Passage and a Hero’s Initiation
In this paper, I will analyze how the rites of passage and a hero’s initiation pattern is expressed throughout the movie “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling. Throughout the movie, Harry fulfills the phases defined by the rites of passage: separation from society when he enters the world of magic, liminal zone as he realizes that voldemort was a part of Professor Quirrell and reintegration when he realizes Hogwarts is his world and he finds the Sorcerer’s stone. As Harry enters Hogwarts, School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and goes through the obstacles to obtain the Sorcerer’s Stone, he goes through the steps that represent those of a warrior-like Greek hero and has a call to adventure, refuses the call, crosses a first threshold, experiences a road of trials, the ultimate boon and the return.
Throughout this paper, I will analyze the scenes through which Harry goes through the rites of passage; moreover, I will explain how Harry fulfills a hero’s journey by comparing and contrasting his hero-like traits with those of Odysseus in The Odyssey. I intend to analyze the ways in which Harry Potter follows the theme of The Odyssey where the unique hero Odysseus goes through suffering but doesn’t cause suffering for others; on the other hand, although Harry’s hero story is similar to that of Odysseus, Harry takes on this role in order to be a defender rather than a fighter. Through the mythological approach taken on this movie, we can see how Harry responds to the different stages he goes through and how this makes him grow as a character and as a hero.
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Rites of Passage:
In the book “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”, Harry displays the first rite of passage, separation from society, when he enters the world of magic and leaves his aunt and uncle’s house on Privet drive. This occurs when Dumbledore, the head of Hogwarts, sends Harry several letters regarding his admission to the school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. At this point in the movie, Harry Potter had separated from the “muggle” world and moved to the Wizarding World creating a stark shift in his position in society. This is similar to the ideas in greek mythology where young girls are separated from their homes and taken away from their fathers.
For example, in the Metamorphoses, Princess Europa, the daughter of the King of Tyre, was separated from her dad when Zeus abducted her despite being married to Hera. Initially, Europa is impressed by him and therefore decides to go, “Europa marvelled at his beauty and friendliness that threatened naught of harm. Yet, gentle as he seemed, she feared at first to touch him, but anon came up to him and offered flowers to his soft white lips” (Metamorphoses, p 50). This quote explains how as Europa is being separated, she is initially hesitant and scared of being taken from her hometown of Tyre; eventually, she fits in and prospers on Crete. Similarly, Harry is hesitant in accepting his letter to Hogwarts but eventually realizes that it is where he belongs.
Next, Harry exemplifies the liminal zone when he discovers that Voldemort, the murderer of his parents, is inhabiting Professor Quirrell’s body and that he seeks the Sorcerer’s Stone in order to possess eternal life and wealth. At this point in the story, Harry decides that he must obtain this stone before Professor Quirrell in order to stop Voldemort from taking advantage of this power. This scene represents a transformation, where circumstances have changed and where he crosses the border from the safe side of Hogwarts to the dark side of magic. Harry learns about his past and his special connection with Voldemort and goes through experiences that put him on the verge of life and death.
Moreover, this step in the rites of passage represents the power that the greek goddess Artemis has over the liminal zone. Artemis represents the breaking of many rules of society and the wild stage of the lives of the greek gods. She is the protector of young children and is depicted as a huntress carrying a bow and arrow representing her tough side. Through this scene in the book, you can see Harry breaking several rules in order to obtain the Sorcerer’s stone and protect those in the vicinity of Voldemort or Professor Quirrell.
Lastly, Harry Potter goes through the final stage in the rites of passage, reintegration, when he finds the Sorcerer’s stone and realizes that Hogwarts is where he belongs. In this part of the book, Harry has an interaction with Voldemort, who is on the back of Quirrell’s head, and gets a hold of the Sorcerer’s Stone. Furthermore, after putting up a fight with Quirrell, Harry passes out and finds himself conscious in the hospital the following day with Dumbledore. In greek mythology, reintegration is represented by a god or goddess that is brought back into society a different person and more grown up. Similarly, after this incident, Harry Potter is brought back awake and returns to his home at Hogwarts having learned more about himself and having learned lessons that made him grow.
Towards the end of the Illiad, by Homer, Achilles is reintegrated into the war scene after growing from the experiences of the Trojan war including his fight with Agamemnon and his fight with Hector. Although both Achilles and Harry are reintegrated into their respective societies, Harry fights for the people in the wizarding world in order to protect his peers while Achilles goes to war for his own selfishness, pride and cruelty. Tydides says, “Why should we gifts to proud Achilles send, or strive with prayers his haughty soul to bend? His country’s woes he glories to deride, and prayers will burst that swelling heart with pride” (9.162-165). This quote shows how Harry is reintegrated into a society that loves him while Achilles is put back to fight in a war where no one respects him.
Hero Initiation Pattern (compare with Odysseus):
The first step of the hero’s journey that is shown in both Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Odyssey is the call to adventure. In The Odyssey, Odysseus is “called to adventure” when the Trojan War begins. As the Trojans begin to come on to the Greeks, Odysseus travels to Troy in order to lead the forces and to begin the battle. Similarly, Harry Potter’s call to adventure begins as he receives several letters from Hogwarts, the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and is asked to come and attend that year. Although Odysseus is directly called to take part in the Trojan War, when Harry Potter attends Hogwarts, he has no idea that he is in for an adventure involving Voldemort and the Sorcerer’s stone. Furthermore, when Harry is close to finishing his first year at Hogwarts, he faces a three-headed dog, an indirect form of Voldemort and the fight for the Sorcerer’s stone. Both Harry and Odysseus initially refuse this call to adventure, representing the second step in the Hero’s Journey.
