Harry Potter is one of the most underrated characters in his own series.
I have never heard anyone say that Harry is their favourite, and a quick Google search of ‘Harry Potter is a bad character’ (or something similar) shows no shortage of people who think he’s the worst. While I must admit that he isn’t my favourite (Ron has that spot reserved — another underrated character I might rant about sometime), here are five reasons Harry is a great character, inspired largely by the unjustified hate he gets from others. Warning: spoilers ahead.
1. Against all odds, he is kind and compassionate.
Harry grows up bullied by his entire family, yet never sinks to their level. Sure, as he grows older he goes through angst like any teenager. But he shows compassion from the very first novel, where he sympathises with the snake. He frees Dobby, stands by Hagrid when his half-giant status is revealed, and shares the Triwizard Tournament cup with Cedric Diggory. He is kind to Luna Lovegood when no one else is. One article argues that he’s “pretty ungrateful”, especially towards Hagrid. But would someone ungrateful risk his life to free Hagrid from Azkaban? Would he go back in time to help Buckbeak, a task he could easily have ignored?
Granted, maybe Hagrid fades more into the background for Harry as the years passed by. But there is a reason for this. Hagrid is largely absent in parts of Order of Phoenix (not that his absence goes unnoticed by Harry). Later into the series, as Hagrid becomes more preoccupied with his Order missions and Harry finds out about Horcruxes and his impending task, it is inevitable that they drift apart. But calling Harry ungrateful is unfair, because there are countless times Harry visits or helps Hagrid for no personal gain of his own. There are different kinds of friendship; some friends drift apart, but you know they would support you unconditionally anyway. Harry and Hagrid just develop that kind of relationship.
Also, the people saying he’s selfish and those who say he sees the war as a grudge match: you can’t deny that Harry is an incredibly important part in the war against Voldemort, because his life is entwined with Voldemort’s like no other person’s (except potentially Neville, had Voldemort chosen him). True, the war is much bigger than Harry. And yes, his losses fuel his actions, but it’s Voldemort who turns the war into a grudge match, wanting to kill Harry in person and all.
The others who sacrifice their safety on the way do so willingly. This doesn’t mean that Harry’s not responsible for inadvertently putting them in danger with some stupid decisions; but you can’t forget that deep down, his decisions stem from compassion. For instance, he thinks Sirius — his only surviving family — is in danger and wants to help him. He goes about it totally wrong, but it’s not like he just thinks, Who cares about the Order’s safety. I’ll do whatever I want to do.
Which brings me to my next point:
2. He isn’t self-important, despite his abilities and accomplishments.
Contrary to what this article says, Harry does not enjoy being the centre of attention. He doesn’t try to save everyone in the second Triwizard Tour task because he thinks it will get him glory, and shame on you for trying to argue that. He genuinely believes those people are in danger, and whilst that might make him gullible, it does not make him an attention-seeker with a saviour complex.
True, Harry may be focused on himself a lot of the time, but who isn’t? Everyone is the protagonist in their own story, and Harry is justifiably the main character in his. The only difference is that his story is being shared with everyone. In fact, I think Harry is a lot more reluctant to be idolised the way he is, despite the crucial role he plays in the war against Voldemort. He is surprised that people would turn to him for guidance in Dumbledore’s Army. Think about it: his deepest desire is to have his parents by his side. Not to be the famous Chosen One.
Side note: he does have accomplishments of his own, unlike what this article suggests. He faces Voldemort alone in first year; kills the basilisk in second year (also destroys Tom Riddle’s diary); in third year, he saves himself and Sirius from Dementors despite Dementors being his biggest fear; in fourth year, he completes the Triwizard Tournament — including escaping a dragon and facing a Sphinx — and in his final few years, he plays a significant role in Voldemort’s downfall by tracking down the Horcruxes. Yes, he is helped along the way. Others’ actions facilitate his path in overcoming these obstacles. But it’s absolutely unfair to say that everything he’s given credit for should be attributed to others.
3. He is forgiving.
Harry named a child after Snape. Of all people, Snape.
Firstly, to the people who berate Harry for not naming a child after Lupin or Hagrid, I would like to say: if that argument were applied to every single person who ever helped Harry in a major way, his child would probably be called Hagrid Remus Neville Ron Hermione Dobby Minerva… You get the idea.
Secondly, Snape. He is a complex character. But you can’t deny that, despite his ultimate sacrifices, he treats Harry horribly. And yet, Harry names one of his children after him. This has been seen as a sign of ungratefulness by many, but to me it symbolises an immense gratefulness. Harry is not only able to let go of Snape’s wrongdoings, but to also acknowledge and pay tribute to his better side, something that even Snape arguably couldn’t do himself.
To me, this doesn’t undermine Hagrid or Lupin’s sacrifices. After all, there are many other ways to honour someone, including continuing their legacy for kindness. And in my opinion, that is exactly what Harry did by forgiving Snape, and honouring him in the way he did.
4. He’s got faults and shortcomings, like any realistic character.
People have called him “a total jerk” (amongst other things) for acting out at his friends. He has been accused of treating people badly, of being pretentious and selfish, of thinking himself above the rules.
I don’t understand, are we reading the same book here?
I might not have read the later books in a while, but what I can remember up to today is Harry’s instinct to look out for those he cares about. I remember that he reacts realistically when thrown into horrific situations. It’s true: he is hot-headed and impulsive, and stubborn. But if he were perfect, he wouldn’t be a well-rounded character.
Also, if he didn’t break the rules, we wouldn’t have nearly as good a story, would we?! A lot of people say that Hermione would have been a better protagonist for Harry Potter, and don’t get me wrong; I would love to see that. I think she’s a fantastic character. But that would involve a lot of reading about her in the library… reading. And let’s face it, if Hermione were in charge, the series would be a lot shorter.
Of course, the story doesn’t justify Harry’s rule-breaking. And I won’t try to justify his other questionable behaviour. But in my opinion, Harry’s stubbornness, his mistakes, and his proclivity to ignoring the obvious and breaking the rules are what makes a suspenseful, thrilling, and evocative story.
5. Despite being an unintentional Horcrux, Harry’s light side wins.
Many accuse Harry of being annoying and angsty. But think about it: if you had a bit of Voldemort’s soul within you, would you not be bothered as well? Ron only had one of the Horcruxes for a while, which drove him to rage. So imagine what Harry feels, carrying a Horcrux within him his whole life.
As Voldemort gets stronger, he begins to manipulate Harry — so it’s not surprising that Harry loses control of himself. True, that doesn’t justify his outbursts towards his well-meaning friends; but try to imagine his perspective. By the fifth book, he’s confused and scared, he just saw a friend of his die in front of his eyes. He doesn’t know what’s happening to him. Dumbledore is ignoring him, and he’s been cut off from the whole Wizarding World — his home — without any explanation.
Wouldn’t you be scared if that happened to you? In light of that, I think angst is one of the less extreme reactions possible.
To conclude, yes, Harry has his faults, like any well-developed character. He makes mistakes, is self-involved, and gets away with some questionable actions. He also makes decisions he has to live with for the rest of his life.
But he’s a kid in the middle of a war. People seem to forget this whilst they’re flinging hate at him. Considering what he goes through, it’s a miracle that the light in him wins over the darkness, and I think that’s testament to his inner kindness and strength. And to me, that makes him a great character.
Let me know: what do you think of Harry? Why do you love/hate him? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Thank you for reading, and until next time.