When talking about the coming of age genre a friend of mine mentioned Harry Potter as an example. I found myself incapable of sharing this idea since not only I do not think that the core of the plot of HP is about his growth but I think HP does not portrait any kind of notable growth of the protagonist(s) when compared to other titles of the genre.

On the internet one explicit mention on this topic that I found is given in this article.

In this article, the author says that in the various books Harry finds out that many of the adults he trusted had at some point or another lied to him, through this realization and acceptance he says that our protagonist grows.

I find this rather weak, just because you accepted or realized that people lie doesn't mean you are mature or an active and integrated member of society. On a side note, this article speaks more about the adults than it speaks about Harry, but nevertheless knowing that adults lie doesn't show a change or growth in the protagonist or in how he behaves.

The other explicit mention on this topic I found on Coming of Age in Harry Potter where the authors draw a parallel between the normal experiences of a child in his adolescence and the experience of Harry's adolescence. The parallels are well drawn and believable but what they describe are iconic events in a growing child, what they fail to show are what changes these events bring to Harry. Even the point made about his acceptance into Hogwarts: he learns something about his past he didn't know and this heralds his growth. This event misses the whole point because we are indeed introduced to a meek protagonist who was a victim of prolonged bullying but the resolution to this status is that of overpowering him: he is a mage and thus there is no reason to be fearful of non magical beings. We can extremize this setting to "you are a God Harry", and thus there is no reason to fear mortals. The solution to a life of bullying is not trying to find a connection between the two parties but to tear away Harry from that situation and put him in the magic world.

The coming of age genre usually portraits a protagonist detached from or at odds with either society or their parents or in some cases with themselves, and by overcoming the difficulties in the story the protagonist reconciles with the person or concept of interest. This is better describe in the first parts of this video critic of Brave where Merida is at odds with her mother and through her with society. The video explores some possible more realistic resolutions since the published one isn't really adequate, but my point is about the introduction and the divergences in views between her and the mother.

Since the beginning HP is a story of a hero that will slay his dragon. Since the hero is an eleven year old kid going to school we will have to spectate his stumbling over common life experiences but this story was never about these experiences, it is about going against the final boss. This boss appears in every book minus the third to remind us that this is the epic of Potter "the Voldemort slaying mage" and not his growing up story. In a coming of age story the story elements should be the instrument to talk about the protagonist and not the center of attention.

What suggests HP is a coming of age story? What suggests it isn't? What I am interested in are either further motivations to support my thesis or motivations to disprove it.

1 Answer 1


Why can't HP be both?

I particularly like your comment about HP being a hero-slaying-the-dragon story, and I agree that if you have to choose 1 trope to force HP into, this may be the best one.

However, I think HP is very much a coming-of-age story, and more so than most coming-of-age stories. Here are some of my best thoughts:

Harry grows to know more about the world around him, whether that be the social world of relationships he must navigate as he realizes life is not as simple as he thought as a child, or the academic world of magic where he learns that there is a realm of morality and responsibility that comes with the boon of magical powers. He has to come to terms with his feelings on his own parents death - this is seen (spoilers)

in the final book where Harry realizes that "I open at the close" golden snitch is a gift from Dumbledore to give him encouragement and help him come to terms with feelings of loss even as he is about to lose his life.

The final chapter of the final book, where Harry and his friends are all grown up, can be seen as Harry having succeeded in his growth journey - he is now an adult himself, sending his own kids off to Hogwarts for their own adventures.

Harry has multiple father figures (Dumbledore, Sirius Black, Lupin) and some mother figures (Mrs. Weasley, at times McGonagall) throughout the book, and their aim

(other than perhaps Dumbledore who strategically groomed Harry to face Voldemort)

was for Harry's own wellbeing, which was to grow as an individual.

I would even argue that the Harry of any other book than book 7 would not be capable of facing Voldemort. In the end, Harry does not beat Voldemort through sheer force of magic, which is how Voldemort expects to be faced and how Dumbledore consistently fought him. Rather, Harry beats Voldemort through his own mature realizations that love is more powerful than fear/violence. This is only achieved through the immense growth that occurs in all books leading up to the finale. Keep in mind that growth is slow, not something achieved overnight, and Rowling expertly grows Harry from a scrappy and unsure young kid living underneath a stairway into a capable and confident young adult (of the wizarding world) ready to face his demons, when they come.

Consistently throughout the book the focus steers more towards the daily life of Harry and his companions (see especially books 5 and 6) instead of focusing on skills and strategies to overcome the enemy. Great care is taken by Rowling to develop subplots involving Snape, Harry's parents, and Sirius Black & company. These subplots force Harry to come to terms with his own parents' and others' actions, and to decide the kind of person that he will become.

This last point is not about the storyline itself but rather the style in which it was written:

As the character HP is growing older, so too is Rowling's audience. Her readers learn from and empathize with the characters in the book, growing as these characters grow. This is something that she was one of the first to pioneer, due in part to the fact that massively more youth today are more literate than in the past, books being more accessible, and books being sold as series instead of as the more traditional stand-alone novel.

  • Nice first answer! Welcome to the site.
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    Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 18:16

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