Initially, although Odysseus wanted to fight for the Greeks and take part in the Trojan War, he is hesitant as he has just had his first child Telemachus, with his wife Penelope. As a father, Odysseus thinks that it may be important for him to stay and be a father to his child. Although, eventually, he decides that it is best for him to leave and help his people. In a similar way, initially, Harry is rather confused as to why he is being called a wizard and why he has powers that other kids he knew of his age did not have. For example, when he went to the Zoo for his cousin Dudley’s birthday he was able to speak to a snake. Confused, Harry did not understand whether attending Hogwarts was for him, but eventually Hagrid helps him understand and he begins his journey. The stories of both Odysseus and Harry display the “call to adventure” and the “refusal to the call” and explain the beginning of their journeys as a hero.
In addition, both Odysseus and Harry go through the “crossing of a first threshold” that leads into a “road of trials”. In The Odyssey, Odysseus crosses his first threshold when he begins fighting in the Trojan War. Although this is not truly the beginning of his hero’s journey, this is when he is introduced to a world that is different from his family life in his hometown and where he learns to deal with different situations and scenarios from what he was used to. On the other hand, Harry crosses his first threshold when he learns about the death of his parents and that it was Lord Voldemort that commmitted this murder. He realizes that he too was supposed to be dead and that Voldemort was the reason that his parents were no longer with him. Although this is not something that he had to face head on, mentally this was the first step that he took in beginning his journey to fight the dark side and fight Lord Voldemort.
Furthermore, as Odysseus begins the road of trials, he faces several obstacles that allow him to prove himself as a hero displaying characteristics such as leadership, courage and bravery. One of the major obstacles he faces includes the cyclops Polyphemus, son of Poseidon. Odysseus tricks the cyclops by getting him really drunk, “Here, Cyclops, try this wine-to top off the banquet of human flesh you’ve bolted down” (Odyssey, lines 388-389). In addition, Odysseus encounters several other obstacles such as the Lotus eaters, the sirens, Scylla and Charybdis and more. Through these experiences, Odysseus is given the opportunity to display his hero attributes and continue his journey. Very similarly, Harry enters his road of trials and faces barriers that are set up to protect the Sorcerer’s stone. Very similar to Odysseus’ encounter with Polyphemus, Harry encounters a troll in the girl’s bathroom that is out to get Hermione.
Using his own hero-like characteristics such as bravery and fearlessness, Harry defeats this troll by sticking something in his nose. In order to get a hold of the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry also encounters a three-headed guard dog that is protecting the stone, a forbidden corridor, and face-to-face meetings with people from the dark side. Both Odysseus and Harry get past their first threshold and confront hardships that deter them from completing their hero’s journey; moreover, both Odysseus and Harry go by the rule of “suffering but not letting others suffer”. On one hand, Harry has help and protection from his friends and has not yet created a name for himself in the Wizarding World. On the other hand, Odysseus is known to be a hero in the greek world and people only expect him to do the greatest.
Lastly, both Odysseus and Harry have an “ultimate boon” and eventually go through a part of their journey that brings them back home (“return”). In the case of The Odyssey, by Homer, Odysseus is not searching for a specific object but rather hopes to get home representing his “boon”. This is what he needs in order to complete his journey and therefore he tries every which way in order to make this possible. On the other hand, Harry Potter’s ultimate boon is the Sorcerer’s Stone itself. He knows that in order to protect his peers, he must obtain the stone before Voldemort to prevent any abuse of this power. In The Odyssey, Odysseus obtains help from the Phaecians in order to navigate home in addition to asking several of the gods to help him return after realizing his mistakes as a hero and asking for forgiveness.
Through his journey, he learns patience, the importance of parenthood and the ability to lose his pride and name as a Hero. As he returns home, he says to Penelope, “Do not ask who I am, the name of my country, for fear you may increase in my heart its burden of sorrow as I think back; I am very full of grief” (Odyssey, 116). He explains that if Penelope questions him of his identity, he will be sad as he had left home. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry’s return begins after he faces professor Quirrel who has been hosting Voldemort in the back of his head; furthermore, after a struggle at quarreling with him face-to-face, Harry passes out. He wakes up later in the hospital with Dumbledore to find that he had saved Harry and destroyed the stone. Harry soon receives recognition as a Hero at Hogwarts and wins the house cup for Gryffindor. Although in distinctly different ways, both Odysseus and Harry have an ultimate boon and a return that gets them back home, whether with his family, Telemachus and Penelope, or back in the corridors of Hogwarts. These final steps allow both Odysseus and Harry to complete their Hero’s Journey and learn from their experiences.
After exploring the scenes in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with a mythological approach, the meaning behind each step that Harry encounters on his journey can be seen. It is understood throughout that Harry follows the Hero pattern making himself similar to several greek heroes, and more specifically the unique Odysseus. This analytical approach allows me to learn that although Harry Potter is a modern book that was written years after The Odyssey, the idea of him being called to adventure, facing a road of trials and returning with a change in character is merely the same and that the Hero’s Journey is at the core of many stories; furthermore, it is the distinct characteristics, surroundings and accompanying factors that make these stories unique. As I analyzed this particular book using the hero’s journey, I can see how the decisions he made in response to the different steps of his journey made him grow as a character.
Although there were several similarities, it can be seen that Harry lacks several stages of his journey such as the meeting with goddess or an atonement with father. This not only makes the story unique but helps us understand that this story was created in a newer generation and is in fact different from that of Odysseus or any other greek hero. In conclusion, as we observe how Harry goes through the rites of passage and follows the Hero Initiation Pattern, it can be seen how although he follows several similar steps, Harry fights for his peers as a defender and Odysseus fights with pride knowing he is a hero. As their journey comes to an end, they learn lessons and gain experiences that make them the hero that they are.