HPEF presents Infinitus 2010, a Harry Potter conference            TEXT  MENU

July 15-18, 2010
Orlando, Florida

The Better Man: the Morality of Youth in the Harry Potter Series   
Garreth Fisher

This presentation will explore the message of the Harry Potter books that young people have the potential not only to achieve where their elders have failed, but also to possess superior moral values, which they can bring into fruition through their actions. This forward-looking, quasi-utopian vision is seen most clearly through the relationship of Harry to his elder mentors as he comes of age in the series. While Harry learns different skills and life lessons from Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Albus Dumbledore, and draws strength from the memory of his father, James Potter, each of these mentors is eventually shown to possess significant moral weaknesses, weaknesses that either lead to their downfall (in the case of Sirius) or that they must overcome through a slow and lengthy maturity (James) or a painful and ultimately incomplete redemption (Dumbledore). By contrast, Harry, while possessing flaws in his character that land him in frequent trouble, is consistently portrayed as having a strong moral compass and purity of heart.

Perhaps because - but also in spite of - his difficult upbringing, Harry shows a consistent proclivity toward loyalty, justice, and fairness, particularly to those for whom fate has made him responsible and to those less fortunate than himself. Although starved of attention as a child, Harry rarely craves fame, and spends most of the series fearing or shunning it. It is these moral qualities that enable Harry to succeed where his mentors have failed, going on to be the rightful possessor of the Deathly Hallows and the conqueror of Voldemort.

Throughout the series, Harry comes to realize his own abilities at the same time that he is forced to confront the failings of his mentors. In this way, the Harry Potter series represents a partial inversion of a more customary coming-of-age narrative of the hero who learns from his mentors before going on to face evil in his own.  Harry's journey instead is one of realizing his own moral potential even when his mentors fail to fully realize that potential in themselves. The conclusion of the presentation will consider how Rowling uses the story of Harry's moral self-actualization to weave a lesson about the ability of young people to cultivate values that can be superior to those of their elders, and, in this way, to help bring about a better world.

Garreth Fisher holds a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology. In the fandom, as swishandflick, he has penned two novel-length fanfics set in Harry's sixth and seventh years and is (still!) working on a post-Hogwarts sequel. He delivered a lecture called “Lucky You: Gender, Agency, and Alternative Mythmaking in the Characterization of Ginny Weasley” at Lumos 2006. At Azkatraz, he participated in a panel chaired by John Granger entitled “The Well-Organized Mind: Death and What Comes After.”  He was Keeper of the 2007 Merlin's Cup Champion St. John's Ravens and the 2009 Fog Bowl Tournament Champion Sea Cliff Serpents. He currently teaches religion and anthropology in upstate New York.
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