Guest Post: Why is Harry Potter So Normal?

Here is a second post from our friends out west, Fr. Isaiah Mary Molano, OP, and April Tessarzik at Stanford, this one on an oddity of the Hogwarts Saga rather than the philosophical underpinnings of The Hunger Games. Enjoy!

Why is Harry Potter So Normal?

Besides the fact that Harry Potter is a wizard, the Boy Who Lived is a rather normal boy. In some ways, his lifestyle before the letters from Hogwarts appeared is rather unimpressive and ordinary.

Or is it?

As we all know, Harry grew up in a rather tough environment. He’s an orphan. At the beginning of Philosopher’s Stone, we don’t know what happened to his parents, but we can surmise that it is a sad story. His only peer is not a friend, but rather his cousin, Dudley, who has bullied him throughout his entire life. His aunt and uncle would rather ignore him—and they did so rather effectively for over ten years. All of Harry’s possessions are hand-me-downs of the meanest sort—his eyeglasses frames are broken at the bridge, and his clothes once belonged to the much-larger Dudley (HPSS, 14).

While living in Privet Drive, Harry is treated like a house-elf. Director Christopher Columbus picks up on Harry’s pre-Hogwartian life in the first HP movie when Aunt Petunia orders the boy to make Dudley his breakfast. There is no “Good morning”, nor “How did you sleep?”—rather, she simply points to the frying pan to make Duddikins more fried eggs.

It seems, at least on the surface, that Harry Potter is a victim of neglect. According to Psychology Today, emotional neglect may include “inadequate nurturing and affection, spousal abuse in the child’s presence, allowing a child to use drugs or alcohol, refusal or delay in providing needed psychological care as well as the encouragement or permitting of other maladaptive behavior (e.g., chronic delinquency, severe assault) under circumstances where the parent or caregiver has reason to be aware of the existence and seriousness of the problem but does not intervene.”

We agree that this does not perfectly fit the life of the pre-Hogwartian Harry. For instance, Harry is not a drug addict or an alcoholic, nor has he ever seen Vernon physically abuse Petunia. But he had been, for the past 10 years, a victim of inadequate affection and nurturing from his aunt and uncle, has been given Dudley’s dreary and oversized hand-me-downs for clothing, wears broken eyeglasses (till they are fixed by Hermione), and is given abysmal Christmas presents (like pence and buttons).

We can easily make the case that the Dursleys were so keen on being “a normal family” that they would go to any lengths to stay on the right side of the law—even if it included taking Harry to school or keeping him away from alcohol. With a gossip monger like Aunt Petunia, we’re sure that even she would do anything to make sure that the appearance of her family (which superficially included Harry) was healthy and normal.

Yet Harry… is normal.

By the time Harry arrives at Platform 9¾, he is not socially awkward, is not addicted to drugs or alcohol, and overall, does not need any clinical or psychological care. He’s well-mannered enough to ask Molly Weasley how to get onto the platform. He’s a normal boy. While on the Hogwarts Express, for the first time in his life, he has the opportunity to share some of his food and we are delighted to see his delight (ibid, 80).

Compare this to the Girl on Fire. Katniss Everdeen is a victim of neglect. When her father was killed in a mining accident, her mother fell into a bone-chilling depression, and she, at age eleven, needed to provide for herself and her family. This continued for five long years. Throughout the series, she keeps an emotional distance from her own mother, unable or unwilling to forgive her mother’s negligence. Other articles have made a strong case that Katniss is a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder, something that her mother should have helped relieve. Yet as any The Hunger Games aficionado knows, Katniss is a complex, and in many ways, an angry person. She trusts no one. She hardly has any friends. Unlike Harry, Katniss acts like a severely damaged victim of neglect.

Harry is not severely damaged, nor does he act like he was neglected. In his ministry, Fr Isaiah Mary has met some young people who have come from negligent families. There is an overall feeling of anger coursing through the veins of these young men and women, and rightly so. No one ought to have their dignity compromised. Yet, though Harry gets angry, Harry as such is not an angry person.

So why is Harry Potter so normal?

Despite his ten years of mistreatment by the Dursleys, Harry Potter is a normal boy. He has his faults—he’s hot-tempered, he procrastinates, he’s impulsive—but he also has his gifts— he’s painfully loyal, caring, and compassionate.

But he isn’t a teenage alcoholic. He doesn’t regularly neglect his appearance. He wouldn’t make a good protagonist in a Lifetime movie.

April believes that the reason Harry is normal is because of his close and regular interaction with the Weasleys—the perfect foil to the Dursley family. With his best friends Ron and Hermione, his number one fan in Hagrid, his familial relationship in Sirius, and the distant paternal support of Dumbledore, Harry is immersed in love. Because of this community, he discovers compassion and self-worth.

Why is Harry Potter so normal? The key is his ability to forgive. Harry’s normal because of love and forgiveness, which go hand and hand. Harry fiercely loves his mentors and parental figures. He forgives James’ imperfections, Sirius’ pride, Snape’s cruelty, and Dumbledore’s mixed messages. Without that love and forgiveness, Harry would still be haunted the way Katniss is.

Harry is able to see that people are not perfect. And because of this, he can forgive. The most prominent symbol of this is the naming of his sons. Despite finding out that James and Sirius were once young bullies, Harry names his first son after his father and James’s best friend. He’s able to look past their indiscretions and focus on the fact that both men gave their lives defending both Harry and what was right.

An even bigger chasm is breached when we learn that Harry’s second son’s name is Albus. Through his own momentary lapse into pursuing the Hallows, Harry’s able to relate to, and eventually forgive, Dumbledore’s past mistakes. And the most incredible display of Harry’s character and gratitude is in Albus’ middle name, Severus. Harry’s and Snape’s mutual dislike was worthy of a monument; despite this, Harry recognizes the depth of Snape’s sacrifice on his behalf, and so honors him in the name of his second son.

Either way, one of the many appeals of this beloved series is the normalcy of the protagonists and the trio in general. Although Harry Potter ought to be more psychologically damaged than he actually is, most, if not all, of the fandom is happy that he isn’t. If Harry were any different, we would not be re-reading the books or re-watching the movies. We wouldn’t be listening to Harry Potter podcasts or writing and reading blogs like The Hogwarts Professor.

In fact, we can make the assertion that we want Harry to be normal. We don’t want our favorite boy wizard to be hurt in any way. We want him to overcome all of his trials and come out whole. Once again, we thank J.K. Rowling and God for the gift of Harry and his wizarding world. If anything, his world makes all of us feel that we belong, are part of a greater community…and are, most likely, normal.

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