Character Development in Harry Potter

They were so cute back then.

In my last post, I talked about one of the criticisms I’ve heard of the Harry Potter series — namely that its theme of good vs. evil is too simplistic. Another criticism I’ve come across is the lack of character development throughout the series.

It’s an easy criticism to see. The books tend towards being very plot-heavy, and the perception of plot-heavy books is that they lack character development in exchange (contrasted to some ‘literary’ fiction in which the opposite is true; I of course think that relationship is bullshit — as I’ve seen other writers note, plot is character (or as Chuck Wendig puts it, “Plot is like Soylent Green: it’s made of people”)). Pottermore — I mean, furthermore, just look at the main characters. Harry’s the same somewhat bratty, headstrong, short-tempered guy in the last book as he is in the first; Hermione is a know-it-all token female from start to last; and Ron is…well, the other guy. Right?

When first faced with this criticism, my instinct to jump to the defense of something I love made me say, “No, but–” and then kind of stop, because it does seem at first like the characters don’t really change. But on further reflection, there is a “but.”

All of the characters grow significantly throughout the series. Ron may always be the sidekick type, always in Harry’s shadow, always the comic relief, the underdog, the best friend, the other guy. But over the course of the books, he goes from really being in the shadow of everyone around him — his older brothers, Hermione, Harry — to being able to hold his own. He proves he has skills unique to himself in Philosopher’s Stone; he gets over his confidence issues of being in the shadows of others in Order of the Phoenix (represented primarily on the Quidditch team); he proves himself loyal and capable on his own terms when he returns in Deathly Hallows. Chuck Wendig says all characters follow a rule of threes (in his 250 Things You Should Know About Writing, which you can get here!) in their development, the beginning, middle, and end. Ron goes from unconfident and not as good as those around him, to finally confident in himself, to one of the most loyal characters in the books.

Hermione is always the smart one, the token girl, the one who actually understands human emotions unlike the ‘boys’. But she too grows over the series. In Philosopher’s Stone, she’s friendless and easily upset, the nerd no one likes. By Goblet of Fire, she’s become confident in herself, and aware of her own emotions and those around her, but almost willing to give up her friendships to assert herself. By Deathly Hallows, she’s come to understand that book smarts aren’t everything (and that other people are allowed to be smart, too), and that friendship and love are just as important. Prissy nerd to come-of-age woman to heroine.

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