Heroism in the Harry Potter Series

Heroism in the Harry Potter Series

Heroism in the Harry Potter Series

Heroism in the Harry Potter Series


Taking up the various conceptions of heroism that are conjured in the Harry Potter series, this collection examines the ways fictional heroism in the twenty-first century challenges the idealized forms of a somewhat simplistic masculinity associated with genres like the epic, romance and classic adventure story. The collection's three sections address broad issues related to genre, Harry Potter's development as the central heroic character and the question of who qualifies as a hero in the Harry Potter series. Among the topics are Harry Potter as both epic and postmodern hero, the series as a modern-day example of psychomachia, the series' indebtedness to the Gothic tradition, Harry's development in the first six film adaptations, Harry Potter and the idea of the English gentleman, Hermione Granger's explicitly female version of heroism, adult role models in Harry Potter, and the complex depictions of heroism exhibited by the series' minor characters. Together, the essays suggest that the Harry Potter novels rely on established generic, moral and popular codes to develop new and genuine ways of expressing what a globalized world has applauded as ethically exemplary models of heroism based on responsibility, courage, humility and kindness.


Katrin Berndt and Lena Steveker

In the course of the twentieth century, we have become suspicious of the idea of heroism. Looking back on decades that taught us like none before how easily humans fall prey to corruption, avarice and evil, we have indeed grown cynical and distrustful of heroes. As Jenni Calder stated in 1977, ‘[t]here is a tendency to feel we ought to do without them, that they are redundant – or useless – in a technological age, that a belief in heroes indicates a lack of realism in our approach to life’s problems’ (Calder, 1977, p.ix). Changing gender constructions and the resulting crisis of masculinity have further undermined the conception of the hero as ‘[a] man who exhibits extraordinary bravery, firmness, fortitude, or greatness of soul, [… who is] admired and venerated for his achievements and noble qualities’ (Oxford English Dictionary). In the last decades, the number of figures traditionally characterized as heroes has seemed, in fact, to decrease dramatically in both realist and postmodern fiction and drama. More often than not, the characters serving as male protagonists – thus occupying the position usually claimed by the ‘hero’ of a story – lacked qualities which would be described as heroic. Instead of displaying noble behaviour, outstanding courage, disinterested fortitude and quasi-superhuman strength of both mind and character, male protagonists in novels such as Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (1989), A.S. Byatt’s Possession (1990), J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (1999), Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach (2007) and many more are determined by self-doubt, cynicism, failure and (moral) corruption.

While the hero turned anti-hero in the ‘serious’ literature of the late twentieth century, characters who comply with stereotypical notions of heroic masculinity have populated the screens of film theatres. Even if the ‘die-hard’ masculine heroism of the likes of James Bond, Indiana Jones and John McClane has been toned down in the last years, the immense popularity of such film heroes makes it unmistakably clear that the idea of heroism has not altogether disappeared, but has been transposed to popular culture.

It is therefore hardly an accidental phenomenon that the novels which have successfully re-installedeking out a miserable existence in pulp fiction and popular romances. In the wake of the dramatically

See the entry ‘hero’ (subentry 3) in the Oxford English Dictionary (1989).

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