The Harry Potter Complex
Roughly, two decades ago, the world met Harry Potter, “the boy who lived”, but little did the readers know the magic that had been released. Twenty-one years later Harry Potter has become a household name, along with seven successful books, eight outstanding movies and a fan base of “potterheads.” The author, J.K. Rowling, has managed to create a successful series, reaching people of all different ages and interests. The elaborate story of witches, wizards, dementors, and quidditch succeeds primarily because of its usage of universal themes; the stories explore a hero’s journey, coming of age, and emphasizes the importance of family as well as important social issues.
In the summer of 1997, J.K. Rowling introduced the first of seven books, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, beginning the arc of a hero’s journey. Following the universal steps of a hero’s journey, found in myths, movies, novels, and fairy tales, J.K. Rowling utilized the ingenious formula as a base for her complex story (Volger, p.1). The hero’s journey is a twelve-step process, flexible to the writer’s needs (Volger p.1). Created by Joseph Campbell and exemplified in Campbell’s book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Campbell’s formula consists of three main divisions: departure (part 1), initiation (part 2) and return (part 3) (Volger, p1). It then splits into twelve subdivisions; part one: ordinary world, call to adventure, refusal of the call, meeting the mentor and crossing the threshold, part two: tests allies and enemies, approach to the inmost cave, the ordeal, reward and road back and part three: resurrection and return with the elixir (Volger, p.2).
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Harry Potter’s departure begins in the muggle world (non-magical humans) at 4 Privet Drive, with the Durselys, Harry’s aunt and uncle. His call to adventure occurs in the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, when Rubeus Hagrid a half-giant and half-human appears to him on his eleventh birthday stating, “You’re a wizard Harry” (Rowling Sorcerer’s p. 50). Straight after, Harry refuses the call, “Hagrid looked at Harry with warmth and respect blazing in his eyes, but Harry, instead of feeling pleased and proud, felt quite sure there had been a horrible mistake. A wizard? Him?” (Rowling Sorcerer’s 57). Throughout the story, Harry has two mentors: Hagrid, serving as a father figure and Dumbledore, serving as a mentor in Harry’s fight against the Dark Lord, Voldemort (The Use of Joseph, p.3). The next step, crossing into the threshold, unfolds at the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, when Harry encounters Voldemort. It is the first time the altercation with Voldemort is explained to Harry, where he is able to choose his role in the fight between good and evil, without outsider opinions influencing his moral decisions (The Use of Joseph, p.3). Harry Potter exits the safety of his cupboard at 4 Privet Drive and officially enters into the uncertainty of the battle of light against dark (The Use of Joseph, p.4).
Initiation begins with trials that test the heroicness and moral compass of the hero. Rowling creates hurdles throughout Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, that Harry must conquer on his journey to his ultimate goal (Bronzite). In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry fights a giant snake and faces off against a young version of Voldemort (Rowling Chamber p306-326). In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry must face Peter Pettigrew who deceived Harry’s parents, acting as the catalyst to their deaths. Harry also gains an ally at the end, Sirius Black Harry’s godfather, wrongly accused for the death of Harry’s parents (Rowling Prisoner). In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry is tested in various ways when he is entered illegally into the Triwizard Tournament (Rowling Goblet). Forced into competing, Harry faces three perilous events, the third of which takes a dangerous turn (Rowling Goblet). During the obstacles in books two through four, Harry discovers allies, his powers are tested, and each test prepares him for the final battle (Bronzite).
