VI. The boy who lived, and the people you’ll never know
07 Thursday Mar 2013
Maybe she’d always been there. Maybe strangers enter your heart first and then you spent the rest of your life searching for them.
It’s hard to imagine that there was a time when Harry Potter didn’t exist. I grew up with each of the books in that series, and I wouldn’t want to have experienced them in any other way.
Yes, I’m going to talk about Harry Potter now. But I’m not going to talk about how wonderfully imaginative it is, or its complex plot, or how it covers everything from friendship to redemption to the power of love in the face of evil. J.K. Rowling does something else fantastic that’s hard to catch the first time you read the Harry Potter series. In a world as huge as the one Rowling has created, you get something that you don’t usually find in your typical chapter book—characters who don’t seem to play a big role, who only seem like they’re just in the background, until later on they reveal that they have worries and depths and lives that you don’t know about.
I’m talking about people like Mrs. Figgs. The old lady who babysat Harry a few times when was little, and was never heard from again (save from breaking her leg or something) for several years of Harry’s life. And why would you hear from her? She’s just a character who exists to show that Harry’s childhood was void of anyone he could really talk to.
Too often in books, the thing that draws a hard line between fiction and reality, is that most characters have a deliberate reason for existing, while the minor ones are background decorations. Nothing more, nothing less. When the Love Interest walks into the room, you can tell that that’s the person that the protagonist is going to end up with. There is usually a Best Friend character who’s there so that the protagonist can talk about their problems to someone, and maybe they’ll get thrown together with some leftover character too.
But Harry Potter, in all its gloriously detailed world-building and plethora of characters, does so much more than that. Could anyone predict, from the first three books, that Ginny would become Harry’s love interest? Ginny stands for everything I complained about in the second part of the last chapter I wrote. She’s shy around Harry and we only get glimpses of her in the first few books, and from that we make assumptions that that’s all there is to her character.
There are tons of characters that have hidden depths in this series, but I think the one that I’ll remember most is Snape. Not entirely likable—but a completely three-dimensional human being. Voldemort might be one-sidedly evil, but Snape’s development really changed the way I consider first impressions. Most books won’t go that extra mile, but what matters is that they’re capable of it, and if the stories are, then people in real life can too.
Most of the few billion other people on the planet will be background characters for us. But it can be so easy to ignore everyone who isn’t in our personal circle. Reading Harry Potter made me think of all the people I assume will never enter my life. Maybe one day that neighbor I’ve never spoken to will save me from dementors gone wild on my quiet suburban street. You never really know in life, and I never want to rule anyone out.