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Harry is a Hero

Harry Potter has many expectations thrust upon him due to his fame, but it is through his actions that he proves his heroism.  Harry had the qualifications of a hero as a baby, surviving an attack from “the most feared Dark wizard…Voldemort” and making Voldemort flee (6).  This past makes people very admiring of Harry.  However, he is not only heroic for a past he scarcely remembers; he is heroic because he disregards his own safety while fearing for others and he shows mercy to people who harm him.

Harry shows heroic qualities such as fortitude—he is determined to learn to fight dementors, for example, wanting to conquer his fears no matter what.  He also sacrifices himself for others when they are in danger.  When a dog attacks his friend Ron and pulls him into a passageway, Harry knows there is not enough time to get help and runs after him; the only thing he can “think of [is] Ron and what the…dog might be doing to him” (337).  He disregards his own safety many times, refusing to leave Ron when Professor Lupin turns into a werewolf, for example; he also runs into a crowd of dementors to save his godfather Sirius while knowing dementors have a more horrible effect on him than anyone else.   In addition, he does all he can to save a hippogriff Buckbeak from execution, deciding to rescue Buckbeak and have Sirius escape on him. His risk of being caught by the executioners is very high; he determinedly says, “We’ve got to try, haven’t we?” at Hermione’s doubt (396).  When he, Sirius and Hermione collapse due to swarms of dementors, Harry saves them all—to Hermione’s shock— with the spell “expecto patronum.”  She tells him that it is “very, very advanced magic” (412).  Through Harry’s concern for others, he shows his defensive talent and saves many people, including Ron, Hermione, Sirius and a man called Peter Pettigrew.

Harry’s mercy is the next trait that makes him so heroic.  Not only is he extremely brave and loyal, he also shows compassion to those who might not seem to deserve it.  When he meets the man he thinks is the reason for his parents’ deaths, he cannot kill him; “his nerve…[fails] him,” or his compassion shows through (343).  He also gives the man—Sirius Black—a chance to explain himself, stopping Professor Snape from sending Sirius to the dementors.   This mercy is fortunate, because Sirius turns out to be innocent and becomes a great friend to Harry.  However, Harry shows his mercy yet again with Peter Pettigrew.  He realizes that Pettigrew is the real reason for his parents’ deaths, but he runs in front of Pettigrew when Sirius and Lupin want to kill him, saying, “You can’t kill him…you can’t” (375).  Harry’s heroics lie in his compassion for every person and his desire to fight for this compassion; he truly does make a name for himself regardless of the events surrounding his birth.

Ged’s Growth

In “A Wizard of Earthsea,” the protagonist Ged grows from overconfidence to maturity as the tale progresses, turning him into a wiser and humbler man.

Ged, a boy with magical talent, appears overly eager to display his skills to anyone who doubts him.  Upon meeting the Lord of Re Albi’s daughter near the beginning of the story, Ged feels “a desire to win her admiration” and to get her to praise him (20). At her interest, he casually discusses difficult powers—for example, summoning spirits or changing forms—as if they are simple and trivial, and “he [falls] to boasting again,” despite not knowing whether he could do them or not (21).  His attempts to appear knowledgeable are tested, however, when she asks him to do one of the spells.  She asks him tauntingly if he is scared to try, and this question brings out more than ever his desire to impress her; “he [will] not endure” having her think that he could not do something, or, even worse, he could not have her think that he was afraid (22).  He quickly goes to get a book of spells, the girl’s “mockery always in his mind” (22).  Though inwardly afraid, he tries to call back spirits, doing what he later learns is a terrible spell (22).  The readers see that Ged is obsessed with what people think of him; he is determined to show them that he has amazing skill, no matter what.

However, when Ged meets the girl again years later, he portrays a different attitude toward magic.  She shows him the Terrenon stone, a stone of terrible power, and he “[stands] dumb and wary” as he looks at it rather than with fascination (115). She asks him to touch it because of the stone’s great power, but he refuses, aware that “she might … [be] testing him” (115). This time it does not bother him if he cannot do what she asks; he does not fall for the temptation of touching the stone.  In his youth, Ged was overly concerned with how many spells he could do and how talented he could appear to others.  Here, however, he realizes that people should not play around with dangerous and powerful forms of magic.  He seems not to care if she scorns him, as shown when she asks him if he “fear[s] the stone” (115).  He tells her that he does fear it, and this simple statement proves more than anything else his change of attitude.  When he was young, Ged could not stand the thought of people thinking he was afraid of powerful magic.  As he matured, however, Ged realized that such dangerous forms of magic ought to be feared, not adored, and that true magical skill was found in a person who knew this fact.  Ged resists touching the Terrenon, and through his wiser attitude toward magic and his newfound humility, he saves himself from whatever terrible power would have come out of the stone.

