Thursday, July 23, 2009

Themes in Harry Potter

“I am sorry too. Sorry I will never know him... but he will know why I died and I hope he will understand. I was trying to make a world in which he could live a happier life.” –Remus Lupin

Rowling says the theme of her series is death. Others have pointed out the archetypal struggle between good and evil. It has been called fantasy, a coming-of-age tale, or a series of British boarding school novels. Certainly there is a lot of mystery and detection going on. What is the main theme of the series?

For all the insight and truth regarding adolescence and growing up in the books, that is not the main theme but more of a background or atmosphere. Ginny, for example, is a bit of a frustration in the series. The reader has gotten the (correct) impression all along that she and Harry are meant for each other, but that is not what the story is about so we just get glimpses of their story. It is a perfect example of how these sorts of stories get one so caught up in the lives of the characters that, even when the story is over we wish we could keep on seeing them live. Tolkien never did really get the hang of just telling the story and wrote chapter after chapter after the story had long ended. Rowling seems to have learned when to quite writing, even if she can’t help herself hinting more and more about the characters’ lives after these events.

The blood purity stuff has its obvious ties to Nazi Germany, and of course it should. One of the main sub-themes of the series is tolerance and acceptance and it is always a good idea to remember where humanity has erred in the past since we are never far from repeating our mistakes. People may think that after WWII we could never do something that terrible again without people remembering what was done back then, but it happens all the time around the world so… But that is not the main point either.

On the tolerance front, Rowling does a great job of showing the value of accepting others and different cultures without going too far. The Goblins are a great element in Rowling’s fiction because in spite of her “tolerance” theme, she is not one of those naïve people that think tolerance solves all problems. Simply having tolerance as an axiom does not mean everyone else will treat you tolerantly.


In the end, the whole series is about sacrifice. Rowling has said her books are ultimately about death, but that is not quite it. They are about love being stronger than death. That the fear of death can lead to a lot of evil in the world as people seek power to overcome that fear; but that love—a love strong enough to sacrifice itself for others—is a much more powerful thing than anything evil has to offer. Death is overcome, not by living forever, but when love and faith and sacrifice take away any fear of death.

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