The ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader.

Monday, August 24, 2009

HP Monday - Themes and Characters

Well I read ahead and am now about 100 pages into book #2, but I still want to give everyone a month for each book, so I’m trying to figure out how to approach this post. I think I’m going to be a little scholarly here and briefly touch on themes and motifs in Harry Potter. Yep, if you’re in high school or college you have to start thinking about this stuff again; summer is almost over.

OK, now that I’ve just alienated a large chunk of my audience (I’m really just trying to pressure you into commenting so we can talk about whatever you all want to talk about…hint…hint) I’m returning briefly to some major themes I see developing. Love is a huge one, and I love that it is the multi-faceted love that includes family, friends, school work, wizardry, sports, magical creatures, evil AND romantic love – it’s all in there right from the beginning. Although the first book delves into each of these a little, I really like what they say about the love of a mother for her child. There’s Harry’s mom who pretty much gave her life to save her son AND left that mark of love on him as a super-strong protection which foreshadows nicely for the last book (both Mrs. Malfoy and Mrs. Weasly are mothers after all) and it’s not something Voldermort (Do I have to type in here he-who-must-not-be-named? That’s really long) can’t see coming, doesn’t comprehend and will never learn from (again foreshadowing for future books).

Why is Harry’s mother’s love a good thing for Harry but Mrs. Dursley’s love for Dudley is extreme enough to make him a fat, bully and quite literally a pig (well, at least the tail)?

Does anyone else find themselves wondering what kind of school Rowling went to? Hogwarts is so very well thought out; as a writer I wonder if this is because she had a good experience in school or a really bad one. You know, one where she needed to use her imagination to make it better, more magical to survive. The school and learning is a theme, but since this series at its base is a tale about a boy’s journey from childhood to manhood, that’s not really a surprise – but the details are impressive. Hogwarts is definitely a character all its own – which is impressive since it has no lines or thoughts of its own.

Other themes that would be fun to discuss: friendship (we’ve touched on this in previous posts and comments a little), Quidditch, fate, mythology, prophesy, free will, faith and of course the line between good and evil. Or, feel free to bring up your own (plants or the color yellow possibly?!) or talk about anything else. If you know me, you may also know that my undergrad thesis was on the Hero Quest – so be warned that subject may come up in a post later on.

As we move into book #2 we can continue to think about these themes and move on to other fun stuff like house-elves and flying cars; Floo powder and the opposite of Diagon Alley – Knockturn Alley.

Questions for all: Did you like the first book? Do you think it is all overrated? Are there any other movie thoughts?

My last thoughts on book 1: All of the ideas floating around in a writer’s head like stars in an inky black sky, swirling around till they form images, shadows and then concrete structures, breathing characters and a million different textures. Writing a book is a magical process – writing seven while developing your own world with laws and games and words all its own must be one of the most amazing experiences…well, on to book two everyone!


  1. I agree that Rowling accomplished an amazing feat. I can't think of another series that is as strong and wonderful throughout. Even my least favorite of the books are still great, and Book 7 is so amazing that I still was stunned on the third reading.

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  5. I tried to post earlier in the week and it got lost in the transmission. I'm delighted to say that I am glad it did! My original post was a hurried response. I have now had time to mull over your questions and topics, compose my thoughts (on a separate document so I don't lose it!) and hopefully, present a more thoughtful reply.

    Alas! My comments are too long so I will have to post my thoughts piece-meal. Wish me luck!

  6. Thoughts on Lily Potter's love vs. Petunia Dursley's love

    As a mother of three, here's my take on a mother's love:
    A mother spends 9 months being one with her child and the rest of her life letting him or her go. I think it's a species survival instinct that makes a mother want to protect her helpless baby at all costs. It's also a species survival instinct that every mother thinks she has the most adorable baby in the whole wide world – but that's not relevant here. Most moms begin to employ “tough love” as their child grows. They begin to separate themselves from their child as he/she enters the toddler/preschool years. The child must eventually learn how to handle tasks, how to solve problems, how their actions beget consequences, and how to be a contributing member to society. So mom lets her child try things on his own. She lets her child learn from her mistakes. And she challenges her child to solve his own problems. Hopefully in the end, mom will not only love her child because he/she is her child but also because mom loves the person her child has become.

