(from Chapter Seven) Harry Potter, the Phoenix: The Hero's Fiery Trial "For the past several generations we've forgotten what the psychologists call our archaic understanding, a willingness to know things in their deepest, most mythic sense. We're all born with archaic understanding, and I'd guess that the loss of it goes directly along with the loss of ourselves as creators."
~ Madeleine L'Engle, Walking on Water, pg. 98
L'Engle does not think it enough to read the works of creators; in some way or another, we're all made to be creators (or "subcreators," as Tolkien would say). "Creativity is a way of living life, no matter what our vocation or how we earn our living" (98). It is for this reason that it's not helpful to move straight from themes in the Wizarding World to themes in our own Muggle world. If a story is going to have any effect at all, it must start between the page and the reader, the text and the individual.1 Joseph Campbell is the one who translated Jung's universal consciousness or, in L'Engle's terms, archaic understanding, into the realm of story, and a fundamental contribution of his work was mythological archetypes. In short, we learn about ourselves through archetypal character patterns - hero, shadow, mentor, anima/animus, great mother, shapeshifter, all of which will be explored in the next several chapters.
The most important archetypes in the Harry Potter series - hero, shadow, mentor, and shapeshifter - are given their own chapters in what follows. Other archetypes are explored within these four chapters. It's not easy to simply divide up archetypes and recite them for several reasons. In the first place, archetypes are all relational to the hero. Campbell wrote, "The only way one can become a human being is in relationships to other human beings."
So while Harry, Voldemort, Dumbledore, and Snape drive the story's plot more than anyone else, they do so in constant interaction with the other archetypes of the series: the herald, trickster, and anima/animus. (Reflections on the mother archetype will be delayed until chapter 14, because they are so important to the discussion on gender).
Another reason archetypes are not easy to pin down is because of the nature of Rowling's story itself. As with the fantasy/fairy tale genre, so with archetypes: to an extent, she's subverting them, or at least playing with them a lot. The trickster archetype is the mischief-causing, pride-cutting, comic relief of the story, who also turns out to create needed turning points in the plot. Sometimes, the shapeshifter (an enigma whose loyalties are a mystery) and the trickster are the same character (Shapeshifter-Trickster). Not only does Rowling write trickster characters (Fred and George - see below), but her whole series is comprised of what Alice Mills calls "trickster texts; they are far from simplistic in their treatment of (generally) formulaic material" (8). Not only are the characters more complex than their archetypes, but archetypes are frequently shifting. Dumbledore is both hero and mentor. Grindelwald, Voldemort, Umbridge, and Fudge all serve as shadows for Dumbledore, while Voldemort also serves as Harry's shadow, along with Draco. Not all the Great Mothers are women.
Why does Rowling do this? There are the obvious reasons that were mentioned in chapter 2: she's not writing strictly fantasy fiction; she's trying to "subvert the genre;" she's writing the story she wants to write. The more important reason, perhaps, is that despite all the brilliant plot complexities and twists and turns, Rowling's stories really come alive because of her characters. In fact, the only places where the story seems a bit forced is when an intriguing, multi-layered character has to be crammed into a plot line, Snape being the primary example of this. Snape drove the story for six books - more so from the end of Book 4 to the end of Book 6. When Rowling needed Snape to be the important but not-quite-as-prominent character in Book 7, everything about Snape that was intriguing was set aside until a jet tour through his memory in a chapter near the end of the book. Perhaps Harry's comment to Dumbledore about the Elder Wand plot works here as well: "That bit didn't work out." But, of course, despite it not working out, just like Dumbledore's plans for the Elder Wand, her overarching story still came through with brilliance and power.2
It's evident that Rowling is thinking according to archetypal patterns which are, to some extent, to be followed. Observe the following from the Anelli/Spartz interview in 2005:
JKR: Yeah, well, I think if you take a step back, in the genre of writing that I'm working in, almost always the hero must go on alone. That's the way it is, we all know that, so the question is when and how, isn't it, if you know anything about the construction of that kind of plot.
ES: The wise old wizard with the beard always dies.
JKR: Well, that's basically what I'm saying, yes. (emphasis added)
She's clearly referring to mythological, archetype-driven literature here, as she makes reference to a particular genre in which she's writing. The hero must be taught by the mentor (the "wise old wizard"), but he must embrace the final battle alone, even surpassing his mentor. This Harry Potter does, as we will see in this chapter's conclusion.
The great themes of Harry Potter are not communicated through textbook, theoretical, propositional statements, but are embodied in the beliefs and actions of its characters. We have already looked at the virtues extolled by J.K. Rowling, as well as the vices condemned; now we turn to an examination of her incarnations of good and evil. Along the way, readers are being called to be creative heroes in their own worlds. It is through our being shaped as creative heroes that we learn creative solutions to the problems of evil that exist in our own spheres of influence.