Harry Potter explained


In this essay taken from the current print edition of the London Review of Books, appearing online exclusively at Books Unlimited, comparative mythologist Wendy Doniger investigates why we love the wizard of Hogwarts.

Young Harry Potter\'s parents are dead. So far, so good: many of the heroes and heroines of the classics of children\'s literature are orphans, while others have invisible, unmentionable or irrelevant parents. The sorrow of grieving, not to mention the terror of helplessness, is quickly glossed over in favour of the joy of a fantasised freedom.

Freud called this the Family Romance and argued for its utility in defining your apparent parents as people whom (unlike your real parents) you are allowed to desire or hate. This is the Oedipal configuration, best known from the eponymous case that Freud wrote about, but also from the myth of the birth of the hero explored by Freud\'s disciple, Otto Rank. The child\'s joyful expectation of coming someday into the greatness of his parents sustains him in the present situation of humiliation and impotence.

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