Monday, 1 July 2013

Harry Potter and the Prime Minister in Kazakhstan

A student in Kazakhstan asked David Cameron what character from Harry Potter he would most like to be. His response was rather idiosyncratic and ended on the words, “that must be the correct answer”, as if everything in life must be separated into right and wrong, and everything that passes his lips must be the most crowd-pleasing option.

David Cameron would want to be Harry Potter, apparently. He accepts that many citizens would see him as the villain of the piece, Lord Voldemort, but sees Potter as the only sensible answer, as every person must want to be him.

I have news for you, Cameron - I don’t!

Although Harry Potter is far from the attention-seeking, spoilt little boy that characters like Draco and Snape make him out to be in the books, he has a tendency towards fits of rage, tantrums and laziness (how many times does he copy Hermione’s homework, or only get mediocre grades for not putting the effort in?).

I’m not saying that academic success is the key to happiness, nor am I suggesting that Harry’s anger at his situation is unjustified (for those that haven’t read the books, he loses his parents as a baby, and ends up finding that his only future lies in being killed or becoming a killer). But he is, after all, a teenage boy, with all the attitudes, emotions and problems that being a teenage boy entails.

Harry Potter was never my favourite character in the series, and I certainly wouldn’t aspire to be like him, no matter how courageous he was in the final battles.

But I have always disagreed somewhat with Rowling’s take on things. She seems to prioritise bravery and courage (Gryffindor house’s attributes) above all else, with intelligence and wit (Ravenclaw) coming a close second. Down at the bottom of the heap are ambition and talent (Slytherin), along with Hufflepuff’s house attributes.

Hufflepuff is about being loyal, hard-working, fair, a good friend and working for justice. It’s about facing the challenges, being a good citizen and trying your best, regardless of where your aptitude lies. Although all the house qualities are needed in some measure, I find that Hufflepuff attributes are the foundation for others; knowledge comes through hard work, courage through the dedication to justice. And yet, in the books, they are dismissed as a “load of old duffers”. Hufflepuff is deemed the house where the odd-balls and the rejects go, anyone who isn’t worthy of the other houses. Equality, loyalty and justice are not qualities to sneer at!

 But there is a severe lack of strong Hufflepuff characters in the series. In fact, Hufflepuff tends to be the Harry Potter equivalent of the infamous Star Trek redshirts – characters that can be killed and disposed of at will! Cedric Diggory was probably the best known, but more for his good looks (and ensuing career as a sparkly vampire) than for being a positive role model.

My favourite characters in the series were probably Molly Weasley and Peeves. Peeves is fantastic comic relief and a law unto himself, but not someone I would aspire to be. Molly is fiercely loyal, protective of her family, courageous and humorous. But I’m not sure her almost dictatorial style would be something I’d want to emulate, given my passion for youth voice.

I’ve thought about it and I’m fairly convinced I would rather aspire to be one of the adults than one of the child characters, for many reasons. But which one?

Not James or Sirius, both of whom are far too reckless and childish. Not Hagrid who, though loyal and loved, is a rather inept teacher and shuns his professional duties. Not Professor Sprout, Madame Pomfrey, Professor Flitwick, Professor Slughorn (a coward who plays favourites) or Professor Lockheart. Not Barty Crouch, Ludo Bagman or any of the ministry employees. Not Tonks, not Fleur, none of the Weasleys, neither of the Dursleys. Not a Death Eater.

Perhaps Dumbledore would be the obvious answer for me. He’s the head teacher and takes considerable personal interest in his pupils, caring for them as individuals rather than as names on a roll. He is certainly Voldemort’s greatest match in many ways, and we share a fondness for sherbet lemons. But I do sometimes agree with his governors on the way he runs his school, and sometimes feels that his care for the individual borders on overstepping professional boundaries. If he lived in the muggle world, I have a feeling Dumbledore would be the one that had pupils on Facebook and Twitter, that would see them in the local cafĂ© and blur all lines. Not necessarily the best role model.

In the end, I settled for Professor McGonagall. She is hard-working, takes no nonsense, plans her lessons with her pupils in mind and to push and challenge them. She cares for her students whilst maintaining her professional standards, values courage and loyalty and stands up for her beliefs. She has a great sense of humour and aspires to do her best at all times.

To assume that everyone aspires to be the hero of the series greatly oversimplifies human nature. Not everyone wants to be the hero or the villain. And not every character in literature is split into black and white, but rather shades of grey. I think these questions can tell a lot about someone’s world view, how they see themselves and how they see others around them. And the truth isn’t always pleasant.


  1. When I first read the books, I identified closely with Hannah Abbott and Susan Bones - both Hufflepuffs. They're not leading the charge, but they are doing their bit to change the wizarding world, working hard, staying loyal to their chosen path, doing their bit without the glory. Although I do have my moments of complete gut reaction or "sod it" recklessness, so maybe McGonagall is more of a me than I think ;-)
    I think as an adult I'm more like the waspish Madam Hooch than cheery Professor Sprout, although I have sympathies with Madam Pince ;-)

  2. Interesting. I agree about Susan and Hannah, though I never felt I knew them well enough. And they seemed a little mousy to be me! And I think most adults can empathise with Madam Pince!

  3. Thought provoking! My favourite characters would be Ginny and Lupin, I think. Both are loyal and brave, without ever seeking to be in the limelight, and in spite of all life has thrown at them. I like that they combine intelligence and determination with a sensitive, caring side.

  4. Ginny used to be one of my favourites too, but there are little things about her that niggle. I find it interesting that the people I speak to don't see Harry as the one to emulate!

  5. I'm torn between two characters.

    Luna Lovegood. Yes, she's a little bit loopy, but she's not afraid to say what she believes even when it's not the same as the generally accepted world-view. The world needs more people like that - the people that make us think "why do I believe that?".

    Regulus Black. He grew up in a dark family, and didn't have the strength that Sirius did to deny his heritage and be one of the "good guys". And yet, at the end, when it mattered, he stood up to Voldemort and tried to stop him becoming immortal.

    I worry about McGonnagall - at the very beginning, she watched the Dursleys and objected to Dumbledore leaving Harry with them, but she gave in pretty quickly. Despite not being sure of the wisdom of leaving him there, she never felt the need to check on him (unless Dumbledore obliviated the knowledge of his location from her mind, I suppose). She strikes me as someone who, while she does care for her students, is too easily swayed into inaction by those she trusts.

    You're right about Harry - not the ideal role model at all. But then perfect protagonists make a boring story (or so I'm told).

    Of course, part of my problem may be that I've read so much fanfiction that I lose sight of the characters original personalities...