Harry Potter and the Hero’s Journey
Abstract: Does “Harry Potter” follow the basic outline of epic poetry?
We’ve all heard of the epic poems of the Odyssey and Beowulf. These poems follow a specific outline – this is called the “Hero’s Journey.” The Hero’s Journey has three big divisions – Separation, Initiation, and Return. The question is, how does this relate to Harry Potter?
We’ll begin with Separation. It has three subcategories – Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, and Crossing the First Threshold. The Call to Adventure is when the protagonist sort of awakens from the world of drudgery and desolation to pursue something more. In the case of Harry Potter, this is when Hagrid arrives at the hut on the rock in the first book and tells Harry that he is a wizard. The Refusal of the Call is when the hero has self-doubt. Again, in Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, pg. 58 (U.S. Version): “‘Hagrid,’ he [Harry] said quietly, ‘I think you must have made a mistake. I don’t think I can be a wizard.'” The last sub-division is crossing the first threshold. This is when the hero discovers what they can do. There is a sense of danger, and usually a guardian. In the Greek myths, it would be some sort of monster, including Cerebus, the three-headed dog. Coincidentally; Harry’s first threshold is the forbidden corridor on the third floor in Sorcerer’s Stone, and the first guardian is Fluffy. He encounters Voldemort for the first time and discovers how strong he really is. Of course, his bravery and skill will continue to be tested throughout the series.
The second part of the Hero’s Journey is Initiation. It has five sub-divisions – The Road of Trials, Atonement with the Father, Apotheosis, and the Ultimate Boon. The Road of Trials has tasks that prepare the hero to pursue an ultimate goal. In the Harry Potter series, this stage basically comprises books two through four. In Chamber of Secrets, Harry has to face Tom Riddle and destroy one of Voldemort’s seven Horcruxes (though he doesn’t know about them yet.) In Prisoner of Azkaban, he has to test his magic skills by saving himself and Sirius from dementors by producing a full-fledged Patronus. In Goblet of Fire, he is selected as the fourth champion of the Triwizard Tournament, in which he has to fight a dragon, save Ron from the underwater world of the mermaids, run through a maze of creatures and spells, and duel Voldemort. While dueling Voldemort, Voldemort’s wand rebounded and showed the last people Voldemort had killed – including Harry’s parents. This could be considered Atonement with the Father. In Greek myths, the parental figure is responsible for guiding the hero through the journey, though usually, this character is the father. However, in the graveyard, Lily is the one who says “‘When the connection is broken, we will linger for only moments… but we will give you time… you must get to the portkey, it will return you to Hogwarts… Do you understand Harry?'” pg. 667 (GoF U.S. Version). She is helping him escape from Voldemort, most likely saving his life. After Harry returns to Hogwarts, he is deemed the Triwizard Tournament winner and gets a few hundred Galleons as prize money. This is one of the Ultimate Boons (the benefit, favor, or blessing that is bestowed on the hero.) that Harry receives. In Harry’s fifth year, he realizes his skill and courage when he flies to the Ministry to save Sirius and ends up facing Voldemort yet again, as well as Death Eaters, then learns of the prophecy from Dumbledore. This is Apotheosis, or the hero’s epiphany – in other words – when they realize that they have skill. He gets his second Ultimate Boon in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when he gets his O.W.L.s and sees that he can still be an Auror.
The final part of the Hero’s Journey is Return. It has five sub-divisions – Refusal of the Return, the Magical Flight, Crossing the Return Threshold, Master of Two Worlds, and Freedom to Live. Every June, Harry has to return to number 4, Privet Drive even though he hates it, because he becomes isolated from the wizarding world. This is the Refusal of the Return. In Deathly Hallows, he is escorted from his home to the Burrow, thereby breaking the curse that protects him. This is the Magical Flight, where the hero is commissioned to return to the world to fix it, and the protector, or in our case, the protectors, may support him on a return journey. There are obviously challenges, either in the arrival or the departure. In Deathly Hallows, the challenge is in the departure, when they are attacked by Death Eaters. Harry, Ron, and Hermione then go on an adventure to find the remaining Horcruxes but have to return to Hogwarts to find the last ones. This is Crossing the Return Threshold – he has to come full cycle and symbolically loses his life. However, in Deathly Hallows, Harry actually dies, but since he is the Master of Death, he can continue to live. The second to last stage, Master of Two Worlds, comes when Harry gets the Resurrection Stone and gains supreme knowledge of both the living world and the dead. The final stage, Freedom to Live, is achieved when the hero can pass freely between the two realms. For Harry – and this is achieved throughout the book series – this is the ability to blend in as a Muggle but continue to live in the wizarding world.