementioned one; the basis of the structure remains the same. The supernatural world of The Graveyard Book illustrates three distinct social groups, humans, ghosts and ‘The Honor Guard’ (Gaiman 272). The humans are completely oblivious to the supernatural world similar to the majority of muggles in Harry Potter; again the humans perceived hierarchy is based around their ignorance of the supernatural world. This is a social commentary by Gaiman comparing the ignorance of the first-world people, represented by the humans, to the third-world people, represented by the supernatural.
Taking a look at the graveyard we see there is a distinct social order between its inhabitants. At the top of the hierarchy we have ‘The Honor Guard’ including Silas and Miss Lupescu, it is evident in the text that to become one of ‘The Honor Guard’ you must only be supernatural in nature but a mythical creature such as a vampire or werewolf. At the top of the hierarchy there is also the elusive Lady on the Grey who is highly regarded by the ghosts of the graveyard. In the middle of the hierarchy sits the general population of ghosts, comparable to the middle or working-class people in today’s society. At the bottom of the hierarchy we have the ghouls and also Liza Hempstock a ghost who was executed for witchcraft. Ironically, Liza is ostracized by the other ghosts because she is a witch, a supernatural entity, as ghosts they too are of the supernatural persuasion. Again, Gaiman uses this ironic situation as a social commentary pointing out the hypocrisy that goes with a social hierarchy.
As stated previously, Hermione in Harry Potter has the role of an outsider in the wizarding community. As the story progresses we see Hermione play a pivotal role in thwarting Lord Voldemort’s ploy to steal the Philosopher’s Stone. She uses her intellect to decipher key pieces of information including the riddle about the potions they need to solve to get to the Philosopher’s Stone. Logic is needed to solve the riddle and as Hermione astutely points out ‘a lot of the greatest wizards haven’t got an ounce of logic’ (Rowling 307) and luckily for Harry, Hermione does. Michelle Fry (157) discusses the essential nature of the character Hermione in breaking down the barriers of social constructs. The riddle Hermione solves is evidence that this is the case in the sense that pure-bloods, like Draco Malfoy, deem her inferior due to her status as a muggle-born. However, she proves them wrong by being able to solve a problem that many wizards, including pure-bloods, would not be able to solve showing that a person’s lineage does not make ‘an ounce’ of difference to their abilities.
There is a sense of the concept of carnival in Harry Potter where the rigid social structure is turned on its head and the oppressed people, muggle-borns and muggle sympathizers, rise up and become powerful (Nikolajeva). They seize their chance to break down the barriers constructed by the pure-blood wizards and destroy notions of ineptness and inferiority
There are also carnivalesque features in The Graveyard Book that can be seen when the humans and ghosts dance the Macabray (Gaiman 135). The upside-down-world of carnival (Nikolajeva, Hall) is evident in the reversal of social order, whereby the humans acknowledge the supernatural world for that one night, though not remembering it afterwards. It is interesting to note that the ghosts do not speak of the dance afterwards as Silas explains ‘there are things that people are forbidden to speak about’ (Gaiman 153) showing that now the dance is over the hierarchy is back in place. It has the grotesque element of the humans and ghosts dancing together seen in carnival and also in Gothic literature. The lyrics to the song, appropriately titled ‘Danse Macabre’ (Gaiman 135), have a strong Gothic tone particularly focusing on the macabre (Coats) while at the same time employing carnivalesque motifs of humor (Hall). An example of this is the line, ‘one to leave and one to stay and all to dance the Macabray,’ which sets a mood of decay and even terror, but at the same time has the playfulness of the carnival.
