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Harry Potter & Gandhi – How Does a Character Capture a Generation?

July 31, today, is the birthday of Harry Potter. For many fans like myself, this day doesn’t mean a lot. I never took these days very seriously despite admiring both the Harry Potter books and movies a lot. However, I realize some fans do take these things seriously. This makes today a good day to talk about Harry Potter as a character.

The general assumption amongst writers is that good characters are a result of smart writing. This assumption is not entirely wrong. Good writing is a key part of making characters that make an impact on readers.

However, the maniacal success of Harry Potter is not purely down to good writing. Sometimes, the success of a character has a lot to do with factors outside the writer’s control. In the case of Harry Potter, this is the case.

Just to clarify, the statement above doesn’t mean to downplay Rowling’s genius is writing Harry Potter. Her ingenuity goes beyond Harry Potter and becomes apparent in various other aspects of storytelling such as world-building and suspense.

Instead, we wish to bring the focus on certain societal and personality-driven factors which led to the explosion of Harry Potter. Furthermore, we align key characters traits of Harry Potter with perceived attributes of mass leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln.

Who is Harry Potter?

We all have an emotional take on Harry Potter. Some of us project our own struggles and fears onto him. However, it is best for now to take a more surgical look at the character.

Harry Potter, like he’s often called, is the Chosen One. He’s the boy who lived. Like Frodo, he’s the improbable wall of defense against an unstoppable force. He naturally has some personality traits that make him endearing. These include courage, loyalty, and a dogmatic sense of responsibility.

Generally, we don’t see people, even young boys and girls, who share personality traits with Harry. Ask yourself – do you have the level of loyalty, trust, and conscientiousness that Harry Potter does? If not, do you know someone who possess all these traits? Probably not.

Harry Potter is the kind of person you will rarely find in real life. Even if you did, you’d just find him a little too weird and strange.

And yet, we all love and relate to Harry Potter in the context of a fantasy fiction book series.

Where does this fascination come from?

A Projectable Character

What makes characters truly popular? In most cases, it’s their ability to allow readers to project a wide range of emotions onto them.

For example, the tumultuous journey of Harry Potter in overwhelming Voldemort can serve as a symbolic journey for a reader. The tragedy of his parents’ death and his defiance against all evil serves as an inspiration to some. His unbreakable bond with his friends inspires people to be more loyal and good in their personal dealings. The courage he shows at every turn gives readers the emotional push to deal with their own problems.

These are only a few examples. People project a range of different emotions and stories onto his life and achievements.

The genius of JK Rowling lies in making his challenges daunting enough to make the journey difficult and painful. By the end of the seventh book, readers almost feel the burden of dealing with Voldemort lifting from their own shoulders. They understand the relief Harry Potter feels in that moment.

A Collection of Desirable Traits

Looking back, there are very few undesirable traits in Harry Potter. We get into a few of them in Book Five (Order of the Phoenix). However, even these traits are largely exacerbated by Harry’s connection with Voldemort’s mind.

On a deeper analysis, Harry doesn’t really have a lot of negative character traits. He is a little rash in judgement, but even that ends up working for him in many cases.

It is interesting to bring up Frodo at this point. Like Harry, Frodo also doesn’t have many undesirable traits. However, the ring’s impact on his mind is much deeper than anything Harry ever faces. While we see Frodo succumbing to evil at certain points, Harry never shows many such signs. He even refuses to take the lives of the people trying to kill him.

In other words, Harry Potter embodies all the traits we wish we had. There aren’t any major weaknesses that make people question him on a personal level.

These admirable traits, when put against the evil antagonists in the books, make Harry Potter a god-like figure to readers.

Harry Potter, Gandhi, and Lincoln

There is a clear difference between Harry Potter and historical leaders like Gandhi and Lincoln. Harry is fictional while the other two are real.

Keeping the difference between reality and fiction side, there are many traits both Harry and leaders like Gandhi share.

The Perfect Enemy

Harry has a set of traits and skills that make him the type of person that will never back down. Voldemort had to kill him because Harry was not the type of enemy he could co-opt.

Through the books, Voldemort is shown as the type of figure who is willing to bring people back into the fold. He allows Snape to return back to the fold. He keeps indulging the incompetent Malfoys. Part of the reason he does so is his own ego. He believes he can kill anyone who tries to backstab him. More than anything, he trusts his own ability in a fight.

Why doesn’t he try to then co-opt Harry? After all, Harry is a child. He can be scared into accepting the will of a powerful wizard like Voldemort.

And yet, he is not ‘only’ a child. He has not the type of person who backs down against anything. He cannot be bullied or scared into doing anything. He will break before he bends.

In effect, he is the perfect foil to take down the almighty strength of Voldemort.

Historical leaders

Leaders in the past such as Gandhi and Lincoln are not as perfect in their personality as Harry is. However, they are the perfect match against the great evil of their time. A moral force like Gandhi was the perfect personality to take on the British Empire. A patient and tactical mind like Lincoln was best-placed to deal with the Confederates.

Great leaders don’t always share the same qualities. They have different personalities and flaws. However, they are always the perfect type of person to take on a larger enemy.

Filling a Void

Leaders in the past also managed to inspire their own generations. The example of Lincoln and his style of politics is still an example for modern leaders. Gandhi spawned an entire generation of Indian leaders who copied his methods and tactics.

In current times, we don’t have a real life leader who commands unanimous respect like Lincoln or Gandhi. The absence of such leaders leads to our generation turning to fiction.

For many, Harry Potter is a generational leader. His courage and loyalty are traits modern generations wish to embody. Since they don’t find these qualities in real-life leaders, they look for them in fiction.

The popularity of Batman comes from similar foundation. Batman’s moral code gives the young generation today an antidote to chaos and uncertainty. Like Harry Potter, Batman is also the moral centre of his own world.

Batman derives his moral code from personal loss and tragedy. This is why it is much stronger than the personal code of any other superhero, such as Superman or Iron Man.

Characters like Harry Potter and Batman have the ability inspire an entire generation. This again emphasizes the role of literature and fiction in one’s life.

Final Words – Harry Potter and His Popularity

In this piece, we took a fresh look at Harry Potter as a character.

There is no other fictional character that commands the collective emotion of the current generation like Harry Potter does. In that context, he is even bigger than Luke Skywalker was during the 80s and 90s.

Our goal in this piece was to analyze the unique aspects of Harry as a character. We also put up his character traits against historical leaders and studied the reasons behind their popularity.

Also read: What is Speculative Fiction?
Also read: Ten Speculative Books You Should’ve Already Read

Note from Editor

This article is part of our Friday guest writing series. You can publish anonymously, like the writer in this case, or use your own name. To get in touch, kindly fill the form below. We will get in touch as soon as possible

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