Thursday, July 21, 2011

Harry Potter: The Series


Since 1997 with the initial novel 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone', the saga of Harry Potter, 'The boy who lived' has dominated the landscape of children's fiction. Picking up critical mass with the release of the first movie in 2001, the series by JK Rowling has continued to grow in a way few things in popular culture will ever imitate. Originally for an audience of young-lings and proceeding to develop alongside them, it is going to have a cultural resonance well beyond a decade. This is a series that is deeply embedded in the fiber of a generation that is just beginning to storm the walls of this world. It will not be a departing from these United States in the identifiable future, so I feel it appropriate to devote some thought to pixels. 

Summarized previously is my background with this series. Although an avid reader, and of the correct age group, I never did handle one of these books until the end of 2010. At that point I blitzed through the series through audiobook, enjoying enormously the broad scope and intricate weave set in place by Rowling. Although there are large hesitations regarding this series in the evangelical community, I am quite content to separate fiction from reality and believe that most people are capable of this as well. Those who cannot, well, they are not reading this blog anyways. 

Watching the final movie this past week did unsettle something deep within me. My spirit stirred quite strongly against the futility that this fictional universe portrays. There is evil, and there is lesser evil, yet there tends to be very little good. The only characters that could be assumed to be completely good are Hermione Granger, Molly Weasely, and Lilly Potter. 
 Hermione we know well, because she is the smart one that knows how to do things and keeps the impetuousness of Harry and Ron in check, and it is her love for the two of them that drives her onward. Molly is a tertiary character who takes the roll of Harry's mother at times in the story, so we assume she is good because she loves her family. Lilly seems to be the real hero of the story, the one who died to save her son's life, and sowed the seeds for the dark lord's destruction.
The protagonists are deeply human individuals, with strengths and weaknesses and flaws and hopes. Harry himself seems to fight primarily from of a sense of jealously, revenge, or survival. There is no cause for which the 'good' characters strive, only a motley crew of lesser evils that we love against an array of great evils we hate. 

Is this a sweeping generalization? Yes. 
Is this an incorrect set of assertions? In quibbling over details, many of the muggle-nation will disagree with me. This is a nearly free country, they may do so. 

Reflecting on the theme, there is one overriding constant dominating the series; death. I didn't put this together in my own mind until recently, but in doing some more reading about the author, I found this interview that confirms my thought: UK Telegraph interview:

""My books are largely about death. They open with the death of Harry's parents. There is Voldemort's obsession with conquering death and his quest for immortality at any price, the goal of anyone with magic."I so understand why Voldemort wants to conquer death. We're all frightened of it." In the seventh and final Harry Potter book, there will be deaths of both goodies and baddies."
Voldemort's return to life and constant pursuit of immortality drives him onward. Harry is persistently returning to the death of his father and mother to fuel his inner fixations. Eventually,  the death of Sirius and Dumbledore become persistent themes as well. There could be a consideration that love is the driving theme of this series, but it pales in the face of how frequently death is a motivator and monologue component of the series. The world is one of merely avoiding death as long as possible, for there is no hope for the triumph of good in the end. 

On the whole, as a series, the over arching theme is this: 'These people we like and want to live, and we know these guys are bad, and we want them to die'. What is left unspoken is ' die, so that others might replace them'. There is little that is striven for, yet much that is striven against. 

To give an example, there is a terrific scene at the end of the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers where Sam and Frodo are headed once more into the dark land. Yet instead of discussing what they are headed to destroy, they speak of what is behind that they seek to defend. A theme of what is being fought for is a constant in the enduring works of civilization. Those that present aimless and vapid themes are swept away over time.

What is most distressing about this franchise is the generation (MINE!) that it represents. The story that will define this generation is one that has no moral truth to teach, possesses no theme inspiring greatness, and presses the inevitability of fate upon the lives of men. 
Harry Potter is not an underlying pestilence, but it is but a symptom of this generation. No surprise, a generation taught they are accidents of evolution set upon predetermined life paths, with nothing in the universe larger then oneself, would embrace such a story. 

I enjoyed the story, but I remain uncomfortable with the ramifications of it. 

(h/t to BikeBubba for a thought provoker)


KnightWing said...

It's funny; I've actually spent the entire weekend talking with friends about how surprisingly moral the HP series is, especially at its end.

I mean, the Christ parallels with Harry in 7-Part-2 are gigantic, with one of the absolute best self-sacrifice metaphors out there.

The death theme is highly prevalent, but that's not the real point. Harry visits the mirror of Erised as a child not because he's death-obsessed psycho, but because he's missing his parents' love, having only been raised by the Dursleys. Voldemort is the only person that's literally obsessed with death, since he's the one that most fears it. And, as the epilogue of the last book/film shows, the real "truth" of the world is love, life, and the fortitude of will to choose those things.

On the note of evil and good, I don't think you've broken it down correctly. The characters are defined by the choices that they make, not by whether they have halos floating above their heads. Everyone who chooses to fight in the Battle of Hogwarts rather than turn in Harry is a "good" character, because not only do they fight to defend the cause of good and the free world, they also fight to defend their one friend, Harry, when it would be extremely easy to give him up.

Harry Potter, ultimately, is a story about friendship, and the choices one can make in the battle against evil. Harry and his friends, driven by their love for one another and their unwillingness to give up, ultimately prevail.

Go team.

Ryan said...

"No surprise, a generation taught they are accidents of evolution set upon predetermined life paths, with nothing in the universe larger then oneself, would embrace such a story."