The grotesque is a Gothic motif used in Harry Potter to separate the status of someone in the social hierarchy. Hall explores the character of Hagrid, a half-giant, as a grotesque representation. Hagrid is described as having ‘a long, shaggy mane of hair and a wild, tangled beard’ (Rowling 50) his eyes are ‘like black beetles’ (Rowling 50). He is at the bottom of the hierarchy being not just a half-blood but also a half-breed having a giantess for a mother. When he sees Hagrid, Draco refers to him as a ‘savage’ (Rowling 84) though we know that Hagrid is anything but a savage with his pockets full of ‘mint humbugs’ (Rowling 67), ‘tea bags’ (Rowling 67) and ‘dog-biscuits’ (Rowling 79) even exclaiming ‘bless him, look, he knows his mummy’ (Rowling 252) when Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback looks at him. He is the epitome of a gentle giant and this has a sort of irony or carnivalesque characteristic to it. As Draco does, the majority of the wizarding community looks down on Hagrid for his differences, his grotesqueness, discriminating against him because of his assumed ‘savage’ nature. Like Hagrid, goblins are portrayed in Harry Potter as grotesque (Hall). Rowling describes a goblin as ‘swarthy’ (78) with ‘a clever face, a pointed bead’ (78) and ‘very long fingers and feet’ (78). Apart from the clear grotesque connotations, there is also a sense of villainy and treachery associated with goblins, motifs synonymous with Gothic literature. It comes as no surprise that like Hagrid, goblins are also at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
Both Harry Potter and The Graveyard Book depict a clear hierarchical structure within the fictitious worlds they explore that can be compared to real-world social structures. They use magic and the supernatural to stratify different groups of people into rigid social factions. Motifs of Gothic, particularly the grotesque, are used to emphasize this structure and make clear distinctions between the segregated groups. Carnival elements are evident in the texts and are used as a device to break through social barriers and uproot discrimination. There are strong social distinctions made between the magical world and the human world, often with the later denying the existence of the supernatural. Within the magical world, there are further distinctions between the classes that can be likened to that of the human world. Harry Potter and The Graveyard Book are commentaries on the social hierarchical structure of today’s world in which we can learn the undesirable implications of labeling people or groups based on assumed value.
Coats, Karen. “Between Horror, Humour, and Hope: Neil Gaiman and the Psychic Work of the Gothic.” The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. Eds. Anna Jackson, Karen Coats, and Roderick McGillis. N.p: Taylor and Francis, 2008. 77-92. Print.
Fry, Michele. “Heroes and heroines: Myth and gender roles in the Harry Potter books.” New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship 7.1 (2001): 157-167. EBSCO Host. Web.
Gaiman, Neil. The Graveyard Book. London, Bloomsbury. 2009. Print. Hall, Jordana. “Embracing the Abject Other: The Carnival Imagery of Harry Potter.” Children’s Literature in Education 42 (2010): 70-89. EBSCO Host. Web.
Kottak, Conrad P. Cultural Anthropology: Appreciating Cultural Diversity. 15th ed. New York: McGraw Hill Companies, 2013. Print.
Nikolajeva, Maria. “Harry Potter and the Secrets of Children’s Literature.” Critical Perspectives of Harry Potter. Ed. Elizabeth E. Hellman. N.p: Taylor and Francis, 2008. 225-241. EBSCO Host. Web.
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 2014. Print.
Cinderella and Harry Potter: The Role Models for Youth
Though most children’s literature is not necessarily always intended to be read solely by children, it is important to consider the reception of the child. In the Grimm Brothers’ “Cinderella” and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the child-reader is able to learn good from bad. Cinderella and Harry Potter are both characters who act as models for positive and acceptable behaviour. Cinderella remains morally good, despite her unfortunate situation of her mother passing and her step-family treating her unjustly. Cinderella, however, appears to have birds watching over her and rewarding her for all of her acts of piety, translating to readers that they, too will be rewarded for similar behaviours. Harry has an inward battle in discovering what being good and being bad really means and, in the end, is similarly rewarded for his heroic actions. Cinderella in the Brothers Grimm’s “Cinderella” and Harry Potter in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone experience many tests that assess their morals, demonstrating to readers what good behaviours really are and the importance of incorporating them into their own lives.
