Let me tell you a rather ill-kept secret: my favorite Harry Potter character is not Harry. It seems too cliché, too expected, too ordinary. My favorite Harry Potter character is not Harry, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like him. To be honest, except for half of “The Order of the Phoenix,” (when he is so insufferably fifteen), I like Harry very much, because Harry, as a character, is relatively simple and easy to understand. He’s loyal, independent, brave and impulsive. I seriously believe that every action Harry has ever taken is the result of one of these four traits (or a nuance thereof).
I once heard a friend describe Harry Potter as a series that suffered from “tell an adult” syndrome. This is, for the most part, true. But let’s add some context: Harry arrived at Hogwarts after suffering 10 years in a neglectful, often abusive household. As far as Harry was concerned, telling an adult anything meant he’d get shut in his cupboard without supper. As the books go on, Harry and his friends get better at notifying adults of situations they should be notified of, but he still has an alarming tendency to do things by himself. He even tries to shake Ron and Hermione when he thinks things are too dangerous for them. This all goes back to the four traits I mentioned earlier: independence, loyalty, bravery and impulse.
Narratively speaking, Harry is the ultimate heroic character. He’s the ideal blend of what I like to call the “Frodo Baggins” hero (brave, loving, selfless almost to the point of absurdity) and an actual teenage boy. This is surprisingly rare to find in children’s and young adult fiction–especially in fantasy. We live in a world where teen characters in TV and film are played by actors in their 20s and written by men and women who are even older. We have become conditioned to be unfamiliar with the way teenagers look and act, so much so that when we, as readers, are confronted with a character who behaves his age, even amidst a war, we become confused.
Part of what makes Harry so brilliant is that even while Harry was organizing a rebel student defense league and breaking into the Ministry of Magic to save his godfather, he was still plagued by normal, fifteen-year-old problems, like how to deal with girls, studying for final exams and all the bumps and pains that accompany growing up.