Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling | Analysis

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19th May 2017 English Literature Reference this

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In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the protagonist, Harry, is today’s modern hero. It is noticeably apparent that Harry is a hero, using the guideline, “the Hero’s Journey” developed by Joseph Campbell in his novel, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. In Campbell’s book, he breaks down multiple hero’s tales, from mythological and modern times (from Odysseus to Luke Skywalker), into certain steps that each hero takes throughout their journey. I will be following Harry’s tale, in relation to Odysseus’ tale as told by Edith Hamilton in her text, Mythology, to show Harry as a hero, just as Campbell proved Odysseus. The story of Harry Potter is the common story of good vs. evil, with the good and evil in the story being blatantly obvious. Voldemort, Harry’s adversary, intends to kill Harry because, as their prophecy, another element of mythology, foretold, “neither can live while the other survives.” However, when good meets evil (Harry meets Voldemort) in the novel, good prevails both times; which is a very cliché concept.

The need to find acceptance and a place where he belongs is a driving force for Harry. He has come to the realization that he is different, and that there’s a possibility that there are people like him somewhere else in the world. However, he doesn’t know just yet that he really doesn’t belong in the “muggle” world; let alone that there are even other worlds beyond his own. The world of magic, a world that is filled with mythological archetypes, creatures, and the oddest of people will finally be the place that Harry feels at home (because at once, it was his home). This essay will asses the claim that the Harry Potter novels, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in particular, have archetypes that are common to Greek Mythology, exclusively Odysseus’ tale, along with the use of other literary devices to prove that modern literature surely has not become obsolete over the years. It will do so firstly by following the use of “the Hero’s Journey” in both novels, and secondly by making a comparative analysis, based on these observations, in order to be able to give an answer to the research question.

III. Harry Potter as a common mythological hero, in relation to Odysseus

The fictional character, Harry Potter, from J. K. Rowling’s novel, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, follows one of the common archetypes found in Mythology, The Hero’s Journey. This archetype was discovered and sorted out by Joseph Campbell in his novel, The Hero With A Thousand Faces. The Journey consists of three major parts and seventeen sub-sections within the three major ones. The three major ones are, The Departure, The Initiation, and The Return. [1] 

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry’s “journey” starts with the major point, The Departure with his call to adventure; when he gets his letter of acceptance to Hogwarts School of Wizardry. He then refuses this call when he tells Hagrid, “I think you must have made a mistake. I don’t think I can be a wizard.” [2] He receives supernatural aid from Hagrid, who is really just an extension of Dumbledore, the predetermined caretaker of Harry Potter when Harry’s parents died. The death of Harry’s parents actually becomes a symbol and extended metaphor. His mother’s love becomes a form of protection for him, because she sacrificed herself for Harry, out of love; the same love that continues to protect Harry throughout the novel. Harry crosses the first threshold when he enters Diagon Alley for the first time. [3] Diagon Alley is considered the root of the wizardry world, this is where every wizard keeps their money, buys the necessities for wizarding, and where everything that is associated with wizards is found. The Belly of the Whale stage is often seen as the “initiation” into the new world. [4] Harry’s initiation is when he first enters Hogwarts and is sorted into Gryffindor, one of the four houses at Hogwarts. [5] In Harry’s overall Journey, Harry learns the entire prophecy. This new knowledge transforms Harry’s identity so that he now sees himself as a “marked man;” he feels separate and apart from the rest of Hogwarts (or the rest of the world, for that matter), and most importantly, it makes him fully committed to the goal of defeating Voldemort. This is the most important step because it shows that the character is willing to undergo a metamorphosis, to die for the greater cause, so it’s expected that Harry’s character will evolve in a significant, positive way because of this step.

The next major point, Initiation, starts with Harry’s road of trials. However, Harry’s trials aren’t in order with the steps of the hero’s journey, they’re closer to the end of the novel. Harry’s trials are the enchantments that are guarding the Philosopher’s Stone. These consist of, Fluffy, the three-headed dog [6] (another mythological archetype that will be discussed later in this essay), the “Devil’s Snare,” deathly vines that constrict like boa constrictors around it’s captors [7] , which is symbolic for the hardships that Harry has been and will be going through in the future. Others include enchanted keys intended to kill anything that attempts to disrupt their purpose of guarding a door, and finally a life-size Wizard’s Chess board in which Harry and his two friends were to become actual players in. [8] 

There are three transformative events that are the possible culmination of the hero’s journey. These are Meeting with the Goddess, Atonement with the Father and Apotheosis. For Harry, who is raised in the absence of love, love is his life goal. The Goddess guides Harry and provides him the means for success in his trials. In a sense, all women comprise the Goddess – they inherently represent Life and Death simultaneously. Some may clearly take on the ‘shadow’ side of the Goddess as represented in the Temptress model, while others may have both elements of light and shadow. Several women portrayed in this novel have specific attributes of the Goddess. These characterizations may focus on the romantic aspect, but there is also the ‘motherly’ and ‘sisterly’ perspective of this motif that needs to be considered. While all women are goddesses; the hero has but one Goddess to be found. She is his reflection, his complement, apparent opposite yet unified with his soul.

