Plots of the Harry Potter Series

by Michael D. O'Brien

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In volume one, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, we are introduced to the world of sorcery and the boy who plays the pivotal role in the struggle between good and evil as it is defined in the series. The story begins with the murder of Harry's parents, a witch and wizard who are destroyed by another wizard named Voldemort, chief of all the wizards who have gone too far into practice of the "Dark Arts" - the "evil side of sorcery". Baby Harry survives the attack for some unexplained reason, and Voldemort flees, much reduced in power. We later learn that the sacrificial love Harry's mother has for her baby son deflected Voldemort's curses onto himself, with the result that Voldemort has become no more than a barely human shadow of his former self. Harry is rescued by witches and wizards who take him to a suburb of London to be raised by his aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Dursley. The Dursleys are "Muggles" - the wizard term for ordinary humans who have no magic powers. A thoroughly despicable couple, they are unrelievedly cruel to Harry, opinionated, conceited and full of malice for anything to do with magic. Harry knows nothing about his background.

On his eleventh birthday, he begins to discover that he has some mysterious powers. He soon meets witches and wizards who harass the Dursleys with magic in order to obtain their permission for Harry to attend Hogwarts, a school of witchcraft and wizardry. At Hogwarts castle Harry meets the headmaster Professor Dumbledore who is also the unofficial chief of the "good wizards" in the world. The wizard world coexists with the world of the Muggles, but it is so enchanted that ordinary humans are blinded to its existence. When occasionally the lines are crossed through the "misuse of magic", the Ministry of Magic steps in to cover it up and to erase the memories of Muggles who happen to discover the great secret.

In the plot of the first volume, Harry makes new friends and enemies (all of whom are aspiring young witches and wizards), meets the various professors at the school (Divination, Potions, Spells, Herbology, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and other disciplines within the world of arcane occult knowledge). He makes special friends with fellow students Ron and Hermione, and together the trio experiences many adventures throughout the four novels written to date. In this first novel Harry comes to understand that the Dark Lord - Voldemort himself - seeks to return to full life, recapture his old magical strength and seize power over the world. One of the professors, a wizard named Quirrel, is secretly loyal to Voldemort and tries to help him by striving for two goals: to steal the Philosopher's Stone (containing the "elixir of eternal life") which is safe in Dumbledore's keeping, and to drain the life from Harry in order to restore Voldemort's own life. If he can achieve this, Voldemort intends to kill Harry, for Harry is the only one ever to have resisted his killing curse. In the attempt, Voldemort possesses Quirrel and lures Harry into a confrontation where he tries to seize the stone and kill the boy. But the power latent in Harry is too strong for him; Voldemort flees and Harry collapses, remaining unconscious for three days before he revives.

Volume two, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, chronicles Harry's second year at Hogwarts. The plot revolves around mysterious events connected to a secret chamber in Hogwarts castle. Supposedly, an evil presence lurks there and has been released to roam about the school, terrorizing students and killing as it pleases. Students and some of the professors suspect that the famous Harry Potter may be the cause, and it is rumored that he has become a practitioner of the Dark Arts. After all, it is argued, even as a baby he was more powerful than the Dark Lord, the most powerful evil wizard in the world. Isolated and despised, Harry begins to doubt himself, suspecting that he might be destined to become evil. Dumbledore reassures him that this is not so. Eventually Harry discovers a secret passageway to the underground chamber, and enters it to save a little witch girl named Ginny who has become entranced by Voldemort. He does not realize that Voldemort has used her as bait. Inside the chamber Harry kills the Basilisk, a giant snake that is associated with Voldemort, then uses a fang of the snake to stab a magic dialoguing diary that was the method Voldemort used to entrance Ginny. When Harry destroys the diary, Voldemort is banished a second time.

In volume three, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry is embroiled in an old conflict between his "godfather", a wizard named Sirius Black, and a wizard named Peter Pettigrew, and other magicians who are at odds with each other due to some mysterious ancient feud. Black has been thrown into the wizard prison of Azkaban on a charge of murdering Pettigrew for betraying Harry's parents to Voldemort, causing their deaths. The truth is that Pettigrew faked his own death, thus framing Black for his murder, then transformed himself into a rat named Scabbers (the sleepy pet of Harry's friend Ron), in which disguise he has been hiding out for twelve years while Black remained in prison.

As the story begins, Black has broken out of prison, and both the wizard world and the Muggle world (where he is believed to be a mass murderer) are trying to track him down. The wizard world thinks Black is searching for Harry in order to kill him. Into the tale comes Romulus Lupus (who is also a werewolf) the new teacher of Defense-Against-the-Dark-Arts at Hogwarts. We discover that Lupus, Black, Pettigrew and Harry's father had once been fellow students at Hogwarts and were a foursome of friends during their youth. The situation is further complicated by Professor Snape the Potions Master, who hates Harry, and who was also associated with the foursome. Harry has a difficult time untangling the web of deception and intrigue: who betrayed whom, who can be trusted, who is telling the truth about the past? None of them are what they appear to be. Harry's assumptions (and the reader's) about who is good and who is evil are constantly flipping, and only in the last chapters do we discover that Scabbers the rat is in fact the real villain. In a final confrontation Scabbers is transformed back into his human form (as Pettigrew) by the commanding spells of Lupus and Black, who are about to administer justice by killing him. Harry asks them to be merciful and to send Pettigrew to Azkaban Prison. But Pettigrew escapes and flees in search of his old master Voldemort.

Volume four, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, is about Voldemort's elaborate plan to ensnare Harry through the services of Pettigrew, to take some of the boy's blood and make a potion that will restore the Dark Lord to his former powers. Indeed, the latter hopes to obtain more power than he has ever known, for Harry's powers are greater than his, though as yet undeveloped. The plot revolves around a year-long competition in wizardry that involves the student-champions of the three great schools of sorcery. Harry is one of the champions for his school, and in feat after daring feat he overcomes terrifying obstacles (usually by putting the good of others above his own desire to win). He emerges the victor of the competition, only in the end to be tricked into Voldemort's hands. The Dark Lord takes some of Harry's blood, makes the potion and is restored to his full powers. Harry rallies, resists Voldemort's killing curse with the power of his will and magical commands, then flees to Hogwarts. The book concludes with a stirring speech from the headmaster Dumbledore, who praises Harry for his virtues, and calls the students and professors to unity in the face of the overwhelming danger that now looms over the world.

For more arguments against Harry Potter:

  • A collection of articles examining the Potter phenomenon is available at the website of St. Joseph's Covenant Keepers, a large international organization for Catholic fathers.
  • If you want to consider some in-depth arguments about the nature of the new paganization of children's culture, see the Ignatius Press internet website where an entire section is devoted to what well-known Catholic authors think of the Potter series.
  • See also the highly recommended Catholic Educator's Resource Center, which has a section dealing with the Potter phenomenon.

For discussions in favour of Harry Potter, see: "The Moral Messages of "Harry Potter" by Doug McManaman.

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