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Harry Potter is more than a children’s book

| Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Over 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 got through the first three books before getting to school and used the extra time the past two weeks to watch all eight movies with my friends. As a kid, I fell in love with the books and movies because of the incredible world J. K. Rowling brought to life. The endless surprises in Hogwarts Castle, the quidditch matches, the every flavor jelly beans, the butterbeer from Hogsmeade and countless other aspects of the wizarding world had me hooked instantly. Even at this age, I find the images in the books and movies fascinating. However, after listening to Peterson’s video and going through the books and movies again, I realized how much more there was to the series than a well-crafted fantasy world.

In Peterson’s video, he stresses the importance of making yourself dangerous. He claims that a truly great man or woman must have the ability to do damage to others in some form, but harnesses his or her talent towards the good. He argues that people mistake “not doing bad things” as 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 just due to fear of retribution for their actions. Basically, if people were put in a situation of power, many would treat people worse. In order to become this idealized man or woman, you must mold yourself into a very capable person. How you do so and the capabilities you would possess is up to the individual. After you have been molded into this highly capable person, you then must use your abilities to contribute towards the good. Essentially, being of high competency and using it in a positive way are the marks of a high character man or woman.

In the Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling echoes the same message as Peterson. From birth, Harry has immeasurable potential, but he is not prepared to face Voldemort at full strength as a 12-year-old just entering Hogwarts. First, Harry must learn spells and basic wizarding activities in order to build up his abilities. Then, he faces challenges along the way that bolster his courage and knowledge on Voldemort. In each book, Harry ends up battling a weakened Voldemort and his followers until he finally is prepared to take on Voldemort at full strength in the final book. While Harry fulfills Peterson’s vision of a great man by building up his talent and using it for good, his similarities to Voldemort show the overlap in a great person and evil one. They shares rare abilities like speaking to snakes, and Harry can even see inside Voldemort’s mind. It is even revealed that a part of Voldemort’s soul lives within Harry. As equally powerful men, Harry and Voldemort have nearly everything in common besides their intentions and character. While Voldemort intends on living forever and having everything to himself at all costs, Harry desires peace and the well-being of his friends and family. Voldemort uses his power for his own sake; Harry uses his power for the good of others.

In addition to the contrast between Harry and Voldemort, Rowling shows how many individuals that are civilized in a typical situation act terribly once they have power. Many followers of Voldemort, 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 true test of a man or woman is how they act when they have an opportunity to exploit a situation for their own benefit at the expense of another.

The Harry Potter series has created an incredible fantasy world that absorbs the attention of most readers or watchers. Because of its many kiddish magical aspects, it is easy to mark Harry Potter as a kid’s story. However, its examination of good and evil individuals lends to a greater lesson in the story. It raises three primary questions for the reader to consider in his or her life. Which abilities will you work towards to make yourself a capable individual? How will you build up those abilities? Then, finally, how will you use your capabilities for the good of society? With that said, given the story evokes such intricate 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 an avid college basketball fan and resides in Morrissey Hall. He can be reached at [email protected] or @Mikeycolgs15 on twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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