The Mother and the Hero

Many stories that we read have a clear pattern of gender roles. In J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” the author continues this distinction of gender stereotypes to tell his story.

We meet Wendy Darling at the beginning of the story as a young girl. She has curiosity, kindness and maternal qualities, all traits given to female protagonists. We first learn of her inquisitive nature when a young boy named Peter arrives unannounced in her room. Instead of being “alarmed to see a stranger…she was only pleasantly interested” (21). When she sees him crying she “[gets] out of bed and [runs] to him,” intending to comfort him (22). This scene begins to show the maternal side of Wendy that we will soon see very often. She learns that Peter was there to put his shadow back on, and she takes great pride in knowing how to do this task and not him. She announces “I shall sew it on for you,” hinting that she feels she must take care of him as a type of mother figure (22). After this job is complete she worries she “should have ironed it,” yet again showing her motherly feelings (23). Peter lures Wendy to his home of Neverland by telling her that she “could tuck [them] in at night,” referring to the Lost Boys he lives with in Neverland (28). Wendy gets very excited at this prospect of acting as a mother to the boys and doing things they do: fixing their clothes, making meals and telling them to take their medicine. When she arrives in Neverland she makes sure the boys go to bed on time and, “nobly anxious to do her duty,” she teaches the boys about parents so that they do not forget theirs (68).

Peter Pan displays all the qualities of a male protagonist: he shows courage, authority and a desire to always appear strong. Upon first meeting Wendy he does not want to look like he was crying, “already of the opinion that he had never cried in his life” (23). He also is shown as a contrast to Wendy’s thoughts of his shadow, as he is “indifferent to appearances” (23). These traits show a very clear stereotype of boys. Peter also enjoys showing off his skills, saving people at the last minute in clever or brave ways. He symbolizes a male authority figure, as all of the boys respect him and wonder “What would Peter do?” in situations (53). Peter proves to be a heroic person, indifferent to his safety and always loving adventure. He never seems to be afraid and instead thinks ‘“to die will be an awfully big adventure”’ (85). He showcases his bravery and cockiness by doing unnecessary things to put himself in danger just for the entertainment and frequently saves the lives of others. These heroic traits are conventional of male protagonists.

The motherly Wendy and the heroic Peter adhere to these gender stereotypes throughout the entire story, creating an adventurous and exciting tale.

J.M. Barrie. Peter Pan. Modern Library, 2004. 9780812972979.

The Danger of an Appetite

When thinking about food in fairy tales, many would believe that eating plays a minor role throughout the course of these stories, or, at least, is not something of which there should be much concern.  However, in both “Hansel and Gretel” and “The Juniper Tree” by Brothers Grimm, an appetite seems to foreshadow dangerous or even sickening events, implying that eating can lead to horrible consequences.

In the beginning of “Hansel and Gretel,” the children overhear their parents arguing one night.  A poor family, no one in the house has much to eat, and the mother selfishly argues that in order for them to be well fed they must get rid of the children (184).  Her desire to eat is so strong that she would rather give up the children’s lives than go without food.  After one failed attempt to lose the children in the woods, the parents send them deeper into the forest.  Hansel drops breadcrumbs along the way, hoping that they will be able to follow them back to their house.  However, they realize that birds must have eaten the breadcrumbs; without this guide, they cannot find home (186-7).  Again, something’s appetite thrusts the children into danger and not for the last time.  Starved by now, Hansel and Gretel come upon a little house made of food and they cannot resist the temptation to eat.  Gretel “knock[s] out an entire windowpane” and Hansel “[tears] off a big piece of [the roof]” due to their appetite (187).  At this point, even the readers are also delighted about the idea of a house made of delicious food, but the author wishes to change this thought.  The owner of the house is a witch, and after making the children comfortable by giving them pancakes, she imprisons Hansel and has Gretel feed him every day.  The witch’s appetite means danger for the children because she wants to eat them; the more Hansel eats the quicker she will do so (187-8).  Eating always seems to mean trouble for Hansel and Gretel.

Similarly, in “The Juniper Tree,” an apple tempts a young boy and the result is dire.  The boy, who like Hansel and Gretel has a cruel mother figure in his life, comes to eat an apple offered to him by his stepmother.  Once he does so she kills him and makes him into a stew, which she horribly gives to the boy’s father to eat.  He asks for more because the “stew tastes so good”; his desire for food leads him to eat his own son (191-2). This nauseating example of eating does not encourage an appetite; in fact, all of these examples encourage quite the opposite.

Usually when characters eat in these two stories, something dangerous or sickening happens.  In both stories, the authors blatantly discourage an obsession or even an appetite for food.  In order to emphasize this lesson, appetites have the most severe consequences imaginable.

Maria Tatar. Ed. The Classical Fairy Tales. Norton, 1999.