Nothing But Memory

Mis-shapes, Mistakes, Misfits

A friend linked me to a blog post called Harry Potter: The Anti-Geek the other day. The author of the post argues that Harry Potter and his friends do not fit in with the “band of misfits” trope that commonly shows up in the fantasy genre; specifically, she cites the Scooby Gang from Buffy the Vampire Slayer as an example of the type of group of social outcasts which Harry and friends are not. Seeing as Buffy and Harry Potter are two of my favourite things and I love comparing them, I have some thoughts on this subject.

I can’t disagree with the main point the author makes about Harry himself: I wouldn’t call him a nerd or a geek. It’s true that Harry is a jock, and that his fame and wealth give him some social status in the wizarding world. Some of the author’s other arguments, however, are more debatable. For example:

Harry and Ron, on the other hand, are more stereotypical privileged young men who only put forward a C effort in school because they know they can coast into adulthood on their families’ reputation.

This, I think, is blatantly wrong. First of all, the suggestion that Ron can coast through life on the Weasley family reputation seems dubious at best. The Weasleys are pure-bloods, but they are also poor, and we learn that Bill, Charlie, and Percy all work for a living after they graduate from Hogwarts. Arthur Weasley, meanwhile, is viewed by the wizarding community as an oddball (perhaps even … a misfit) because of his interest in Muggles. There is some suggestion that his obsession has even held him back at work.

I also think it’s unfair to condemn Harry and Ron as slackers. Sure, they might sleep through History of Magic — to be fair, everyone except Hermione also sleeps through that class — and BS their way through Divination — a subject even Hermione thinks is a load of crap —  but they work hard in the classes they enjoy, and there are many instances in the books where we see the two of them working frantically at their schoolwork. Are they more likely to skip doing homework than Hermione is? Yes. Is almost everyone else at Hogwarts also more likely to skip doing homework than Hermione is? Well, yes. She’s Hermione. I will agree that Harry and Ron may not be the most academically-inclined people in the world, but then neither are their Scooby Gang counterparts, Buffy and Xander.

And what of Hermione? I would think someone who loves schoolwork and reading as much as she does must have some nerd cred, but according to the author Hermione “still doesn’t rise to the level of a true geek character” because she’s beautiful and she dates Viktor Krum. This is a stretch. Hermione might grow up to be attractive, but she is explicitly described as being quite mousy in the first few books. The reaction from other Hogwarts students when she shows up at the Yule Ball looking pretty borders on cruel: Parvati gapes at her in “unflattering disbelief” that that’s Hermione Granger. As for Viktor Krum, while he’s certainly dashing on a broomstick, Harry notes that he’s much less impressive with his feet on the ground. It is possible that Krum himself is a bit of a misfit who just happens to be a world famous Quidditch player, too. At any rate: if the Scooby Gang is the standard by which all bands of misfits are to be judged, then I must admit that I’m struggling to see much of a difference in this respect between Hermione and her Scooby equivalent, Willow, who dates (ye gads!) a musician.

Regarding Harry himself: as several commenters on the original post pointed out, it’s worth noting that he spends significant parts of the series being shunned because many of his classmates suspect him of being evil (Chamber of Secrets), wildly egotistical (Goblet of Fire), or deranged (Order of the Phoenix). Clearly, the special status Harry gains from being “the boy who lived” is not always a positive thing: just like Buffy, whose gifts make her a social outcast, Harry often feels like a freak. Think about how many times he faints or has a Voldemort-related seizure in public over the course of the series. That’s got to be more than a little embarrassing for a teenager. Before he came to the wizarding world, too, Harry was most definitely a misfit: he was forced to wear Dudley’s hand-me-downs and was constantly bullied by Dudley and his friends, who made sure that Harry had no friends of his own. It’s this aspect of Harry’s background that I think defines how he perceives himself, much more than his new status in the wizarding world as a star athlete and celebrity.

Aside from all that, what really made me react to this blog post is that I have always considered the wider social circles within which the Scooby trio and the Potter trio move to be extremely similar precisely because the two heroes share an ability to look past a misfit-like exterior and see an individual’s true value. Neville is probably the nerdiest kid in Gryffindor and Luna is, let’s face it, a total weirdo, but they both become valued and well-liked friends to the trio. Anya may be a strangely literal ex-demon with little understanding of human customs, but she’s on Buffy’s team. Faith and Andrew are both former villains who find a place in the group.

This ability to be accepting of difference extends to looking past the conventional wisdom on the supposedly innate characteristics of various magical or supernatural creatures. For Buffy, this means taking Angel, a vampire, as an ally. The rest of the Scooby Gang is (mostly) comfortable with having Angel on the team, but Kendra can’t understand this at all: to her, all vampires are just plain evil and should always be killed. In season four, a similar situation arises when Riley finds out that Oz is a werewolf. His Initiative training makes him question why Buffy would associate with such a creature, but Buffy and the others know Oz as a person and ultimately Riley comes around. There is an obvious Potter parallel to this in Prisoner of Azkaban when Professor Lupin is revealed to be a werewolf: Ron, raised with the belief that werewolves are evil, is initially repulsed when he learns the truth, but in the end Lupin remains a trusted friend to the group. Harry, Ron, and Hermione also understand that although Hagrid is half giant, he is a kind and goodhearted person; that Dobby is not merely a slave, but an ally and friend who deserves the respect of a proper burial. Griphook, used to being treated as a lower life form, is obviously struck by Harry’s behaviour, commenting that his actions in Dobby’s case mark him as a very “unusual” wizard. Spike, meanwhile, who is despised and rejected by almost everyone, tells Buffy: “I know that I’m a monster, but you treat me like a man.”

To my mind, the fact that Harry and Buffy’s evil-fighting social circles are inclusive, taking in the social outcasts and misfits others might perceive as having no value, is one of the things that makes them so similar as characters.

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