In Defense of James Potter
Abstract: Was James Potter a villain or a hero? Is the fandom right in despising him?
Question: Is a murderer a bad person? Is the sky blue? Was James Potter a vile, vicious monster?
Answer: Yes. Obviously. No question about it.
Stroll into a Harry Potter fanatics convention, and I can guarantee that every single one of those present will despise James Potter. No exceptions. And why? Why is the father of the Boy Who Lived, the man he inherited his famed Quidditch skills from, the best friend of the beloved Sirius Black, and the supporter of the amazing Remus Lupin, so unpopular with Potterheads?
The answer is evident in the Order of the Phoenix, ‘Snape’s Worst Memory’.
He was a bully.
I can’t justify what James did to Snape in that particular chapter. I’ve heard people fuming about it enough – James carried out an unprovoked assault on him. He taunted him, mocked him, and threatened to remove his trousers in front of the school’s entire population. Unfortunately, we were yanked out of the memory alongside Harry at that moment, so we can’t tell whether or not James fulfilled his promise. But we can hazard a guess that James hadn’t exhibited any signs of hesitation in humiliating the boy until then. Poor Severus, we murmured amongst ourselves (unconsciously promoting him from Snape to Severus).
We – all of us – can relate to bullying. More than just black-robed Death Eaters, sinister wand-shop owners, and hideous goblins, a bully is something we automatically loathe. Even if we’re bullies ourselves. We’ve been there, done that, as they say. So naturally, we condemn James’ actions furiously, more so because we had doted on him during the first four books.
But is that enough of a foundation to build an empire of hatred for him on? I don’t agree, but perhaps you do. I can accept that, but to build an empire of hatred for the man the boy grew to be on the basis of a little arrogance when he was young is a little too much.
I won’t describe Snape’s faults in this article (well, I’ll try not to) because however foul the nature of the victim, it does not redeem the bully. But I will say this: Snape indicated in the scene that he was perfectly capable of retaliating to James. Some of his return spells left a lot to be desired – that bloody slash he left on James’ face? It was repulsive. A little closer, and James might have lost an eye. But my point, briefly, is this: a bully is, according to New Oxford American Dictionary, a bully is someone who uses his power to intimidate someone weaker. Even Lupin, our most impartial judge, states clearly in the book that Snape never lost an opportunity to hex James. He didn’t exactly take it lying down.
I consider the scene a duel between two rivals, in which one was off his guard and lost. Spectacularly. It doesn’t transform James’ action into something noble, or even remotely acceptable – but for me, anyway, it mitigates the severity of his crime.
Of course, I’m biased – I dote on James, but I’m not presenting outrageous arguments here, am I?
Then there is the matter of Snape and James’ first encounter, which I’m not delving into deeply because they were both eleven years old at that time. I think we’ve all laughed at oddly-dressed kids in our lifetime, especially if they express a desire to join a House that churns out Dark Wizards constantly. James teased Severus, yes – but so did Sirius. And yet, Sirius, according to the polls, is an extremely popular character.
So let’s consider Lily Evans instead. From her part in ‘Snape’s Worst Memory’, we can see she was feisty, proudâ¦and had a set of strong ideals which she didn’t deviate from. She was against bullies, even if it meant opposing the boys who were the “height of cool”. No wonder she was appointed Head Girl.
And yet she chose the boy she had once held in contempt over her friend since the age of eleven. Why? Simply because James changed.
I once read about a girl who had been bullied running into her tormentor many years later. She didn’t feel any rush of rage and fear, and why? Because the woman before her was not the girl she had once been. Man has the ability to redeem himself – to transform himself utterly. Dumbledore is evidence of that. So the James who Lily married was completely different from the boy she had screamed at. And my proof is this – James Potter, in his seventh year, became Head Boy.
That hardly means much, you could counter. Malfoy became a prefect, and if he wasn’t a bully then Dudley doesn’t need to diet.
But Malfoy reconciled with Harry. He abandoned the Dark Side. He didn’t exactly become a ray of light and sweetness, but Dumbledore must have seen the potential to change in him. And Snape – the Snape everyone has sitting on a pedestal of romance – changed, too.
So why couldn’t James mature? Why is it so inconceivable that he was truly noble when it is perfectly believable that a murdering Death Eater became Dumbledore’s right-hand man?
Well, you say, what proof do we have of James’ nobility? No, I’m sorry, you wouldn’t ask that – you’re all far too intelligent to pose such a foolish query. One would have to be a moron to ask that, because James Potter, as a young boy, befriended a werewolf – someone who was generally ostracized from society. In his adulthood, he supported that werewolf financially. Hagrid was fond of him – and Hagrid instinctively dislikes any type of cruelty. Austere Minerva, with strict expectations of her lions, wept for him. He was a member of the Order – he opposed Dark Magic. He believed passionately in equality – as illustrated by his marrying Lily, and also his friendship with Remus. And last but not least – he rescued Snape from Remus. Don’t tell me it was a simple choice. Don’t tell me it wasn’t heroic. A James-hater might argue that he probably saved Snape to protect Sirius from being expelled, and Remus from losing his innocence. But does it change James’ action? He yanked Snape from danger at great risk to himself – whatever his motive, for whomever he performed the deed, it was one of enormous courage.
Peter Pettigrew proves James to be far better than others perceive him. He hardly appears to be Marauder material – a watery-eyed, plump boy always “tagging” after them! How does this fit in with the Marauders’ cool image? But James, Sirius, and Remus accepted him. James trusted him to be the Secret Keeper, even if he didn’t have any outstanding magical abilities. Do you know what that reminds me of? Dumbledore’s determination to see the best in everyone. It blinded both of them to certain dangers, perhaps, but it’s still a great virtue to have.
James Potter’s loathing of Snape is compared by Dumbledore to himself to the relationship between Harry and Malfoy. That, clearly, indicates that he doesn’t view it as anything but regrettable dislike between two students. Also, while James did hex other students, there’s a difference between jinxing someone and bullying them. To a student, it’s an obvious difference. Jinxing someone could be the magical equivalent of poking them in their backs and claiming someone else did it or hiding their pencil box throughout the class. Only when it’s sustained and directed at a sole student can it be defined as bullying. If it’s done randomly to anyone, as is implied in the books, it’s hardly bullying. Also, one example of this apparent “bullying” is that James caused another student’s head to swell to humongous proportions. That sounds to me similar to Canary Creams. A prank. Troublesome, but a prank.
Furthermore, nearly everyone compares him and Sirius to Fred and George, and no one’s ever called the twins “bullies,” even if they did shut up Montague in a Vanishing Cupboard, ignoring the life-and-death repercussions of this act.
So the fandom’s hate of James can’t, in my eyes, be justified. James changed, and it’s about time the fandom accepted that.