Young readers are directly influenced by what they read, and at especially young ages children are still navigating right from wrong. Literature plays a crucial role in guiding these children in the right direction. As Susan Ann Beach writes: “young readers choose to take a particular ‘lesson’ from their reading” (Beach 102). “Cinderella” and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone are both stories that children are capable of taking lessons from. Though Cinderella is written for a wider audience than just children, it has since been titled as a fairy-tale for young readers. It is important that these two works present a set of ideals to readers in order to guide them in their moral journey. In order to do this, both Cinderella and Harry are put through a series of tests that assess their moral character and show readers that people who act morally righteous are rewarded.
There are clearly elements of the supernatural in both the Brothers Grimm’s “Cinderella” and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. In “Cinderella,” however, there seems to be a supernatural element actually testing her and rewarding her based on the outcome. Cinderella’s first task is set upon her by her dying Mother telling her to “be good and pious, and then the good God will always protect thee” (GRIMM). After Cinderella’s mother passes away, Cinderella is given a series of tests to judge the piousness of her character. Cinderella asks her father to bring a branch of a tree back for her while her step-sisters ask for “beautiful dresses, pearls and jewels” (GRIMM). Cinderella does not ask for anything of materialistic value, despite owning much less than her step-sisters. This is the first significant demonstration of virtue that Cinderella shows. Her devotion to the tree, and to her mother, is rewarded through the supernatural element of the bird.
A bird appears on the branch given to Cinderella as she devotes much of her time by the tree, watering it with her tears. This appearance of the bird is a direct award for Cinderella’s faithfulness to her mother.; in fact, birds play a central role in creating a supernatural element in this fairy-tale. The birds continue to reward Cinderella by helping her pick the lentils out of the fireplace and even give her proper clothing to wear to the festival, acting as a type of guardian angels to Cinderella and award her for her piety. The birds even ensure that the Prince find his “true bride,” Cinderella, and not be fooled by Cinderella’s step-sisters (GRIMM). Cinderella’s character is constantly tested in order to prove that being virtuous offers rewards in order to encourage young readers to act as such. This point is further developed through the juxtaposing of Cinderella’s reward with the step-sisters’ punishment.
Cinderella’s ultimate reward is marrying into the wealthy family of the Prince. She endures insufferable circumstances living with her step-mother and step-sisters; however, because she remains pious, she is given “good fortune” (GRIMM). Cinderella’s step-sisters are cruel to Cinderella and “[do] her every imaginable injury” (GRIMM). Just as Cinderella receives a fortune as good as her character, the step-sisters receive a fortune as dreadful as theirs. The step-sisters, despite being cruel to Cinderella, “[want] to get into favour with Cinderella and share her good fortune” (GRIMM). This is a selfish act and because of it, the sisters are punished with blindness caused by the birds who aid Cinderella. Cinderella’s virtuousness is tested on numerous occasions by a supernatural element with the power to reward and punish people for their actions. Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is also put through a series of tests; however, instead of a supernatural element judging his character, Harry’s real quest lies in discovering the difference between good and bad on his own.
Though Cinderella has a mother who advises her to act virtuously, Harry is an orphan with less than suitable guardians. Harry’s aunt and uncle treat Harry as if he is a servant, making him responsible to cook breakfasts for the family and not draw any attention to himself (Rowling 20). Harry is missing a central aspect of his life in terms of learning: proper parental figures. Without these parental figures, Harry is incapable of learning what is right from wrong. All Harry is taught by the Dursleys is to refrain from participating in any “funny business” (23). Due to this lack of guidance, Harry must learn and make his own values.
