Magical and Mundane

Isn’t it interesting how many children’s fantasy protagonists come from the “real world”? Harry Potter, growing up with the Dursleys, is the obvious modern example, but he’s far from the only one: just think of the Pevensie children finding Narnia through the back of a wardrobe, Alice falling down the rabbit hole to Wonderland, the Darlings flying off to Neverland, Dorothy being carried to Oz by tornado, or – in a more sinister example – Coraline finding the Other Mother’s world behind a door in her family’s new house. Children’s books often contrast the mundane and magical worlds, with the former being dreary, but safe and familiar, while the latter is exciting but dangerous.

However, there is something unusual about Harry: the world he’s escaping from when he goes to Hogwarts is truly horrible, and he does not return there in the end. While Dorothy might click her heels together and return to her family in Kansas (at least until the sequels, where she finds her way back to Oz), Harry insists that “Hogwarts is my home” and dreads his return to Privet Drive every summer. Harry’s adventures are truly dangerous, but even in the final book, when he is fighting for his life in a world controlled by Voldemort, Harry never questions that the magical world is his home. Even the epilogue shows that nineteen years later, he’s sending his own son off to Hogwarts and has continued his adult life within the magical community.

The Harry Potter books are one of the few children’s fantasy stories that deal with coming-of-age as a major theme without giving up on magic or returning to the “real world”. There’s a feeling of coming full circle with Harry dropping off his children at Platform 9 3/4, but it’s a different sort of cycle from Peter Pan coming back only to find Wendy all grown up. Rather than return to the muggle world with the lessons he learned at Hogwarts, Harry continues to return to Hogwarts and grows up as a part of the magical world. Unusual, but appropriate for a series that shows coming-of-age as a gradual 7-year process rather than a single adventure.

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