Harry Potter And The Terrible Life Choices

Having visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter obviously put me in the mood to read/watch the stories again. It’s been a few years since I last did a complete read-through, and as much as I have new books waiting to be read, there’s something about going back to a beloved series for seconds (or thirds, or fourths). It’s the reading/watching equivalent of getting some comfort food and slipping into comfy PJs. As I’ve gone back to these stories and movies over time, however, it has become harder to ignore, justify, or excuse the number of terrible life choices made by all the main characters, which continually contribute to place the kids, and indeed the world, in danger. When seen in light of Dumbledore’s quote, above, what does this tell us about who these characters truly are, then?

Harry’s story is ultimately a generational story where the sins of the parents are visited upon the children, so to speak (although literally in some cases). The rise of Voldemort can be traced partly to his terrible upbringing, but also to bad choices made by Dumbledore when he saw which way the wind was blowing in regards to Tom Riddle. I’m not saying it’s entirely his fault, nor am I saying that Tom should’ve been killed before he had a chance to become Voldemort if in hindsight that seems like a good idea. I am saying, however, that the adults dealing with Tom Riddle made really bad choices in not addressing directly the violent tendencies displayed by the young man, and Voldemort was the result.

Against the backdrop of Voldemort’s rise and the First Wizarding War, we then find the story of Harry’s parents’ generation at Hogwarts, which informs, shapes, and directly intersects with Voldemort’s. Continually we see how Harry and his classmates are paying for the mistakes made by his parent’s generation, especially when it comes to the bullying treatment of Severus Snape by James Potter and his friends, actions which were known to the adults at the time, and which they failed to correct. And although I’m not going to absolve Snape of the litany of terrible choices he made, once again we can see how the circumstances of his upbringing create the environment that would lead him to Voldemort, who’s nothing if not another kid sorely lacking in attention, understanding, discipline, and love.

Once you understand this generational aspect, it boggles the mind that the adults who have lived through one, if not both, of these generations, would make the same mistakes again when it comes to Harry and his cohort. Harry’s story is one of continuous mistrust of authority figures even as he desperately seeks their love and approval. In hindsight, we know that Harry’s story is in many ways a repetition of Tom Riddle’s, which makes it more frustrating that no one seems to have learned the lessons of the past. My friend Richard Iorio has a theory that Dumbledore is the true villain of the wizarding stories, and while I don’t necessarily agree with him, and think there’s some cultural context we Americans miss when it comes to some of the points Richard raises, his analysis isn’t a bad one either, in that it shows the many times this man, who turns out is integral to the stories of both Voldemort and Harry, makes absolutely terrible choices when he, of all people, should know better. In wanting to protect Harry, the adults create an environment of secrecy and mistrust which only pushes the boy to act on his own, to find his own way, to trust no one but himself. How many times during the reading/watching of the story do we as the audience find ourselves screaming in frustration because people aren’t talking to each other? How many times Harry fails to tell the adults about the issues he’s facing, the larger-than-life problems he’s finding himself in because he doesn’t trust them? But then again, why would he, when the adults continually shut him out, ignore him, deride him, dismiss him, insult him, demean him, despise him?

The stories are told from Harry’s point-of-view, and there is something to be said for the recklessness of youth, the adventure of it all. The first time we experience these stories, we can’t help but be in Harry’s shoes, being the new knights of legend fighting monsters, foes, dragons, and the devil himself. But look past the romance of it all, and you find a group of very flawed people paying for their own mistakes as well as those of generations before. If as Dumbledore tells Harry, it’s our choices that show what we truly are more than anything else, who then are these people who keep making bad choices over and over?

Listen, I get it, bad choices fuel drama and power the story along. And I understand that what this all shows is that, despite their epic magical powers, they are all fallible humans. These fairly obvious conclusions aren’t lost on me, but understanding this doesn’t make the choices made any less terrible. People outright died because of, or as a result of, these choices, and those that survived were left scarred, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, for life. I haven’t read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child yet (so please, no spoilers), but there’s no other way for the story to go than with the next generation paying for the bad choices made by Harry and company. Will the citizens of the wizarding world ever escape paying for the sins of their fathers? I look forward to eventually finding out if Harry’s son breaks the curse, or follows in making more bad choices like his father before him.

 

7 comments

  1. Great post. Everything you just said, while true, seems to be the reason so many people hate The Last Jedi. And, well, some things going on in the real world as well. You can excuse people for not having 20/20 hindsight, and not knowing better. But when they make bad decisions fully aware of the fact that these are bad decisions, or ignoring the potential consequences of their decisions somewhere down the line, that’s when it gets painful.

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    • It is precisely because Luke realizes that he’s part of a generational chain of terrible life choices then makes the choice to break that chain that I like TLJ so much. I don’t know if Harry is that kind of person, but I doubt it (this said without having read The Cursed Child).

      As to the real world, ugh, that’s just depressing on so many levels, because there are those pointing out the chain of terrible life choices made, but it just makes those in power want to perpetuate them even more.

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  2. There are some very good points here. I agree that Harry is paying for the mistakes that the adults have made. These mistakes will carry on from generation to generation, much like how the Baby Boomers made mistakes, and each generation is dealing with the fallout.

    Where I disagree with you is Dumbledore. It is his mistakes that created the cascade of increasingly worse mistakes.

    Still, that being said, I really enjoyed this post.

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    • I’m glad you made your way here; I was gonna ping you, but I forgot.

      I just finished all the movies, and they do a good job of whitewashing Dumbledore, which is a shame because it’s his flaws that make him an interesting character. I’m now rereading the series, and I’ll be paying closer attention to the text there. I agree to an extent with you that a lot of the problems during Harry’s time can be traced back to Dumbledore (and the Fantastic Beast series seems like it’ll go there, we’ll see). I’m certainly keeping your points in mind as I reread. Let’s touch base when I’m done.

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      • Yeah, you are right about the movies, he is presented as a one-dimension character who is more jovial and grandfatherly, then the self-interested and uncaring character he is.

        When I reread the books (I have nit seen the movies again since my first viewings) my feelings toward the character solidified. It is his treatment of the children that really got me thinking and when I reached the Half Blood Prince everything became crystallized.

        I think this is the beauty of the books, they are written with more nuance then they seem.

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      • Especially when you reach the stories relating to Grindewald and his siblings. I’m very curious how the new movies will portray it.

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