Though Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is of the fantastical genre and therefore openly establishes more supernatural elements, there is not a supernatural element watching over and helping Harry unlike Cinderella. Instead, Harry’s tests to his character appear to be more personal, showcasing a journey in discovering who he is and what he stands for. A very vital test that Harry undergoes is that of choosing his friends. Malfoy is clearly a boy of higher social class than Ron; however, Harry decides that he “can tell who the wrong sort are for [himself]” (Rowling 81). This immediate decision to befriend Ron Weasley, a poor and bullied boy, shows Harry’s true character and ultimately puts him on the ‘good’ side. The second crucial test that Harry encounters is the Sorting Hat. Hagrid tells Harry that “[there is] not a single witch or wizard who went bad who [was not] in Slytherin” and with this information, Harry decides he does not want to be in Slytherin (62). Harry understands that Voldemort is an evil man and wishes to be nothing like him. Harry’s shows his fear of being evil when he immediately repeats the phrase “not Slytherin” to himself once he undergoes the sorting ceremony (90). He is fearful that perhaps he does have evil inside of him, similar to Voldemort. This is further proved when the hat tells him that he “could be great” in Slytherin (91). The Sorting Hat makes sure that Harry is certain about not wanting to be in Slytherin house and ultimately places Harry in Gryffindor when he chooses not to be in Slytherin. This, again, is another test to his character as Harry is told he could be successful in Slytherin but chooses Gryffindor in fear of becoming anything resembling Voldemort. In addition to these first initial tests establishing Harry’s morality, he also must prove his bravery in his dealings with the Philosopher’s stone.
Harry’s bravery is put to the test when he goes searching for the Philosopher’s stone with Ron and Hermione. Harry encounters a series of tests to gain access to the Philosopher’s stone; however, the more important and less obvious tests assess his character. Harry immediately offers to fall through the trap door in order to ensure the safety of the drop (200-201). Harry explains that there is “no sign of the bottom” when he looks through the door; however, he does not wish for his friends to suffer any harm and instead, sacrifices himself (201). During the last obstacle in his quest to get the Philosopher’s stone, Harry realizes that there is not enough potion left in the small bottle for both him and Hermione to drink and use to cross the black fire. Harry comes to the conclusion that he must finish their dangerous quest alone. Harry tells Hermione to go back and help Ron, proving his loyalty to his friends while simultaneously expressing undeniable bravery by facing a potentially life-threatening situation. Harry’s true and admirable intentions are, however, properly exemplified when he finally meets Professor Quirrell in the last chamber.
Harry comes face-to-face with the Mirror of Erised. Formerly, Harry would see himself standing next to his parents when looking into the Mirror of Erised as this was his biggest desire in life. When he finds himself up against Professor Quirrell, however, this changes. Harry reveals that if he were to look into the mirror, he would know where to find the stone because it is what “[he wants] more than anything else in the world” (211). This is extremely significant in demonstrating Harry’s moral character as it outlines his strongest desire: for good. Again, Harry’s pure intentions are proven when Dumbledore explains the final test in reaching the stone: “only one who wanted to find the Stone – find it, but not use it – would be able to get it” (217). Harry passes this final test when the Stone appears in his pocket, proving that his intentions are genuine and is rewarded just as Cinderella is.
As Beach proposes, “Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s being caught by the castle caretaker as they are attempting to do something good shows… understanding of the sometimes blurred lines between good and evil” (Beach 102). Harry is continuously getting into trouble at Hogwarts for being out of bed during nighttime; however, he continues sneaking out in order to find more information about the Philosopher’s Stone and protect it from falling into the wrong hands. Harry faces another challenging test when he decides not to “interfere in anything that [does not] concern him,” showing the sometimes confusing situation that young people face in understanding that ‘blurred line’ Beach explains (Rowling 179). Harry feels as though he should be keeping to himself; however, he cannot allow Voldemort to come back and ultimately decides that he must interfere, leading to the destruction of Voldemort’s return. Harry’s knowledge of good and bad is ultimately put to the test and, because of his choices, he is rewarded. Harry is given sixty points for Gryffindor towards the house cup due to his “outstanding courage” (221). Harry’s points, along with his friends who help him, put Gryffindor in first place for the house cup. Meanwhile, Draco Malfoy, a boy who is continuously attempting to get Harry in trouble and bullies those around him, finds himself on the losing side in the Slytherin house, showing young readers that it pays off to be a good and loyal person.