Harry’s approach to the innermost cave occurs at the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when he is transported into the midst of Voldemort and his followers: the death eaters (Rowling Goblet). Faced with his first experience with death when Voldemort kills Harry’s fellow competitor in cold blood, Harry quickly learns this is very real war, which he plays a very important role (Rowling Goblet). In Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix, Harry experiences the ordeal: “A dangerous physical test or a deep inner crisis that the Hero must face in order to survive or for the world in which the Hero lives to continue to exist” (Bronzite). Rowling utilizes the ordeal in Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix in duration of the whole story. When Harry builds a team of witches and wizards to fight the death eaters to find a prophecy on how to defeat Voldemort, Harry confronts the “dangerous physical test” (Bronzite), in the race to the prophecy (Rowling Order). Harry faces the “deep inner crisis” (Bronzite), at the end of the book when Sirius Black (Harry’s godfather and only lasting family) dies in battle (Rowling Order). This is an important moment because Harry is now forced to continue and finish his journey alone. Had Sirius Black remained alive, Harry’s character would not have been able to grow and defeat Voldemort on his own because Sirius would have wanted to replace him.
Following his godfather’s death, Harry mourns and struggles to find motivation to continue his journey (Rowling Half-Blood). In the sixth book of the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore and Harry set on their last adventure together to complete “the road back” (Bronzite). Dumbledore advises Harry during his last few days, setting Harry on a quest to seek and destroy Voldemort’s horcruxes, the seven pieces of his soul that he hid (Rowling Halfs-Blood). Dumbledore’s death at the end of the book, forces Harry to start his hunt for the horcruxes, completing the final steps of “the road back.” Resurrection, “the climax in which the Hero must have his final and most dangerous encounter with death” (Bronzite), occurs in the last installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry reaches the final battle, where he overcomes death and defeats Voldemort, good triumphs over evil and all is set right (Rowling Deathly). Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows finishes with an epilogue set twenty years into the future (Rowling Deathly). The epilogue provides readers with the final ingredient in the hero’s journey “return with the elixir.” Harry and his friends are happy and settled down with families of their own (Rowling Deathly). Rowling leaves the readers with an image of a happy Harry Potter, finally allowed to relax, but who will always live in infamy.
Everyone loves a good hero and Rowling gives readers what they want, “She knows how to feed the desire not just hear or read a story but to live it as well” (Begley, p.12). Sarah Begley writes, “They want to believe the unbelievable, and Rowling makes it easy and great good fun for them to do so” (Begley, p.12). Fans grow attached to characters, feeling sadness when one dies, joy when they succeed and love when some are happy. The hero’s arc not only creates trials and tribulations for the characters, but also for the bookworms’ hearts as they twist and turn along the rollercoaster ride. Readers act as an extension to Harry’s arc, attaching themselves to the life of the orphaned little boy. This desire for Harry to succeed feeds the magic of the series. Rowling’s world draws adults, children and teens in to root for “the boy who lived.”
Harry Potter has accumulated years of research and analyses the past two decades. Analyzers have noted, “Part of the genius of the books is because Harry has been raised in total ignorance of the wizarding world, he discovers its structures and vagaries right alongside the reader” (Begley, p. 4). Readers begin the journey with Harry at 4 Privet Drive, Surrey and are then catapulted into the magic, discovering the lifestyle of the wizarding world, simultaneously to Harry himself. They automatically feel for Harry due to the unfair treatment he receives from the Durselys and equally share in the relief when Hagrid rescues him. Fans can share in the enjoyment when Harry discovers the amazing new world, buys his wand, buys Hedwig (his owl) and especially when he discovers the unique game of quidditch (Rowling Philosopher’s). Rowling makes it easy for readers to feed into the mirage of the magical world (Begley, p.12).
The wizarding world is an intricate and unique creation Rowling has magically stirred up. Potterheads can find their niche in the story line to relate themselves. Misfits can latch onto Neville Longbottom, brainiacs relate to Hermonie Granger and quirky boys can understand Ron Weasley, but all will grow to love the small scrawny boy with glasses. The coming of age theme corresponded to the first generation of readers that Rowling initially targeted. Harry’s ignorance to the wizarding world mirrored that of the fans and as Harry grew older, he faced heavier issues and darker concepts, which first generation readers could begin to understand. First generation fans grew up with Harry; when he hit puberty and struggled with dating, many readers were most likely experiencing the same issues.