Harry, the anti-hero

Harry, the anti-hero

As if the Medjugroje discussions weren’t heated enough, I’m now going to be bringing up another sacred cow. Specifically, I’m going to point you to a post on Melanie’s blog that asks the question whether Harry Potter is an anti-hero. Now before you all fly off at the keyboard, read the post. Don’t forget that Melanie has read at least some of the books and enjoyed them for what they are. However, we’ve both expressed reservations as to whether we’d put them in our kids’ hands without a lot of maturity and preparation. I would do the same for other books I love, such as the Horatio Hornblower or Aubrey-Maturin (i.e. Master & Commander) series because of the incidence of adultery that pops up in both.

As for Harry, the anti-hero tag comes from his penchant for breaking the rules all the time without any sort of consequences. What separates Harry from Voldemort? Harry lies, cheats, and steals. Voldemort lies, cheats, and steals. But when Harry does it, it’s for a good cause. In other words, in the world of Harry Potter, the end often justifies the means. Melanie quotes a great question originally posed by the Llama Butchers that illustrates this point brilliantly and succintly:

If he could obtain it, would Harry use The Ring [i.e. the One Ring of the Lord of the Rings] to defeat Voldemort?

Melanie and I both agree that this is a very good question because it goes to the crux of the difference between HP and LOTR and Chronicles of Narnia. The fact is that Harry is loved by all because of his notoriety. He isn’t especially good at magic, Hermione is better. He’s no more courageous than Ron Weasely. And his vaunted prowess at quidditch is not earned or developed through long years of hard work, but is simply innate. Harry’s one great accomplishment was surviving Voldemort’s attack and even that had more to do with his mother than his own actions.

Contrast that with Bilbo and Frodo and Sam and the other hobbits. They were the Everyman, as Melanie says. Tolkien very deliberately cast them in the mold of simple English folk, people who appeared as nothing special in every day life, but when faced with a great challenge, whether it be the destruction of the One Ring, in the case of the hobbits, or World War I for the English people, rose to the challenge beyond all expectations. The same with Lewis’s Pevensie children who were nothing at all special, even in Narnia, except they happened to be human, i.e. Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve. Yet it was the courage and self-sacrifice that they showed that made them heroes, traits that are part of human nature as Lewis would argue in other venues.

Again, this isn’t meant to say that Harry Potter is bad fiction or that it shouldn’t be read, but that if you’re going to let children read it, you should be very careful in explaining the moral concepts that they will encounter and why perhaps Harry shouldn’t be their role model.

Before you comment read Melanie’s post first! You have been warned.

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