by Nancy Paulette
Through numerous readings of the Harry Potter series, I’ve noticed that, time and again, ideas about power, success and abilities are brought up. Each time, the emphasis is on a different facet of these connected ideas. Often, the figurative light is bounced off of a certain facet very quickly, like the sunlight bouncing off of a diamond ring as a woman gestures; you see it as a flash, and it’s only when you hold the stone still in just the right spot can you experience that gleam again.
There are four facets I’d like to discuss (some more intensely than others): the power of confidence, the power of preparation, the power of the individual, and the power of unity.
The Power of Confidence
“‘I see no reason why everybody in this class should not achieve an O.W.L. in Transfiguration as long as they put in the work.’ Neville made a sad little disbelieving noise. ‘Yes, you too, Longbottom,’ said Professor McGonagall. ‘There’s nothing wrong with your work except lack of confidence'” (OotP 257).
McGonagall states confidence’s power quite clearly. Confidence is the key to success. As a character, Neville exemplifies this. When we meet him in Book 1, he’s a timid and clumsy young man who feels overshadowed by, well, everyone. He’s afraid of his grandmother, of his professors, even of his classmates. And, this shows up in his work. In PS/SS, he starts to overcome his fear when he fights with Crabbe and Goyle and, later, when he confronts Harry, Ron and Hermione as they go off in search of the Stone. It’s not until OotP that he really gains confidence, and that is through the D.A. Neville’s transformation from the last of the class to the top is swift. At the beginning of the school year, Harry and Neville are the only ones in class who get extra homework to help them learn a spell. After Valentine’s Day, Neville is the fastest learner of defensive spells after Hermione. And that’s saying something.
In the Muggle world, time and again experts tell us that confidence is an essential part of success. Are you the best at what you do? Yes (whether you are or not); that’s what you have to think. Confidence is not so much believing that you are the absolute best; it’s got less to do with ability as it has to do with strength of personality and self. It’s the knowledge that you can do what you have to do, and do it well.
The Power of Preparation
“For one thing, [Harry] was confident that, this time, he had done everything in his power to prepare for the task” (GoF 610).
Harry, Ron and Hermione had spent their free time learning defensive spells for the Third Task of the Triwizard Tournament. He knew he had done everything he could to prepare for it; that knowledge gave him the confidence that he could face what was ahead. His fear of the task turned into nervousness, which quickly vanished as soon as he began.
Preparation is only part of this facet, though. Another key point is accepting whatever task is laid before you.
“‘Well, now it has [happened], an’ we’ll just have ter get on with it…. What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does'” (GoF 719).
While Hagrid may not be the most eloquent and learned character, he has a way of expressing himself that brings it down to the heart of the matter. Preparation is necessary, but it can’t be all that’s done. Once the situation for which you’re preparing happens, you must face it. Preparation must be followed by action; otherwise, it’s just something to do to pass the time.
Ultimately, preparation allows you to think on your feet. Preparation gives you the basic tools; acting on them is what will determine how it ends. The relationship between preparation and action is much like jazz musician improvising on a familiar tune. The tune is like preparation; it gives you the basic building blocks. Your course of action is the improvisation; how you use and manipulate the tune becomes what’s remembered. Often, it feels like, “‘…I didn’t know what I was doing half the time, I didn’t plan any of it, I just did whatever I could think of…,” but the results are usually worth it (OotP 327).
The Power of the Individual
“‘Well,’ said Riddle, smiling pleasantly, ‘how is it that you— a skinny boy with no extraordinary magical talent– managed to defeat the greatest wizard of all time? How did you escape with nothing but a scar, while Lord Voldemort’s powers were destroyed?'” (CoS 397).
Prophecies aside, one person– any person– can make a difference in the world around them. Regardless of your sphere of influence, the power of your being makes a difference in people’s lives. Sometimes, it comes through a smile or a kind word. Sometimes it’s by example. And, sometimes, it’s a great deed that many know about.
For instance, Draco Malfoy had a huge effect on Harry Potter before either knew each other’s names. Draco’s resemblance to Dudley didn’t make Harry warm up to Draco in the first place, but as Draco talked, Harry liked him less and less. Draco’s mention of Slytherin helped Harry decide he didn’t want to be Sorted there; his talked with Hagrid merely confirmed that decision. Those things, taken together, led Harry to tell the Sorting Hat, “Not Slytherin;” had Harry not pleaded with the Sorting Hat, he could have been in Slytherin, and the story would be substantially different.
The Power of Unity
“‘…We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided…. We can fight [Lord Voldemort] only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open'” (GoF 723).
Perhaps the strongest theme throughout Books 4 and 5 is that of unity. With the wizarding world essentially under attack, small factions fighting against one another and the ultimate enemy is fruitless. By combining resources and strengths, evil can be overcome.
As John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” Just as one man can make a difference, many men working together can make a bigger difference. The phrase “greater than the sum of its parts” is an underlying principle. Working with people who are strong where you are weak makes the two of you strong together.
To use another musical analogy, music is always greater than the sum of its parts (any alto or bass can tell you that). When heard alone, each part has some strength to it, whether it’s a beautiful harmony line or a constant root. But, when all the parts of a song are put together, they become greater than they could be on their own. Somehow, 2 + 2 has equaled 5.
Mixed metaphors aside, Harry Potter, by his own admission, would never have gotten so far without the help of his friends. His friends, too, could never have done what Harry has done. But, when they join forces, they can do everything from defeating a full-grown mountain troll to capturing a killer. And even when Harry faces the final moments alone, he never gets there by himself, and he always has help there with him when he needs it.
The bonds of friendship and coalition are always stronger than the ties of ambition and enmity. When an alliance is formed to get gain, neither side can trust or forgive the other. Friends, however, will trust each other to the death, if necessary, and make allowances for mistakes. As Dumbledore said, “The Triwizard Tournament’s aim was to further and promote magical understanding. In light of what has happened– of Lord Voldemort’s return– such ties are more important than ever before” (GoF 723).
The powers of confidence, preparation, the individual, and unity are only some of the levels of power presented in the Harry Potter series. Each one, taken individually, gives an interesting lesson to the readers. When taken together, these facets of power form a diamond with many more facets to explore and discuss.