Cinderella in the fairy-tale “Cinderella” by the Brothers Grimm and Harry Potter in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone are both put through a series of tests to prove their righteous character. While Cinderella is being judged and rewarded based on good behaviour by a supernatural element within the birds that follow her, Harry must navigate right from wrong on his own. Both characters undergo a series of tests and prove that their intentions are pure. Cinderella remains pious as her mother asks of her and is rewarded with marriage to a prince. Harry finds himself having to decide his own path in life between good and bad. After choosing his friends and Hogwarts house carefully, Harry then goes through a series of physical tests that actually work to assess his character. These tests prove Harry’s heroic and loyal character. Cinderella and Harry Potter demonstrate their positive characteristics through passing a series of tests and are, in the end, rewarded for their behaviour, influencing young readers to act as such.
Beach, Sara Ann, and Elizabeth Harden Willner. “The Power of Harry: The Impact of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Books on Young Readers.” World Literature Today, vol. 76, no.1, 2002, pp. 102–106., www.jstor.org/stable/40157015.
Grimm, Brothers. “Cinderella.” World of Tales, 2016, www.worldoftales.com/fairy_tales/Brothers_Grimm/Margaret_Hunt/Cinderella.html. Accessed 1 Apr. 2017.
Rowling, J K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Soho Square, London, Bloomsbury Publishing, 1998. Print.
Progressive Heroines: Jane Eyre to Hermione Granger
Males still make up an uncomfortably large majority of published authors; perhaps this, along with many other factors, contributes to the dearth of strong female characters in literature. But regardless of causation, the truth is still evident: heroines have been woefully underrepresented over centuries of literary development. There are, however, some female characters who serve as positive representations of women and their potential, both new and old: notably Jane Eyre, from the novel of the same name by Charlotte Brontë, and Hermione Granger, from the modern classic Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. Both heroines typify not merely females perceived as heroes within their own gender roles, but females perceived as heroes by anyone’s standards. Despite their obvious similarities and their successful attainment of the same goal, though, the disparity between the two characters and the worlds they come from shows just how far females have progressed in literature today.In much of classic literature, the main female characters some might consider “heroes” are not truly heroes at all. They are instead merely women who do exactly what women are supposed to do: fall in love, have children, keep house, and obey their husbands. Some of the most prominent female characters in literature fall into this category; for example, Penelope, Odysseus’s wife in the Odyssey, may be seen as strong and brave, but in truth, Penelope is lauded as a heroine merely for staying true to her husband during his long leave of absence. Blind loyalty was meant to be her saving grace in this monumental epic, her defining characteristic. She was unable to deal with the suitors on her own, so she simply remained loyal to Odysseus, and when he returned all her troubles were lifted and she could live happily ever after. True heroes, male or female, should play a role in their own destinies; Penelope did nothing of the sort. This same concept applies to Desdemona in Shakespeare’s Othello; throughout the entire play she was subordinate to her husband, doing as he asked, staying loyal to him though he treated her poorly. Despite the fact that he eventually kills her, she is considered a heroine because she forgave Othello in the end. But is this what a true heroine should be? Entirely submissive to the point where she forgives her husband for his fatal distrust? Even the supposed heroines many young girls look up to today, the fairytale princesses, are considered heroes because they find the prince of their dreams at the end. Ariel from The Little Mermaid completely changes herself to be a feasible love for Prince Eric, sacrificing her voice, the very essence of her being, to do so. Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty is completely at the mercy of a man to come and kiss her and wake her from her century-long sleep. Are these literary heroines really worthy role models for women? Each of them succeeds in attaining nothing more than what is expected of women, and none manage to break out of the binding gender stereotypes that were so prevalent in their societies. This predicament grows even graver; many times major female characters are placed only to serve as temptation for the true male heroes of the work. In Sir Gawain and the Green Night, Sir Bertilak’s wife is deemed so insignificant that she is not even given a name of her own; she is instead defined by her marriage to the lord, and her sole purpose is to tempt bold, courageous Sir Gawain to give up his virtue. In the Odyssey, Calypso