Wednesday, January 25, 2023
Welcome to this guest series on Harry Potter written by my colleague, Dr. Priscilla Hobbs. In this series, Priscilla explores each of the twelve archetypes identified in the PMAI®. She illuminates the ways these archetypal energies find narrative form in Potter-verse characters. Keep a watchful eye out for a perspective that offers a balance between archetypal analysis and strong cultural critique. We hope you enjoy this collaboration. Please get in touch with any questions or feedback. Let’s conjure a magical conversation.
There’s Something Magical about Harry
By Priscilla Hobbs, Ph.D.
…quite literally, and not just because he’s a wizard. The Harry Potter saga has outsold books, movies, and other products in the 25 years since the publication of the first volume Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Sorcerer’s Stone in the American market)in 1997. The books offered something new to readers: a new kind of fantasy genre that clearly has lineage from Tolkien, LeGuin, and other great fantasy writers, but one that is firmly rooted in tandem with the real world.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is not some distant fantasy world accessed only through a wardrobe in a forgotten spare room; it’s a castle in Scotland that is magically hidden from the prying eyes of Muggles, or non-magical folk. One is invited to attend when they are 11, and this invitation—the coveted Hogwarts Letter—may be the first time one learns that they have magical abilities; such is the case of the series’ eponymous hero, whose aunt and uncle had hoped that he would grow up to be as plain and ordinary as they are.
Age 11 in the Western world represents a significant development point in one’s identity formation: as one segues from their childhood into their teenage years, it is quite possible to lose one’s connection with the magical world of the imagination. This is why Lucy Pevensie is the one who finds her way into Narnia before her siblings. C.S. Lewis observes through the voice of his lion, Aslan, that Susan, Lucy’s older sister, is not long for Narnia because she is interested in boys and make-up, and the practical things of social construct, rather than the flights of fancy of the childlike imagination. Indeed, even in Michael Ende’s Neverending Story, the Childlike Empress is in danger of being sucked into the Nothing because people have stopped believing. J.M. Barre admonishes us to clap ourhands lest the fairy dies.
J.K. Rowling suggests that the magic is always there but segregates her community into those who have magical abilities and those who don’t, as though shaming Muggles for not keeping the imagination alive. But there is hope for those who don’t receive their Hogwarts letter. Rowling invites readers to peek behind the veil that hides the magical world from our own and to journey alongside Harry as he discovers both himself and his magical abilities. The Harry Potter narrative is intimately seeded with archetypal imagery taken from mythologies of the Western world, alchemical symbolism, and fairy tales.
Much has been written about Rowling’s symbolism by fans and scholars, including my own contribution to the library, Harry Potter and the Myth of the Millennials: Identity, Reception, and Politics. Potter Studies is a growing field of researchers lovingly named “aca-fans” by media scholar Henry Jenkins, a portmanteau of academics and fans. However, for all of their continued growth, Harry Potter still eludes much Jungian and archetypal scholarship.
The biggest challenge is that while it’s very easy to make quick connections between the Potter version of an image and its mythological or archetypal counterpart, doing the deeper work into the meaning behind the image is often left out of the analyses. For example, Harry is such an obvious representative of the Hero archetype that scholarship fails to look beyond Harry into the other manifestations of the heroic that make Harry’s hero journey possible. As I mentioned, Rowling gave us a new kind of fantasy genre, one whose complexity is such that, should any part of the narrative be pulled, the entire series would fall apart. In other words, Harry’s journey isn’t just one in the quest to defeat magical Evil: Harry’s journey is simply the one that we’re following for the sake of the books.
To celebrate 2023, I will offer a peek into the Pearsonian archetypes within the Potter books. I will stick primarily to the main seven books, rather than any supplemental properties that support the Wizarding World. Also, henceforth, the author and her identity will be removed from analysis. While authorial context is often important, in archetypal interactions, it can become a distraction, especially when the author has chosen a public path that runs counter to the inclusive world that her writings nurture. It is the stance of this author that Rowling’s discriminatory declarations toward those in the Trans community are declarations against the very fabric of the Potter fandom.
Harry Potter influenced an entire generation, one that needed its own archetypal reality to define its identity. The magic of Harry Potter continues to flow into the hearts and imaginations of readers who discover the books or the movies for the first time, but the strength of his influence is, as is ever-apparent, timebound to those fans who obsessed over the littlest detail to try to guess how the books would end, who rallied together to make the world a better place in the name of Potter. These are the fans who today are rallying against generational trauma and social inequities, and who genuinely believe the world can be a better place. If it is not clear to us now, Harry Potter shows us how to do it.
Dr. Priscilla Hobbs is a senior associate dean at Southern New Hampshire University. She is the author of Harry Potter and the Myth of Millennials: Identity, Reception, and Politics. Her work takes an interdisciplinary view of Harry Potter, as a series and as a phenomenon, to uncover how the appeal of Harry became of a lifestyle, a moral compass, and a guiding light in an era fraught with turbulence and disharmony. She argues that this prepared an entire generation for the chaotic present marked by the 2016 election and 2020 pandemic by shaping the political attitudes of its readers, many of whom were developing their political identities alongside Harry. Her analysis focuses on both the novels themselves and the ways in which fans connect globally through the Internet to discuss the books, commiserate about the events swirling around them, and answer calls to action through Harry Potter inspired activism. In short, this book examines how Harry Potter became a generation’s defining mythology of love, unity, and transformation. Her recent TEDx talk focuses on transformation and the American Dream.
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