Why Harry Potter Is One of the Worst Protagonists


Image Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures

When it comes to the Harry Potter franchise, the titular character is seen as an incredible creation of excellent writing. Despite his young age, he is described as one of the most influential protagonists ever in literary history. His personalities and physical features have become recognizable on an international scale and his simple name provokes a whirlwind of emotions from any fan. However, with today marking the 20th anniversary of the iconic franchise in the United States, it is time to indicate the critical flaws with the Harry Potter character. Despite his popularity and fame the world over, Harry Potter is actually a weak protagonist for both the page and the screen. In fact, he is one of the worst protagonists for either medium.



When it comes to the art of storytelling, proper characters are one of the most forefront qualities necessary for any worthy story. Without characters there is no window for the audience to view the themes and plot that the writer may attempt to display. As a result, when taking an in-depth look at the Harry Potter character, there is one single issue, throughout the seven books, eight films, and twenty magical years, that persists throughout. Namely the fact that throughout all of this time the character of Harry Potter has remained the same.


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When the character was first introduced with the initial publishing of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by Bloomsbury in the United Kingdom, the “Boy Who Lived” is portrayed as a selfless, friendly, and overall courageous young wizard at multiple examples. He saved Hermione Granger from a troll in a bathroom; he helps his friend Ron Weasley at multiple points, and he even is able to save the Philosopher’s Stone from Professor Quirrell aka Lord Voldemort. This is undoubtedly a compelling introduction for a character in the first entry of a story. It may be derivative from multiple fairy and folk tales, but is still worthy for a fantasy series nonetheless.


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However, when examining the final entry in the franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, how can the character be best described? He is portrayed as a selfless, friendly, and overall courageous young wizard. He commits to finding Horcruxes instead of returning the safe haven that is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He willingly jumps into a frozen pool to retrieve the Sword of Gryffindor. He even is able to save the entire Wizarding World from the evil and fully fledged entity Voldemort.


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Are there any noticeable similarities between his ending and his introduction? Yes, there may be deviations noticeable in the middle entries. For instance, during Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry’s restlessness and annoyance with how his story was being dismayed and he was being treated like a liar, was a refreshing change to the character. However, by the end of the story, he returns to his stereotypical self. Any characterization or development was completely forgotten and ignored, and that reasoning is carried throughout the 4,167 pages readers spent with the boy wizard.


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For all the praise the series receives and prides itself on with its ability to show growth in its characters as they emerge from young tweens to fully-fledged adults, there is simply no reward or character change for the lead protagonist. Stories are designed to show change and development. It is designed to showcase the journey from a certain point to another point in the character’s life. What J.K. Rowling’s iconic literary series fails to understand is this critical idea. This idea has been the leading force behind many of the greatest books ever written. It is also why that the Harry Potter series will never grow to be one of the greatest literary works ever. It simply doesn’t have enough substance or material behind the enchanting mythology and lore that Rowling’s imagination that has wrapped this shallow character in. When a character, after twenty full years of both books and film adaptations, still isn’t able to show any growth as a character, then the storyteller has failed in respect to that character. It doesn’t matter how many interesting ideas and themes that an author is able to put into a world to entertain readers. It doesn’t matter in the slightest if the core characters are so shallow to begin with that they never leave a lasting impact.


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When compared to its primary competitor, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, many are keen to point out how shallow Frodo Baggins is as a character in respect to Harry Potter. However, I have to disagree entirely. Frodo Baggins is an incredible showcase of pure character development. What The Lord of the Rings succeeds most is with its journey and destination. Its ending is considered one of the greatest endings in both film and literature. The immense pages that readers spent enthralled with the Fellowship were all in good faith as all the characters, outside of a few minor side characters like Gimli for instance, as they all changed and grew as characters. Aragorn grew from a sulky Ranger refusing to accept his destiny as king of Gondor, to a powerful warrior that fought with a jeweled crown on his head. Sam Gamgee changed from a clumsy, bumbling fool into a courageous and necessary companion for Frodo himself. And Frodo Baggins grew from an innocent and happy hobbit in the Shire to an emotionally scarred boy who isn’t able to settle back into what he originally was. All three of these characters show more growth and development than the Harry Potter character ever could.


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Why is it that in many personal lists, the character of Severus Snape is usually listed as the best character in the entire franchise? Why is it that Harry Potter is rarely placed as the best character in his own series?


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It is because that Harry Potter is a stereotype of both fairy and folk tales. In both esteemed genres, characters are usually shallow and have light motivations that carry them on their fantasy goals through the castle or the spooky forest. While compelling for the time and certainly enjoyable for younger kids today, these characters from classic folk and fairy tales are poorly written characters in relation to what is available today. This is due to the ever-growing imagination of the human race and how there is always innovation and evolution. While some highlights are, no folk or fairy tales are considered as the best character pieces in the entire medium. That is due to how young the medium of storytelling was at the time and how certain tropes and practices didn’t exist for those fictionists to use.


Image Courtesy of Sue Todd Illustration

The Harry Potter franchise reverts back to his ideology to its own terrible detriment. The series is far from terrible, in fact it still remains as one of the most notable fantasy series that I have ever experienced thanks to its fascinating world and mythology. But as a series that has spanned over 4,000 pages in the literary series, 1,100 hours in the films, and over 20 years as a franchise, it’s simply disappointing how the character of Harry Potter is nothing more than a disappointing trope.





Supporting Film, Literature, and Gaming Since June 1st, 2018.

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