Was Harry Potter really the hero of the Harry Potter series?
On the surface, this sounds like a stupid question. Potter was the main character, and he did do heroic things. Most importantly, Voldemort was defeated because of Potter.
Or was he?
When I recently reread Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I concluded that Potter was, at best, a weak hero. Too much of Potter’s success with defeating Voldemort hinges on Albus Dumbledore.
Dumbledore was dead, of course. But in the final book in the series, it becomes clear that he set many plans in motion before he died. These plans set things up so that Potter could defeat Voldemort. They clearly went well past merely explaining a Horcrux or showing Harry memories about Voldemort in the Pensieve.
Some plans were small, like arranging for the safekeeping of Gryffindor’s sword (which was useful for destroying Horcruxes).
Some things were bigger, like his handling of Severus Snape. At the start of the book, it appeared that Dumbledore’s trust of Snape had been the biggest mistake of his life. By the end of the book, it’s clear he knew exactly what he was doing. As a result, Snape ended up being an unexpected asset, not liability.
Then, throughout the book, Potter regularly thinks of Dumbledore and what he’d wanted. This influences Potter’s decisions. On page 692 of the 2007 US hard cover edition, it even says: “Dumbledore’s betrayal was almost nothing. Of course there had been a bigger plan; Harry had simply been too foolish to see it; he realized that now.”
All in all, it seems clear to me that Dumbledore had everything planned. All Harry Potter really did was act as Dumbledore’s pawn in helping carry out part of the plan. Harry was critical, of course, since there were certain things that only he could do. (However, he needed to do these things because of events outside of his control. For example, Voldmort’s attempt to murder him when he was a small child.)
I have mixed feelings about my realization. In one way, it’s nice to see “brain” rather than “brawn” win. And Dumbledore does represent “brain” far more than any other character.
Yet, overall, I’m disappointed. All along, I’d been viewing Harry Potter as the hero. Even early on in the series, long before Voldemort made his return, I was betting on two things: Voldemort would return, and Harry would forever beat him.
This would be a classic David and Goliath type story — a classic theme of the ordinary person who is called upon to fight evil, and who wins, despite the odds.
This happened in the earliest books. Dumbledore then appeared to be little more than a source of wizard knowledge. He’d sometimes help, but usually in small ways. Early on, Harry Potter would have to fight mostly his own fight.
Some fights were impressive. For example, take Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The Chamber’s reopening caused a real problem. It even stumped the best wizards, up to and apparently including Dumbledore. It was Harry Potter who actually solved the problem. Not bad for a second year Hogwart’s student!
As the series went, my view that Harry would vanquish Voldemort was supported more and more. My view met its apex at the end of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, when Dumbledore died. It was a shock, but it made sense for the story line. He needed to go so Harry would be the hero; the young wizard who is forced into greatness.
Except, I was wrong.
While Dumbledore never did return from the dead, he did operate quite effectively from the grave. His plans, made before he died, guaranteed that. Indeed, he worked so effectively, even dead, that I think it feels almost heavy-handed at times. (If nothing else, it’s incredible how infrequently his plan didn’t work as planned!)
In the end, it leaves Dumbledore the real hero of the final book. And I think he’s also the real hero of the series, since the overall series is about vanquishing Voldemort for good.
And I — a loyal reader since 1999 — am left disappointed.