Harry Potter is more than a children’s book // The Observer
Over the winter break, I decided to re-read the Harry Potter series after it was referenced by Jordan Peterson, a famous Canadian psychologist, in a YouTube video. I read the first three books before going to school and used the extra time of the last two weeks to watch all eight movies with my friends. As a kid, I fell in love with books and movies because of the amazing world that JK Rowling brought to life. The endless surprises at Hogwarts castle, quidditch matches, jelly beans of all flavors, Hogsmeade butterbeer, and countless other aspects of the wizarding world immediately hooked me. Even at this age, I find images in books and movies fascinating. However, after listening to Peterson’s video and re-watching the books and movies, I realized how much more the series was than a well-crafted fantasy world.
In Peterson’s video, he stresses the importance of making yourself dangerous. He asserts that a truly great man or woman must have the ability to harm others in some form, but harnesses his talent for good. He argues that people confuse “not doing bad things” with the mark of a good person. Peterson pushes back saying that many people are incapable of hurting others in the first place or they only do what is considered right for fear of retaliation for their actions. Basically, if people were put in a position of power, many would treat people worse. In order to become that idealized man or woman, you have to transform yourself into a very capable person. How you do it and what abilities you possess depends on the individual. After you have been molded into this highly capable person, you must then use your abilities to contribute to good. Essentially, being very competent and using it in a positive way are the marks of a man or woman of high character.
In the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling echoes the same message as Peterson. From birth, Harry has immeasurable potential, but he is not ready to face Voldemort at full strength when he is only 12 years old and has just entered Hogwarts. First, Harry must learn basic magic spells and activities in order to develop his abilities. Then he faces challenges along the way that build his courage and knowledge of Voldemort. In each book, Harry ends up battling a weakened Voldemort and his followers until he is finally ready to face Voldemort at full strength in the final book. While Harry fulfills Peterson’s vision of a great man by developing his talent and using it for good, his similarities to Voldemort show the overlap between a great person and a bad one. They share rare abilities like talking to snakes, and Harry can even see into Voldemort’s mind. It is even revealed that part of Voldemort’s soul lives within Harry. As equally powerful men, Harry and Voldemort have almost everything in common besides their intentions and character. While Voldemort intends to live forever and have it all for himself at all costs, Harry desires the peace and well-being of his friends and family. Voldemort uses his power for his own good; Harry uses his power for the good of others.
In addition to the contrast between Harry and Voldemort, Rowling shows how many civilized individuals in a typical situation act terribly once empowered. Many of Voldemort’s followers, called Death Eaters, were normal members of society while he was out of power. However, upon his return, they exploited their perceived opportunity to gain power. Again, as Peterson argues, doing nothing wrong when you lack power does not mean an individual is a good person. The real test of a man or woman is how they act when they have the opportunity to exploit a situation for their own benefit at another’s expense.
The Harry Potter series has created an incredible fantasy world that absorbs the attention of most readers or viewers. Due to its many childish magical aspects, it’s easy to label Harry Potter as a children’s story. However, his examination of good and bad individuals imparts a greater lesson in history. It raises three main questions for the reader to consider in his life. What skills will you work on to make you a capable person? How will you develop these skills? Then, finally, how are you going to use your abilities for the good of society? That said, since the story touches on such complex truths and questions, I think it’s safe to say that Harry Potter is more than just a children’s book.
Mikey Colgan is a sophomore from Boston, Massachusetts studying finance and ACMS. He is a college basketball enthusiast and resides at Morrissey Hall. He can be reached at [email protected] or @Mikeycolgs15 on Twitter.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.