Study Guide

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe)

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe)

As a classic Campbellian hero, the Boy Who Lived doesn't leave us asking for much. If you look at the great mythic archetypes throughout literature—Perseus, Arthur, Luke Skywalker—Harry Potter seems to fit right in.

It's Not Easy Living in a Cupboard…

Harry comes from humble origins to start with. Seriously, anyone who spends his whole life living in a cupboard knows a thing or two about tough times. We don't even see the layer upon layer of psychological scars laid down on him by his aunt and uncle's whole "we dug you out from the sole of our shoe" routine. The fact that he has any self-esteem at all is something of a minor miracle.

Even despite having been literally starved, he seems pretty a-okay:

VERNON: I'm warning you now, boy. Any funny business, any at all, and you won't have any meals for a week.

Vernon, you're the literal worst.

But like all great heroes, Harry's got a power. And a destiny. That second part is going to take a few more movies to straighten out, but for now it's enough simply to know that he has that power, and that all the mundane horrors of his Muggle life are melting away, to be replaced by…a fresh new set of horrors.

And that's really important when it comes to figuring out Harry as a character. People sometimes wonder why Dumbledore left Harry with his horrible relatives who treat him like a puppy with a chew toy, instead of in the Wizarding World where he'll be safe. If Harry's got a destiny, though, he needs to be tough enough to handle it.

And Harry's early childhood certainly toughens him up for the tasks ahead.

Just An Average Joe?

Not only does Harry get tough, but he also grows up with a natural sympathy for downtrodden. Just check out the way he bonds with the caged snake at the zoo:

HARRY: That's me as well. I never knew my parents either.

Harry: getting deep with scaly critters locked up behind bars since age ten.

Humility and loneliness are good qualities to have if you're going to have to go toe-to-toe with a guy who's not just so scary, but also a total snob. Yeah: Voldemort is a big believer in the purity of the wizarding bloodline. But good ol' Harry has the experience of being a man (or a boy? or a wizard?) of the people.

He can't even fathom how famous he is:

HARRY: But why am I famous, Hagrid? All those people back there, how is it they know who I am?

But not only is Harry's humility good for defeating the enemy, it's also good for winning over fans. Once Harry gets to Hogwarts, he demonstrates that his ordinary qualities are just as endearing as his extraordinary ones. He has a hard time with classes, for example—just like normal kids—and while he gets used to the fact that he's famous, he's not entirely sure he likes it.

RON: I'm telling you, it's spooky. She knows more about you than you do.

HARRY: Who doesn't?

In much the same way we heart J-Law for being down-to-earth, we love Harry for being such a somehow-relatable celebrity. He's overwhelmed by the attention he received; he's just a Muggle-bred dude in a wizard's world. Bonus: Harry's relatability quietly reminds us that we, too, may have some special qualities that the world hasn't noticed.

Outsider On The Inside

Outsiders may have tough time of it, but they make for extremely good heroes: they know what it's like to stand on their own without anyone's help. After a lifetime of being locked in a cupboard, Harry's not going to bend his morality just because it fits in with what the cool kids are doing.

And—more importantly—he's ready to stand up for what he thinks is right. Look at what happens when Draco oozes up to him at Hogwarts and says:

DRACO: You don't want to be making friends with the wrong sort.

Harry, having never been in this society before, really couldn't care less whose families are on the "acceptable" side of the social divide, and blows Draco off in favor of true-blue Ron and Hermione. Being a hero means having a firm moral compass, and being an outsider is a good way to find that moral compass on your own.

The Outsider That Must Not Be Named

But being an outsider can veer dangerously close to being an outlaw.

Voldemort, too, was an outsider. Even in this early movie it's clear that Harry is linked to V-man in ways that go beyond that scar on his forehead. Look at the way the Sorting Hat considers moving Harry to Slytherin House, for instance. It's the de facto "evil house," where Draco Malfoy and his cronies have gone, where Snape is the house teacher, and where (as we learn in later entries) Voldemort himself originally crashed.

Naturally, Harry's a little reluctant:

SORTING HAT: Not Slytherin, eh? Are you sure? You could be great, you know. It's all here in your head. And Slytherin will help you on your way to greatness! There's no doubt about that!

The sorting hat is being pretty seductive here, but, as we've seen, Harry's outsider status means that he's pretty immune to suggestion. He knows what he wants, and what he wants is to not be sorted into Slytherin. Luckily, the hat acquiesces.

But there's more than just house allegiance that links Voldemort and Harry as fellow outsiders. Just check out the contents of their respective wands:

OLLIVANDER: It so happens that the Phoenix whose tail feather resides in your wand gave another feather. Just one other. It is curious that you should be destined for this wand when its brother gave you that scar.

Those are some outsider-y Phoenix feathers, eh? And Ollivander is pretty perceptive of this fact, especially when he says "Just one other."

Harry's status as an outsider leaves him vulnerable to his own darker proclivities just like Voldemort. His desire to belong—to be a part of something—can lead him astray as well. Remember his fixation with the Mirror of Erised, and the feeling of complete-ness he gets at the thought of being with his parents? The desire to escape his outsider status will lead to pitfalls on his journey, and he has to learn to get around them as much as any three-headed dog.

Hero in the Making

The good news is that the kid seems up for it. Raised hard but humble, appreciative of his gifts, and amazed that he has a future in a world where you can fly on broomsticks and launch fireworks displays from your fingertips, he finds his inner hero without having to check twice.

And uses his heroic nature to save the school, protect his friends and make life just a little better in this new world he's just joined. Not too bad, Harry. Not too bad at all.

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