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Essays

The Changing Image of Grown-Ups in the Harry Potter Books

by Elizabeth Dalton

The Harry Potter books are shifting from kid's books to more adult books as Harry ages, and I've noticed an interesting transition over the course of the four books so far, that pretty much tracks how a kid of Harry's age views grownups in our world:

PS: Grownups are a pain. They are stupid, nasty, or at best amusing. Usually they try to stop you from doing what you want to do. They never tell you anything. But if things go really wrong, the few "good" ones can usually fix it.

CS: Grownups can be a little bit interesting, but generally they still seem to just want to make rules, and they don't help much in a pinch. Some of them are liars. A few are really useful, but they still don't answer questions the way they should.

PA: Some grownups are pretty cool -- especially the ones who don't treat you like a kid. Grownups may have problems you don't know about. Some of them are worse than you've suspected -- in ways that make "bad" grownups you've known before look less significant. Some grownups might know something worth learning. At least now sometimes they tell you stuff you need to know. Some of them, anyway.

GF: Grownups have lots of problems you've never realized you don't know about. They have pasts, often going back to events that happened before you were even born. They don't have things under control the way you thought they did. They can't protect you from bad things nearly to the extent you'd believed. On the plus side, they can be better listeners than you would have thought, and if anything, you might wish they'd skip telling you some things. Some of them are even more powerful than you thought they could be when you were eleven. But they may not be around to help forever.

I predict that in future books, as Harry becomes close to "grown up" himself, he'll come closer and closer to a viewpoint like this:

Grownups are just people (like you). Some are good, some are bad. Some may have reasons for acting that you don't know about or understand. Some are more powerful than you, some less so. Some are wiser than you, some less so. All of them are mortal. And so are you.

© 2001 Elizabeth Dalton

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