is meant to do nothing other than tempt weary male travelers to forgo their goals and stay with her forever. Then most notably, Helen of Troy in the Iliad is quite literally placed in the epic to serve as an object of lust, to tear heroes apart in their desire to claim her for their own. She has no true essence; she is merely there to be coveted. Such has been the case for many prominent literary females throughout history; very few manage to rise above this stereotype. These women cannot be seen as heroines, yet they appear so often at the forefront of many stories. When women aren’t serving as temptresses themselves, they’re often depicted as prone to temptation, unintelligent, foolish, and below men not only in societal status, but in mental capabilities as well. Perhaps the most renowned example of this is the Abrahamic creation myth itself; the blame for the fall of humanity is placed solely on the shoulders of Eve, our very first heroine, for being overly curious and allowing herself to be easily tempted into devastating disobedience. This relays an obvious message that the woman is to blame for sin, the woman is to blame for the loss of paradise. But this depiction of women does not cease with ancient stories; Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is portrayed to be of such weak mind that worry over whether or not Hamlet loves her drives her to complete insanity, which eventually moves her to kill herself. And lastly, Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby is the epitome of a fickle, shallow, ditzy woman, choosing wealth and security over passion. Her foolishness when driving the car back from New York causes Myrtle’s death. This recurring stereotype, in which women are seen as careless and daft, making all sorts of messes that men must clean up, does nothing for the image of women in literature or in real society. If these are the heroines we look up to, we must truly question our perspective. There are, however, a select few heroines worthy of our attention and praise, namely because they do manage to break free of the stereotypical mold of women and attain success and prosperity as a result of their own actions, rather than under the protection of a man. Heroines like these are becoming more and more numerous in present day, but they did begin to make an appearance a few centuries ago as well. Jane Eyre, a 19th century heroine, and Hermione Granger, the more recent, bushy-haired best friend of beloved Harry Potter, present enlightening images of strong female characters past and present. There are some key similarities between both their stories that illustrate why these two are such positive heroines. First, both have received an education, something seen as commonplace now but was unfortunately quite rare for women not too far in the past. Much of the beginning of Jane Eyre takes place at Lowood, the school for orphaned girls where Jane was sent when she was ten, and where she spent her life until age eighteen learning and eventually teaching herself. Jane emerges from Lowood an apt reader and writer, proficient in French, an excellent artist and musician, and, most importantly, able to reason and think for herself. At Lowood, she has learned that through her own efforts she can achieve success, something most women of her time never had the opportunity to experience. Jane’s appreciation for education extends even further into her life, when St. John offers her a position running a school for impoverished children who would not otherwise receive an education. Education is obviously a major part of the life of Hermione Granger as well; her intelligence is one of her greatest defining characteristics throughout the series of books. She’s quick-witted, well read, logical, clever, and resourceful, and oftentimes her brain is her saving grace in life-threatening situations. The vast majority of her story takes place at Hogwarts, her school, where she excels in practically all subjects and soars far beyond everyone else as a result. The importance of education in the lives of both these women and the way it has shaped their growth plays a huge role in their success as heroines, and relays messages to readers detailing the infallible power of an educated woman. One of the most common components of all hero stories is a struggle to overcome difficult familial situations; though in markedly different ways, both Jane and Hermione are burdened by their family and lineage and forced to rise above and become autonomous. Jane, of course, was orphaned, and had to endure years under the care of an aunt who did not love her, amidst cousins who treated her poorly. Once sent off to school, Jane’s aunt cut off contact with her, leaving the young girl all on her own—but she was better for it, in the long run, because she learned to be independent, a quality necessary to some extent in all heroes. Hermione’s situation is certainly a bit different, but still leads to the same outcome. Her parents are loving and nurturing, yes, but because they are muggles, she is different from them in many significant ways. Because of their non-magical blood, they could not be allowed