What? Wait, what? A couple thoughts:

1) How are we "accidents" of evolution? What about "survival of the fittest"? Unless you're referring to mutations, which I will grant you are genetic "accidents". But, like themes in the Harry Potter series, there are both good and bad. Good, useful mutations are what drives evolution forward. I find it a little odd for you to interpret scientific evidence for evolution as an "accident" that eventually created all of human kind.

2) What do you mean by "predetermined life paths", exactly? How so? The only thing anybody is predetermined to do is die (rather pessimistic, but true, nonetheless). The rest is up to you.

3) And by "nothing in the universe larger then [sic] oneself", are you speaking in a philosophical manner? You must be, and here I again beg to differ. Much like Harry Potter, there are underlying ideas and morals that are worth much more than any one individual. Just because some of the generation (me, for example) don't hold religious views, that doesn't mean we all inflate our egos so that we are the centers of our own universe. In fact, many atheists and agnostics find high value in good deeds/works and good relationships with others.

Other than that one line, I respectfully agree with some of the points you've made, but I'm with KnightWing on this one.

KnightWing said...

Also, the "muggle-nation" is what we call the non-Harry Potter fans. We're known as the wizarding community.

Palm boy said...

Knight 1:
To repeat a point again, the author clearly states her story revolves around death. Death and its avoidance are the focus of the story.

Attempting to make Christ parallels in this story is revolting. Christ is in fact the Son of God, who walked blameless on the earth and was crucified by those he came to love in order to save them, only to return from the grave as a living man once again.
Harry is in fact none of the above.

Harry Potter is ultimately a story about death and its avoidance, as each character struggles to cope with the life handed to them by this dark universe. If they find comfort in doing it with friends, so be it.

1. I think this is a point without use, as we agree on the following premise: If homo sapiens are creatures formed solely by evolutionary mutations, we are the product of accidents.

2. As death is the only true predeterminate of the Potter series, we agree yet again. I do note a conspicuous lack of taxes in the universe, however.

3. Actually, I speak in a biological manner, clearly. Have you seen the obesity statistics in the US?
Religious views are a waste of time, as they place the responsibility for Man's good works upon the man himself, failing to realize that in the absence of God, man's works will not last.
I am glad you like to make friends and seek to make relationships, you are now human.

KnightWing 2: I believe it is called a mugglecast for a reason?

KnightWing said...

One offhand comment, even from the author, doesn't mean that the entire story is thus dominated and defined by it.

The "Christ parallel" comment isn't to say that Harry *is* Christ, but that he follows in that same self-sacrificial example, as we are all to do. He didn't know beforehand that he would be able to live after allowing himself to die at Voldemort's hand; he did it anyway.
John 15:13 - "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."
This decision of Harry's is essentially the single most important one he makes in the entire series. It proves, for the fifteen billionth time in HP, that love is more powerful than death, hate, or any other power.

Harry has almost never simply tried to avoid death. Let's look at his primary motivations in each Book/Movie/Year:

Year 1: Harry is initially motivated by curiosity, but then becomes a straight-up hero (along with Ron and Hermione) when the trio puts themselves in great personal peril in order to stop Quirrell from getting the Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone. The trio has virtually nothing to gain from this. They risk their lives without a second thought, merely because it's the right thing to do and because they want to protect others.

Year 2: Basically the same as Year 1. In the end, when Harry is poisoned by the basilisk (and Fawkes hasn't cried on him yet), he's more concerned for Ginny and her well-being than he is for himself.

Year 3: Harry starts going through puberty. He's initially driven by anger and revenge, but slowly learns that the only way to truly counter the forces of evil is to embrace happiness and love, represented literally with the Patronus charm.


KnightWing said...


Year 4: Harry is motivated by self-preservation, but only because there is seriously no point in the Triwizard tournament. It's not like he has anything to fight for. There's no moral impetus for him to suck it up and go through the tournament, and he doesn't even want the fame and glory, for the most part. At the end, when he's confronted with Voldemort, it's all he can do to escape. That's not an immoral thing; that's a completely rational reaction.

Year 5: Harry endlessly argues the truth that Voldemort is back, and helps arm the students against the true forces of evil, despite the fact that he's putting himself in harm's way by going against the will of Professor Umbridge. In the end, he learns that the real distinction between him and Voldemort is that he has friends and love, while Voldemort rejects those things in the quest for ultimate power.

Year 6: ...Nothing really happened here. Dumbledore died. The end.

Year 7: Harry and friends go on a quest, alone, to finally end Voldemort, putting themselves in more danger than ever before. Harry reveals that he is completely willing to give his own life for his friends (LOVE), and is not controlled by the fear of death as Voldemort is.

The main moral through-line of the Harry Potter series is that of self-sacrifice and bravery. Death is a common element, but the final message is that of accepting love and compassion for others, not fear of death. Neville even gives a speech to Voldemort in Year 7 about how death is not the ultimate power, symbolized by the fact in that moment, he alone is able to pull the Sword of Gryffindor—the literal symbol of heroism and bravery—out of the sorting hat.

I mean, let's look at the final confrontation. Voldemort vs. Harry.
Voldemort is the ultimate personification of death (aside from death himself). He's got a pale face, nearly-demonic features, and pretty much exclusively uses the Killing Curse.
Harry is a boy who's had some troubles, but has also been sheathed in his mother's love since birth. He uses the Disarming Charm, a purely defensive spell that is, in many ways, the philosophical opposite of the Killing curse.
And who wins? Harry. Not because he fears death more, or because he's better at avoiding death. He wins because he has the moral fortitude to stand against evil, unafraid, and put his life on the line in the defense of the innocent.

Aamer Waqas Chaudhary said...