Harry James Potter is the fictional title character of seven novels. I’m guessing none of that is true for you.
Your name is probably not Harry James Potter, you are not the title character in any novels, and you are not fictional.
Some days it might feel like you are fictional and that your life is a book (Comedy? Horror story? Romance? Adventure?), but you aren’t and it isn’t.
You also are not a wizard, as Harry Potter discovered he was on his 11th birthday. There are other little things that make Harry Harry and you you, but there is much you have in common.
Created and unique
Harry Potter was created. He did not evolve from muck, newts, or even some part of the mythical world of wizards. Author J. K. Rowling was his creator. She also created Harry’s parents.
God is your creator (a fact we often forget) and the creator of all the very real people in your ancestry. And, like Harry and his parents and every other fictional or real person, you are unique.
Dorothy L. Sayers was the creator of Lord Peter Wimsey, an aristocrat who is also an amateur detective. He solves murders as a hobby, and he appears in a dozen books and several short stories.
Dorothy wondered, Can an author create a leading character and then have that character do exactly as the author wishes within a book?
I’ve asked that question of several people over the years, and often they will say, “Of course. That’s what authors do.”
I admit that sounds logical, but it isn’t true. Every character, especially a leading character, is unique and has his or her unique personality, quirks, habits, and will.
As an author, you cannot make a fictional character do something that is not true to that character. It is one of the great challenges of fiction writing. It is also one of the reasons authors write books in series with a few well-known and repeating characters. Like, for instance, Harry Potter.
Harry grows up
In Harry’s first book (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone), we meet him as an 11 year old. He is an orphan living with an abusive aunt and uncle and a bullying cousin. How does he deal with all of that?
That is the question we ask about Harry Potter in dozens of difficult situations over the full series of books. We get to know Harry through how he behaves around others, by the choices he makes, and by what he does in the face of evil.
In fiction writing that is called “developing the character,” and Rowling does it masterfully. Readers of the Harry Potter series get to know him as he navigates life in general and as he faces some outsized challenges along the way.
Even if you’ve never read Harry Potter you still know what I mean. While we didn’t see them all grow up, every character on the following list is “known” by millions of people, either through books, TV, or movies.
The Lone Ranger, Sherlock Holmes, Alex Cross, Miss Marple, Superman, Luke Skywalker, Lucy Ricardo, Batman, Dorothy Gale (Wizard of Oz), Robin Hood, Huckleberry Finn.
Think about any of those you know, or any of the dozens I left out, and you can describe their character.
How was their character developed? The author gave them challenges, with choices to make.
A very special character
It wasn’t J. K. Rowling who prompted me to write this, it was Victor Hugo.
Hugo wrote Les Misérables, which was the first serious novel I read. At 12 years old I read an abridged version of about 400 pages. Now I’m reading the unabridged version, and at 1,463 pages there is a lot of room for character development. In fact the first character in the book is the Bishop of Digne, and the first 58 pages are all about him.
In both the musical and the movie of Les Misérables, the Bishop plays a small but very important part in the life of Jean Valjean. Without reading the book, though, one might wonder at the generosity of the Bishop. But if you know his character, you’ll know his actions are perfect.
I always loved the triumph of good in Jean Valjean, and now I know how he overcame evil.
In fact he could not have become who he became without the Bishop being who he was. Character matters.
You, too, are a very special character
Harry Potter was influenced and molded in subtle ways by his friends Ron and Hermione. He was also shaped by his instructors, his enemies, and his achievements and challenges.
The same is true for Jean Valjean. The Bishop challenged him in a good way, Inspector Javert challenged him in a not-so-good way. He grew from both.
Who in your life has been a great friend, like Hermione and Ron were to Harry? Who has challenged you to be the best version of yourself, as the Bishop did for Jean?
When have you faced trials, and how have those shaped you? Has power suddenly come to you as it did to Harry? Has freedom suddenly been given to you as it was to Jean? Did you use those wisely and well?
In your life you are sometimes the hero and sometimes the one that helps the hero grow.
While we are here on this earth, one of our primary goals should be character development, both ours and others.
Helen Keller said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
The path forward should always be toward the good. It is not a straight path, as you know. We all stumble along the way. So did the fictional Harry Potter and Jean Valjean and the real life Helen Keller. But as our character gets stronger we stumble less and inspire more.
In this coming year, dedicate yourself to growing in character. It will be a challenge, but it will be worth it. Just ask Harry Potter.
Do good! It really is in you.