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The following is a list of themes considered to play a part in the Harry Potter Series, both academically and by J.K Rowling.

Confronting Fears[]

According to best-selling author Stephen King, a major theme of the books is confronting fears. This is depicted by the fact that the whole society in the series fears Voldemort. They fear even speaking his name, instead calling him "You-know-who". There are only two people who do not fear Voldemort, and they are Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore. Harry's lack of fear for the Dark Lord is symbolised by how he always takes his name when referring him. Ultimately, these two individuals are the only people Voldemort begins to worry about. While Dumbledore dies due to unpredictable consequences, Harry survives and finally vanquishes the Dark Lord. There were wizards and witches more skilled than Harry, like Remus and Hermione, but they failed to end Voldemort's reign as they feared him.

Death[]

"It's the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more."
Albus Dumbledore to Harry Potter

According to Rowling, one of the major themes in the books is death. She once stated, "My books are largely about death. They open with the death of Harry's parents. There is Voldemort's obsession with conquering death and his quest for immortality at any price, the goal of anyone with magic. I so understand why Voldemort wants to conquer death. We're all frightened of it."[1]

However, throughout the series, it becomes clear that death is not something to fear, but "life's next big adventure".[2]

Another major theme in the story is acceptance. While a constant theme throughout the series, the acceptance of death plays its greatest part in the seventh book. The story of the Peverell brothers who tried to cheat Death, and the objects which when reunited, would make one Master of Death, was not about achieving immortality but about accepting death. The only way someone can defeat death is when they no longer fear death, but accept it. They could then "greet Death as an old friend".[3]

However, Rowling also states that death can be viewed as something beautiful, and more meaningful than it appears. The series also symbolises loss and grief. Dumbledore's comforting of Harry when he realises his father did not come back to life to help him, also shows acceptance, "You think the dead we loved every truly leave us? You think we don't recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble?"[4]

Love[]

"... to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever."
Dumbledore's description of love[src]

Love is another major theme in the books. It is described as one of the only things which can conquer the Dark Arts and even death, evident in Lily Potter's sacrifice. When she died to save her son, it created an ancient spell which protected Harry when he was hit with the killing curse and making him "The Boy who Lived".[5] When Harry died to save his friends and allies at the Battle of Hogwarts, his sacrifice saved them and made them untouchable to the Death Eaters.[6]

Love always plays a notable part in helping to tip the favour in the side of good. It was Severus Snape’s love for Lily which redeemed him.[7] Narcissa Malfoy’s love for her son led her to lie to Voldemort about Harry’s death, saving his life and giving him the chance to defeat Voldemort.[6]

Harry’s ability to love and be loved is a defining difference between him and Voldemort. Harry builds up friendships, a support system of friends that Voldemort could never hope to match.

Fate[]

Another theme in the story is fate. As revealed by Sybill Trelawney's prophecy, Harry is the one destined to kill Voldemort which was determined the moment that Voldemort failed to kill him as a baby. Since he is the sole survivor of Voldemort's attacks, Harry is destined to defeat him and save the world.

Throughout the series, Rowling argues that both fate and choice play their role in shaping us. For example, Harry was born a wizard and he cannot escape that identity. As he grows, he attains new skills and magical abilities which allow him to take full responsibility of that destiny. Another promiment example is the Sorting Hat. Harry's placement in Gryffindor, the house of bravery, was largely his choice thus showing what Harry values the most. Although the Hat argues that he could excel in Slytherin, Harry makes his choice refusing to blindly accept his fate. Dumbledore reassures him that he truly belongs in Gryffindor by saying: "It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

Acceptance/Tolerance[]

"We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided."
— Albus Dumbledore at the end of term feast in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

A major recurrent theme in the book series is acceptance of others with different backgrounds, blood status and beliefs from one's own. This theme is explored through the depiction of some pureblood wizards' disdain towards the Muggle-born wizards. The Malfoys symbolise intolerance and racism while the Weasleys are among the purebloods who completely accept people regardless of their background. This is further explored in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when the origin of the chamber is revealed. Among the four founders of Hogwarts, Salazar Slytherin was the only one to hold the ambition to purge the school from Muggle-borns, because he believed that they did not deserve to be taught magic. The other three founders turned against him and Hogwarts became a wizarding school accepting people of all blood status and backgrounds.

Voldemort himself is the ultimate example of intolerance and its disastrous effects on society, since he is known to "kill Muggles for fun". It is later revealed that his own father was a Muggle who left his dying mother and their unborn baby, which shows that often the foundations of racism lie in self-hatred and inability to accept one's self.

Another example of tolerance versus intolerance is the prejudice against werewolves and the consequences it can have on someone's job and marriage opportunities and mental health. The elves' slavery and the fight for their rights (started by Hermione Granger and S.P.E.W) is another example of the importance of equality. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire we are acquainted with the existence of other schools of witchcraft across the world. Although they are driven to compete against each other in the Triwizard Tournament, in the end they are forced to set aside their differences and come together to defeat the Dark Lord.

Finally, a great message about tolerance can be given by Luna Lovegood, the slightly odd and unconventional girl and Harry's friend. Through her confidence and unapologetic insistence on her beliefs, she teaches us the importance of being unique and true to ourselves despite what society says.

Behind the scenes[]

  • Rowling once said that she didn't purposely try to make the themes that are "deeply entrenched in the whole plot" happen. She prefers to let themes "grow organically", rather than sitting down and consciously attempting to impart such ideas to her readers.[8]

Notes and references[]

  1. J. K Rowling's interview with the Daily Telegraph
  2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 17 (The Man with Two Faces)
  3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 21 (The Tale of the Three Brothers)
  4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 22 (Owl Post Again)
  5. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 17 (The Man with Two Faces)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 36 (The Flaw in the Plan)
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 33 (The Prince's Tale)
  8. Interview with Quick Quote Quill
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