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Alumna discusses Harry Potter

By : Katie Ellis

Though Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sold 8.3 million copies in its first 24 hours on sale, Trista Merrill MA ’98, Ph.D. ’03, who now teaches at Finger Lakes Community College, once had a “rocky relationship” with Harry. That’s changed and she has joined the millions of fans who have purchased a total of 325 million Harry Potter books. In fact, “the more time I spend with Harry, the more I find to talk about,” she told a group of alumni during her Homecoming weekend lecture, “Deja Vu with a Twist: Jungian Archetypes in Harry Potter.”

The Harry Potter series tells an engaging story, is ripe with detail, well written and fun, but the books also contain the same patterns or images that you’ll find prevalent in all stories, myths and even your own lives, Merrill said. These images, represented by Harry and those around him, can be easily identified, including the hero, the wise old man, the mother figure, the anima or animus and the shadow.

Merrill quoted Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, who identified these archetypes and wrote about the truth we find in myths. Merrill explained that Campbell said we’re all going through the exact same journey as the hero who is seeking something, but our journey is metaphorical.

“We’re trying to do the same thing the hero does, so we grab onto these stories,” she said. “Across the world, we find various things in common.”

Harry is on the same journey as every other hero anywhere, Merrill said. Whether in Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings or comic books, “a hero ventures forth, battles fabulous forces and has decisive victories,” she said. “It’s what ties the hero to his culture.”

So, who are the Harry Potter archetypes? Starting with the obvious, Dumbledore is the wise old man who helps the hero but must be “taken out” at some point for the hero to continue, Merrill said. “The power of the wise old man, who isn’t always old or even a man, is that of a hero who is passing a torch.”

As for the mother figure, there can be good and bad ones. The good: Harry’s mother, Lily, Mrs. Weasley, Professor McGonagall and even Hagrid. The bad: Petunia, Dolores Umbridge and Harry’s mother for having abandoned him, though not by choice.

The anima (female element in every male) or animus (male element in every female) shows up constantly. Hermoine downplays her intellect in the stories, “but what she downplays is what Harry needs,” said Merrill, “and then there’s Ron, whose fear of spiders is traditionally feminine.” All three shift roles throughout the series, Merrill said. “You can’t just put them in a category and leave them there.”

Finally, Voldemort as the shadow represents “the unconscious aspect of personality the hero doesn’t recognize in himself,” Merrill said. “He represents what happens if the hero takes the wrong path. He’s the fear and cowardice Harry has to conquer.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08