to play a role in Hermione’s new life; she had to forge her path for herself, without much support from her family who, despite good intentions, simply could not understand the struggles she faced in the wizarding world. In addition, Hermione’s familial situation—being muggle-born, or a mudblood—brought all sorts of maltreatment from self-righteous purebloods upon her, and gave her much more to overcome than if she had come from magical ancestry. This runs parallel to Jane’s difficulties; as an orphan, she was always completely at the mercy of her caretakers. Though perhaps she would have done even better at a different school where life was not as harsh for students, as an orphaned young girl Lowood was one of her only options. An orphan with little financial means could never have the same opportunities as a young girl from a well-to-do family. Both heroines had to conquer the obstacles presented to them as a result of their family circumstances with little help, but as is the case with all heroes, emerged the better for it; the independence and strength acquired through these trials would prove to be invaluable assets as they faced daunting tasks and perilous decisions later on in their stories. To truly be considered progressive heroines, Jane and Hermione needed to surmount the female stereotype of subordination to males, and both did just that. Neither allows men to control her; the nature of both their personalities prevents this from happening. At all times, Jane aspires to be Mr. Rochester’s equal, and rather than grow angry with her for this, Rochester admires it about her. When she refuses to be his hidden mistress and leaves him, she shows she has no desire to be constantly at his mercy. Hermione, though her two best friends are male, is very often the driving force behind the magnificent trio; when Harry and Ron are at a loss, unsure of what to do next, Hermione takes charge and leads them in the right direction. She never becomes a follower, sucked into the wake of Harry’s fame and notoriety; in contrast, Harry owes much of his success to her guidance. Both Hermione and Jane make a point to be the architects of their own life, rather than be controlled by any man; a woman cannot break free of conventional gender roles until this has been accomplished.As previously discussed, authors place many female characters in literature solely for romantic purposes. Both Hermione and Jane, however, challenge this; while both are faced with the tantalizing prospect of giving in to their emotions and allowing romance into their lives, they do not let it get in the way of their ultimate goals. Jane is intent on going through life preserving her integrity and freedom, and though she has always loved Mr. Rochester and the idea of spending her life with him, she is aware that to do this and forgo her values would be wrong. Once she learns of the existence of his former wife, she cannot bear to live as his secret mistress, and instead gives up both the comfort of her life at Thornfield and the man she has come to love in order to protect her freedom and preserve her principles. Hermione clearly develops feelings for Ron as the series draws on, but never acts on them because she knows she has a greater purpose than petty romance. The most notable representation of her strength and resolution in pushing this love to the side is when she chooses to remain with Harry on his horcrux hunt, rather than leave to be with Ron whom she already loves as more than just a best friend. Hermione knows that, at that moment, she is needed to help defeat Voldemort and ensure the longevity of wizards and muggles alike; she chooses this over romance for the time being, and rightfully so. The strength required to forgo love in favor of duty in both of these women is exemplary and admirable, and displays to readers that women have a higher purpose in life than merely falling in love and getting married. The best heroines must make choices for the greater good; if love is true, it will be there when they return.However, there are some clear differences between Hermione Granger and Jane Eyre; the vast difference in publication eras may account for this. Regardless, these differences illustrate how far females in literature have progressed over the course of the last few centuries. For one, despite her strong countenance and fierce determination, Jane’s options are always limited to feasible lifestyles for a woman. After she finishes her schooling at Lowood, there are very few options for Jane: either continue to teach and perhaps become a school administrator or hire herself out as a housemaid or governess. She chooses the last option from a very sparse pool of choices, hoping that she will be able to experience something new and different. But this low career availability represents what life was like for a woman in the nineteenth century, and Jane Eyre, though a heroine, is no exception. Hermione, however, knows from the first time that she sets foot in the Hogwarts castle that entire world will be open to her once she leaves school. She could work for the ministry, become a Hogwarts professor, work