Saving the Appearances: Harry Who?

Okay, I’ve only read about 1/2 of the first Harry Potter book.  Started it with the kids and couldn’t get through it…just didn’t snag my interest.  Also, I snobbishly resisted (sure, I can admit this) reading books the entire world was standing in line to buy and that my dad and his sister were bonding over in their mid-50s.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’ve seen all the movies.  How can you not as they are a who’s who of stellar British actors.  And sometimes a guy likes movies.

My friend, the mighty Dred, posted a link on her Facebook page to this somewhat “re-imagined” version of the Potter series as, in reality, the Hermione Granger series and I have to tell you, it seems spot on to me (as far as the movies go at least).  Here is the gist of the post re: Hermione:

Hermione is a hero because she decides to be a hero; she’s brave, she’s principled, she works hard, and she never apologizes for the fact that her goal is to be very, extremely good at this whole “wizard” deal. Just as Hermione’s origins are nothing special, we’re left with the impression that her much-vaunted intelligence might not be anything special, on its own. But Hermione is never comfortable with relying on her “gifts” to get by. There’s no prophecy assuring her importance; the only way for Hermione to have the life she wants is to work for it. So Hermione Granger, generation-defining role model, works her adorable British ass off for seven straight books in a row. Although she deals with the slings and arrows of any coming-of-age tale — being told that she’s “bossy,” stuck-up, boring, “annoying,” etc — she’s too strong to let that stop her. In Hermione Granger and the Prisoner of Azkaban, she actually masters the forces of space and time just so that she can have more hours in the day to learn.

And here is the author’s take on “He Who Shall Not Be Named” (Harry):

The character of Harry Potter is an obnoxious error in the Hermione Granger universe, made more obnoxious by his constant presence. It’s tempting to just write Harry off as a love interest who didn’t quite work out; the popular-yet-brooding jock is hardly an unfamiliar type. And, given that Hermione is constantly having to rescue Harry, he does come across as a sort of male damsel-in-distress.

But, if we look closely, we can see that Harry is a parody of every cliche Rowling avoided with Hermione. Harry is not particularly bright or studious; he’s provided with an endless supply of gifts and favors; he’s the heir to no less than two huge fortunes; he’s privileged above his fellow students, due to his fame for something he didn’t actually do himself; he even seems to take credit for “Dumbledore’s Army,” which Hermione started. Of course this character is obnoxious. It’s only by treating ourselves to the irritation caused by Harry that we can fully appreciate Hermione herself.

I don’t think I’d say Harry even fits into the form of the “damsel in distress” though he is in most measures always in distress with little inkling of how to relieve it

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. But perhaps more than this he is the “fantasy” character shown for what fantasy characters are–unreal and ineffectual–lazily dreamy.

A brief aside to illustrate further: Green Lantern or Green Arrow?  For me, I would always choose Green Arrow on an intellectual level; that guy is bad-ass and has a honed, disciplined skill.  Green Lantern finds a ring.  Whatever, yawn.  But, I’ll admit that as a boy I would “look for” and “find” my own super-ring and pretend to be Green Lantern.  Those are at best secondary heroes.  Let’s look at the big two who’ve been battling it out for decades in newsprint and graphic novels and the big and small screen: Superman and Batman.  Superman, ho-hum, alien with powers “given” to him by the simple fact of being an alien with a particular body chemistry…boring.  I suppose I should applaud him for his restraint in not simply ruling all the world.  Batman–psychologically scarred bad-ass who worked and studied to become an avenger.  Yes, Batman is a complicated study–a revenge-killer psycho, sure, but self-made (though wealthy…wait a minute here, is Batman a codified Right Wing Hero?).  Let’s give a nod to Spidey too as he’s a little bit of both…he must “learn” his “gifted” powers and become disciplined and smart about them as he is in no way indestructible.  This could go on, but you see, I’ve mentioned no female characters.

It takes the “reality” of the other major characters in Rowling’s novels to even begin to make the fantasy “center-piece” matter. And perhaps that is the very real strength of these books as far as popular appeal goes. None of us are Harry (or Superman, or Green Lantern) none of us likely even want to be Harry. But we can see ourselves as any number of secondary/tertiary characters (who are heroes by dint of sheer force of will and perseverance).  Potter is the emptiness who must be saved simply as a foil against evil.  Well, good gravy, are we treading on a Christian theme now too?  Jesus needs his followers if he is to realize his “Christ-ness” just as Harry would fail without his friends and myriad help-meets.  Ultimately we are shown that it is from within the self that we discover our strengths.  But then, really, shouldn’t we give Harry the boot?  We don’t really need him, do we?  Harry who?


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1 Comment

  1. focus August 6, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    this is a great piece. I went on to read the whole article you referenced and it rocks. interesting take on a popular genre and refocusing the “hero” here has made me rethink these books and what I like about them. kudos to Dred for sparking this piece.


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