James Potter Was a Jerk
A lot has been written and said about Snape. He’s incontrovertibly the most controversial and divisive character in the Harry Potter series. However, there’s a void in the fandom regarding another character that’s almost as barren as the Chudley Cannons’ trophy cabinet has been since 1892. James Potter has been exempt from criticism for far too long, considering the fact that he’s an “arrogant, bullying, toerag” (OotP 28).
Since “the thought of his father had been a source of comfort” (OotP 29) to Harry, he was shocked to learn that “his father had been every bit as arrogant as Snape had always told him” (OotP 28). Sirius and Lupin reassured Harry that his father had matured sometime around their seventh year at Hogwarts. The gripe I have with this is that James’s growth as a person occurs off the page. We’re never shown how James matures, and I find it unsettling that as readers we’re supposed to accept that he changed just because Lily married him. I actually find it disturbing how James, knowing that Snape and Lily were friends, told Lily that he’d stop tormenting Snape if she went out with him.
As a point of reference, when Harry first meets Draco Malfoy in Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, he “was strongly reminded of Dudley” (SS 5). However, Draco also reminds me of James. They’re the antithesis of each other when it comes to the Gryffindor–Slytherin rivalry but similar in the level of entitlement and privilege that they display. While Draco was infatuated with the Dark Arts and loyal to the House of Slytherin, James detested the Dark Arts and devoted himself to Gryffindor, “the champion of Muggle-borns” (DH 25). Harry described his father’s appearance at age 11 as showing “the indefinable air of having been well cared for” (DH 33). This was an apt observation because James’s parents, Fleamont and Euphemia, “had quite given up hope of a son or daughter” when he was born, such that they pampered and spoiled him.
According to J.K. Rowling, children in the wizarding world can “either go to a Muggle primary school or [be] educated at home.” The implication of wizarding children being homeschooled before attending Hogwarts is that since they live in a bubble, their parents are more influential in the development of the values that they hold as children. This is evident in both Draco and James. Both of these characters reflect the values of their parents. I make this observation to suggest that James’s hatred of the Dark Arts and staunch loyalty to the values of Gryffindor are not qualities that are inherent, but rather parentally shaped. This isn’t to say that all children take on the views of their parents, though – Sirius is a prime counterpoint to that idea.
Sirius once told Harry that he was “less like [his] father” (OotP 14) than he thought. Throughout Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix , Sirius tries to recreate his relationship with James through Harry. As a Black, Sirius grew up in a poisonous environment, and it’s arguable that he never had the opportunity to mature as a person because he was sent to Azkaban at 22. However, Sirius would’ve been around the same age as James when he died. According to Flitwick, Sirius and James were “inseparable” like “brothers” (PoA 10). Since Sirius respected James so much, I’d expect any maturity that James developed to be reflected in Sirius, and this isn’t the case at all.
James humiliating Snape by threatening to take off Snape’s pants in front of other students was disgusting, but Snape wasn’t the only person James victimized. Lily claimed he hexed anyone who annoyed him just because he could (OotP 28). This is corroborated during one of Harry’s many detentions when he learns that James and Sirius had hexed a student named Bertram Aubrey, causing his head to swell twice its normal size (HBP 24). Fred and George are often compared to James and Sirius, and while the Weasley twins were pranksters, they’re never shown to vindictively bully other students. Like Sirius said, “the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters” (GoF 14), and sure, James fought against the Dark Arts, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he was a horrible person.