As mother, Lily Potter sacrificed her life to Voldemort for love of Harry. [9] He owes his existence to Lily not only for birth, but also for her ongoing protection from Voldemort. Harry was cursed with a scar the day his parents died and his life was spared, from the protection of his mothers love. The scar burns every time Voldemort is nearby because of the connection the scar has to its creator. The scar could also be burning as a warning from his mother because her love is Harry’s protection. As a sister, in spirit, Hermione poses as the goddess in each adventure or trial. Hermione is the knowledgeable one out of Harry and his two friends, Hermione and Ron. Hermione guides Harry with her knowledge; for example, she was the only of the three that knew how to ward off the constricting vines of Devil’s Snare. [10] 

Harry Potter is a boy with many fathers – the biological father of course is James Potter; the father of memory is Vernon Dursley; the protector is Albus Dumbledore; and the demon who created Harry’s destiny is Lord Voldemort. There many are other men cast in the father archetype within the series, as well. James is perceived as being exceptional at everything, much like his son, Harry. He gave his life fighting Voldemort and in protecting his wife and son under attack. James is Harry’s ideal – the perfect and unattainable father. Albus Dumbledore is Harry’s protector, the keeper of the prophecy, the wielder of old magic based in love, the enchanter of the Dursley home, the keeper of the Order, and the master of Harry’s education. Dumbledore is the archetype of the Wise Old Man who seems to know what Harry is thinking even before Harry can formulate his thoughts. Dumbledore appears to have command of both space and time. He also demonstrates superior insight and a higher state of consciousness. Dumbledore has a transcendent authority that is obeyed by both good and dark wizards, the latter complying despite individual will and verbal commentary. Dumbledore unveils Harry’s powers gradually, emphasizing repeatedly that his greatest power is love.

To apotheosize is to deify. When someone dies a physical death, or dies to the self to live in spirit, he or she moves beyond the pairs of opposites to a state of divine knowledge, love, compassion and bliss. This is a god-like state; the person is in heaven and beyond all strife. A more mundane way of looking at this step is that it is a period of rest, peace and fulfillment before the hero begins the return. Harry has been known by the magical world to be the savior of the world since he was an infant. That belief diminished greatly after he was viewed to be a very real adolescent instead of the mere stuff of legends. Harry, however, knows nothing of the enlightened state – in fact, Harry believes that actions of others were the basis for his survival rather than any power that he possessed. There are several possible events where Harry Potter can achieve recognition of his true ability. The first may be identification as Dumbledore’s peer in wizardry – where Harry becomes the greatest of all wizards. There is a substantial power that Harry must still discover for this to take place – perhaps in how to wield that greatest power found in the Department of Mysteries – love. Another possibility is an encounter with Voldemort to overcome, or at least balance, his dark nature. Voldemort has spent lifetimes contriving means to cheat death, yet never comprehending the value or meaning of life. Conversely, Dumbledore is the reigning Bodhisattva who has conquered death (in terms of being the greatest wizard), but chooses to stay in the world until it is “saved”. This burden appears to be taking its toll on him even as his protégé Harry nears maturity.

The ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the person went on the journey to get. All the previous steps serve to prepare and purify the person for this step; since in many myths the boon is something transcendent like the elixir of life itself, or a plant that supplies immortality, or the holy grail. The ultimate boon found in Harry Potter, is when Harry enters the room with the Mirror of Erised, a mirror that shows the viewer what they desire more than life itself. Once in this room, Harry is confronted with one of his professors, Professor Quirrell. However, as the events in the room progress, we discover that Lord Voldemort is using Professor Quirrell as a source for life. Therefore, in a sense, Voldemort is a leech. The reason Harry entered the room in the first place was to retrieve the philosopher’s stone, a stone that provides the holder eternal life. Harry perceived that Professor Snape was the one after the stone, and was surprised to see Quirrell there. Harry quarreled with Voldemort/Quirrell for possession of the stone and reigned victorious. [11] The triumph over Voldemort is what makes the connection between Harry and his biological father, James. Just as his father did, he succeeds with whatever he sets his mind to. Which is a very cliché concept, but a valid concept often found in works of literature that follow the hero’s journey.

The final step in the Hero’s Journey is The Return. The first subsection of this step is the Hero’s refusal to return. This is seen when Harry realizes that he will have to return to the Muggle World, the world he’s always despised; even more now that he’s finally found the world (home) where he belongs. The yearn to stay in the Wizardry World is what allows his hatred for the Muggle World to grow, which causes problems for him in the following novels. The refusal is followed by the Magical Flight, in which the hero has to get away with whatever object he has retrieved. In Harry Potter, he doesn’t actually get away with his object. Instead, he receives an ancient cloak of invisibility that belonged to his father; which symbolizes his powerful object. The succeeding section of the Return is the Rescue from Without. This is characterized in the novel after Harry has defeated Voldemort, and is in the infirmary; when he awakes Dumbledore is standing in front of him. Dumbledore symbolizes the guide or rescuer for Harry in the situation because Harry was badly injured and was, in a sense, “brought back to life” by Dumbledore.

Next is the Crossing of the Return Threshold. In the novel, this is shown when Harry is boarding the Platform 9¾ train; Hagrid tells Harry to remember that his “family”, the Dursley’s know that he is a wizard, and that he can use that to his advantage. This leads the reader to believe that Hagrid is alluding to Harry using his wizarding skills as a threat to make his life at Privet Drive more favorable. Harry becomes the Master of the Two Worlds when he is able to see the balance of the two worlds; how he will return to Hogwarts once summer is over and that he can use his magic in his favor against the Dursley’s. Harry’s Freedom to Live is derived from him surviving two separate confrontations with Voldemort; leading him to lose his fear of death, which in turn, allows him to live life with freedom. Even though he yearns to be back at Hogwarts and away from the Muggle World, he’s found the balance that allows him to live freely there.

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