Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pervasive Potter

What recent college grad doesn't love Harry Potter?!

This book is an indispensable part of our generation. We grew up with Harry. When he started school at Hogwarts, we were with him. As he struggled with childhood problems, such as bullies, misunderstandings, mean teachers, and friendship, so did we.

However, the most noticeable change in the series, and an essential part of growing up, isn't the world changing or circumstances but the way in which we perceive it. We all started off childlike and innocent in a world where everything was black and white and good and evil, but just like Harry we had to come to terms with the fact that we live in shades of gray.

Is Severus Snape good or evil? He is cruel and nasty to Harry throughout most of the series; yet, he saves Harry's life on numerous occasions. As a young man, he was even more selfish and arrogant than he is as an adult. These characteristics are what led Severus willing to the the ranks of the Death Eaters. One day, Severus makes the unforgivable error of selling out his previous best friend and his unrequited childhood love, Lily Evans, to his master. It is then that his humanity, his ability to feel love and pain, brings him back to the light.

Draco Malfoy also begins the series as a villain. He teases and bullies Harry at every given opportunity. As an older student, Malfoy reaches a crux. He has been given the task of killing Dumbledore and letting Death Eaters in the castle. If he fails to complete his task, both he and his family may be killed. Draco struggles with this decision-- self preservation versus immorality. Yet, Draco is not wholly bad. He lets Death Eaters into the castle but fails to be able to follow through with his orders. He can't kill. Draco may be a selfish snob, but he is not evil. He is only human. Harry's growth in the series is truly shown in his ability to forgive Draco for his past transgressions. In the final book, despite Draco's affiliation with Death Eaters, Harry elects to save his life at the risk of his own.

In the far more eloquent words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, "If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

To me, this is what makes the Harry Potter series not just a children's series but a true examination of life, not just extraordinary but ordinary. What makes Harry such a believable hero is that he is so ordinary. He is not the best wizard in his class. He has no extraordinary gifts. He only has convictions bought from the sacrifice of his parents. It is the loss he feels in his life-- the missed opportunities for family, friendship,and love-- that often drive him forward. Ron, Hermione, the Weasley family, Hagrid, etc ease this suffering, but also give him the means to understand what was taken from him.

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