  7. That said....
    I've heard many parents say that they weren't aware of how strongly they could love one being until they held their newborn. Harry was only a year old when Lily (and James) died protecting him. They were still in that primal/instinctual love stage. It's a strong love and the need to protect is imperative. It's this type of love that is protecting Harry.
    I've wondered if this love is all that is protecting Harry. Or if, since mom and dad were both accomplished in magic, there was some other force that enhanced it? Was Voldemort thwarted simply by the fact that at one time, long ago Harry was loved unconditionally? While I agree that such a statement has real credibility in the muggle world it is profound and probably above the target audiences' perceptiveness. Mine too until I was prodded to expound on such things!
    Your comment about how all this comes into play in the last book really intrigues me. I am anxious to get there.

    And onto Petunia Dursley...
    Not much to say here except that she still treats Dudley like an infant so he acts like an infant. This manner of “mothering” irritates me to no end! She caters to his every wish and need, so he expects others to do everything for him. Such behavior is acceptable for an infant but unacceptable for an older child. I suppose I should feel sorry for Dudley because he hasn't been given the chance to grow up and act in a manner appropriate to his age, but I don't. It's really hard to have sympathy for a over sized bullying, bratty. baby no matter who is at fault. I wonder where I get that judgment from? Is it societal peer pressure or my own experience?
    Anyway, back to the subject. Petunia treats Dudley like a baby for too long. She doesn't try to separate herself from her child and let him become his own person. I wonder why this is and I come up with many ideas:
    1.Maybe it is the only child syndrome in which some parents tend to treat their child like royalty.
    2.Maybe it's the only child syndrome in which the parents are unable to have another child so the one offspring borders on sacred? A more sympathetic reason to be sure.
    3.Maybe Petunia is one of those people who needs to cater to every one else's needs in order to feel worthy. A classic mom flaw.
    4.Maybe it has to do with Petunia's sister (Lily) being praised for her magical powers. Although if my sister were put on a pedestal I think my gut reaction would be to not put my own child on said pedestal.
    5.Maybe, and I think most likely in this case, Petunia doesn't want her son to feel the rejection she seemed to feel (rightly or wrongly) being the “untalented, muggle” sister to Lily.

    To me these can all be a real, although false or mis-guided, expression of motherly love.
    That's all I have time to comment on now.

    Thank you for asking the “intellectual” questions. My brain rarely gets such exercise. I usually read purely for the escape from these earthly bounds. As long as I am transported to another place I do not criticize the storyline, judge the content or question the authors agenda. Thank you for the challenge, and I hope my responses are, at the very least, diverting.

  8. Arrgghhhh! That was a bit more frustrating than it needed to be. At least I have my coherent thoughts posted and in the proper order!

  9. I'd like to comment on Book 1 and whether it's worth the hype.

    I personally avoided reading Book 1 for quite sometime because so many people were raving about it. I finally read it once the paperback was out. I think book 2 was out, too. The reason I think the first book is worth the hype is because Rowling even from the beginning knew how to tell a compelling tale. She is able to write in such a fairy tale way without being condescending to her audience. She tells the tale with amgic and with detail and makes everything so plausible when it's all so fantastic.

    Another major part of its initial appeal is the range of characters. Even among the children, there is someone for every reader to identify with. And the adults, who so often in this type of book are bores or overly powerful, have personalities and flaws. They don't all play out like caricatures.

    Finally I think the biggest draw of the first book is that we all feel like Harry Potter to an extent, whether we have loving parents or not. Whether we have a ton of friends or not. Everyone feels like a lonely orphan from time to time. And everyone wants to believe himself/herself capable of being a hero. Harry is a relatively powerless boy who can change the world. We all know that we have limited power in our worlds, and yet we all wish we could be important enough to change our worlds, too.

    I think Rowling was able to tap into so many of the rudimentary elements that make us human, and embody them in a likable and flawed young man we can relate to. It really is a genius tale from a thousand perspectives.

  10. Wow, look at all the comments! Thanks all. This is the type of discussion I was hoping for when I started book club Mondays. There is some really insightful stuff up there; you are all making me think a lot.

    Matt, thanks for bringing up the condescending (or lack thereof in Rowling's case) approach to writing for children. I feel like the reason I want to write mid-grade literature is because there isn't enough good stuff out there; kids just don't need to be talked down to in their books!

    Karen, I love your mother comments and I'm SO glad you took the time to re-type it all and get it posted here.