in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, start her own wizarding talk show, or even take a job in the muggle world, which she would be well prepared for based on her early upbringing. In this universe, women have all the same opportunities as men; there is very little inequality among witches and wizards, perhaps even less so than in our own present-day society. Hermione is fully qualified for every position her male counterparts are. This difference comes as a result of the gradual shift towards equality women have experienced in the past century; literature has slowly reflected these societal changes as well.Also important to note is that the very nature of their heroic undertakings is quite varying. Hermione has a much grander purpose as a heroine than Jane, and that is evident from the start of her various quests. This young witch is faced with a task that would be daunting for any hero, male or female: help her friends save the entire wizarding world from a dark villain. Her wit, bravery, and loyalty is tested time and time again as she’s thrown into perilous situations with Harry and Ron, and many a time her own life is in jeopardy. The stakes aren’t as high for Jane, who is merely trying to preserve her own freedom, integrity, and principles, and do what she believes is right. The tests Jane faces are fewer and not as dangerous or trying, even though as a true heroine, she does navigate them masterfully. They are heroes in different ways, but Hermione is fighting battles on a much larger scale: this could suggest that in present day, women are viewed as more capable than they were in the past. Along these lines, Hermione is also forced to make greater sacrifices. At the very beginning of Deathly Hallows, Hermione makes the conscious and informed decision to wipe out her parents’ memory in order to protect them, and for the sake of the cause for which she fights. A choice like this was no doubt the fruit of many sleepless nights; how would any other seventeen-year-old girl be able to cut herself off from her parents in such a way? At the time, she must have confronted the very real possibility that she would never see them again, and they would never remember their daughter. In addition, throughout the course of her story she is forced to watch many she loves die, many who have aided her and her friends countless times in the past. Despite these deaths being thrown in her face, she is expected to maintain the strength and resolve necessary to keep going like the true heroine she is. Jane’s one true sacrifice occurs when she leaves Mr. Rochester, who she loves, because marrying him at the time would have gone against everything she believed in, but in truth this pales in comparison to all the sacrifices Hermione makes. Yes, Jane leaves the man she loves, but both she and Mr. Rochester remain well, and she always has the option to return to him should she change her mind. Hermione never once has that luxury, not when fighting a battle and watching her loved ones die. Though these differences are real and prominent, they are not to suggest that Jane is not a true heroine in her own right. Jane Eyre serves as a significant hero for women of her time period; most would never have the courage to do what she does, to make the choices that she makes. She successfully challenges the societal belief that women are defined and controlled by the men they marry, forced to submit at all times and always act as their subordinate. A hero is someone who does denounce existing norms and display their strength and willpower, and Jane certainly falls into that category, serving as a beacon for oppressed women everywhere. But the truth of the matter is that in the end she ends up with the man, and it appears that safely being loved by Mr. Rochester was her true goal all along; it just had to be done on her own terms. In the case of Jane, this love is her prize. Though Hermione does end up with Ron in the end, it’s only after succeeding in accomplishing what she set out to accomplish. Her prize is hers and her loved ones’ freedom; falling in love with Ron is only an added reward. Hermione’s successes represent the much more recently developed notion that women have a greater purpose than simply romance; while Charlotte Brontë may have attempted to do this to an extent, the constraints of the society she lived in couldn’t truly allow her to; through Hermione, J.K. Rowling is far more successful in this endeavor. In the future, there is even more room for expansion on the roles of heroines in literature. As more and more female writers emerge onto the literary stage, a larger number of strong female characters will undoubtedly accompany them. There have certainly been a lot more over the past few decades: Katniss Everdeen, Mulan, Tris Prior, and Lyra Belacqua have all shown up recently, to name a few. But the world needs more of these progressive heroines in order to stamp out any last existing mindsets of inequality. Women are intelligent, capable, and good for much more than just romance, and through literary heroines such as Jane Eyre and Hermione Granger, influential authors have been able to prove that.