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Atonement with the Father
Figures in Harry Potter
Analysis By Lynne Milum
Copyright © 2004-200
7 by Lynne Milum. All rights reserved.

There are three transformative events that are the possible culmination of the hero's journey. These are Meeting with the Goddess, Atonement with the Father and Apotheosis. For the protagonist who was raised in the absence of a father figure, reconciliation and atonement is the life goal. This type of story culminates in a confrontation and ultimate role replacement of the dominant father figure. This father figure may be benevolent or "monstrous" in form. The latter situation is accompanied by the hero himself incorporating that monstrosity into his self-identity…or perishing by the same. The benevolent face of the father carefully balances his role as the requisite guide for the hero - bittersweet in the knowledge that he must ultimately submit to the rising hero's power.

Just as every woman represents a manifestation of the Goddess image and the whole of human existence arises from her - both the positive and negative aspects, so too does each man represent the 'Father' image. That image was, is and forever will be the role of the father to yield to the son.

Through the hero’s attainment of oneness with the father, the hero takes his father’s place. The myth invokes questions in the observer: Where do I fit in this human formula, this heroic journey? How am I living the life that is my destiny? Am I indeed following my bliss? What personal boon do I bring to the human family?

Atonement with Father for the Series

Harry Potter is a boy with many fathers – the biological father of course is James Potter; the father of memory is Vernon Dursley; the godfather is Sirius Black; the protector is Albus Dumbledore; and the demon who created Harry’s destiny is Lord Voldemort. There many are other men cast in the father archetype within the series – each of these relationships is to be discussed here.

For Harry, the series is driving towards eventual confrontation for survival. The reader has been warned through guise of prophecy that only Harry or Voldemort will survive this final battle. The reader also knows that Dumbledore is preparing Harry for the battle – yet we still don’t know Dumbledore’s true motives.

Who is the most powerful wizard? Does it rest on the side of dark in Voldemort or the side of light in Dumbledore? Can either power exist in the absence of the other? Will Harry atone the separation itself and replace both Voldemort and Dumbledore simultaneously in his rise to power? Only Jo Rowling knows the answer – if answered in the Deathly Hallows, we will know soon as well.

Relationships in the Harry Potter series are complex, and some roles appear to overlap in multiple characters. The Half-Blood Prince (Book 6) addresses the atonement of, for and to the Father. This adventure does not yet detail the final confrontation with the 'Father', however this theme is more prominent than in any adventure to date. Witness the following scenarios:

  • Vernon's minimal atonement is to let Harry return to Privet Drive just one more time. Dumbledore even refers to Vernon Dursley's failure as a father not only to Harry, but to Dudley (as one to be pitied).
  • Draco Malfoy is set up to perform a task as atonement for Lucius failing to secure the prophesy, and exposing Voldemort’s return prematurely.
  • Snape is obligated to make an Unbreakable Vow to save Draco (At this point, it is unclear whether this atonement is made to Lucius, Narcissa, or Dumbledore). The Unbreakable Vow will claim the life of any person breaking it.
  • Arthur witnessed a pseudo-atonement when Percy was forced to visit at Christmas by the new Minister of Magic.
  • Hagrid must ‘civilize’ Grawp to atone for bringing a giant to Hogwarts.
  • Slughorn must atone to Harry for his part in Lily's death.
  • Harry ultimately seeks atonement for the deaths of his ‘accepted’ father trinity – James, Sirius and Dumbledore. He chases Draco and Snape from the scene.

Father Relationships

For the series, Harry is the orphan child and has multiple father figures with feelings of attachment, hatred and ambivalence, and yet there is an obligation to each of these characters.

James Potter
Relationship to Harry: Biological Father; Died when Harry was one year old
To Another: No familial relationships known, metaphorical brotherhood with (Moony, Padfoot and Wormtail) and the Order of the Phoenix

Light: James is perceived primarily as exceptional - excelling at School, Quidditch, friendship, wizardry and member of the Order. He gave his life fighting Voldemort and in protecting his wife and son under attack. James is Harry’s ideal – the perfect and unattainable father.

Shadow: James was an illegal animagus, who regularly broke the rules and physically abused Severus Snape. At the end of the fifth adventure, Harry witnesses flaws in James character which unsettles him – what Harry sees in Snape’s memory is distinctly at odds with Harry’s perceptions of James as the fantasy father.
Atonement Situation: Voldemort killed James and deprived Harry of his real father. Harry has a righteous sense of atonement for James death.

Albus Dumbledore
Relationship to Harry: Albus Dumbledore is Harry’s protector, the keeper of the prophecy, the wielder of old magic based in love, the enchanter of the Dursley home, the keeper of the Order, and the master of Harry’s education. Dumbledore is the archetype of the Wise Old Man who seems to know what Harry is thinking even before Harry can formulate his thoughts. Dumbledore is so closely linked to Harry, it seems as if he is an older version of Harry who knows what is about to happen – a sort of Merlin who can remember his own future.

To Another: Dumbledore is the Father/Grandfather figure for all at Hogwarts – both for students and staff. In particular, Dumbledore is very particular about his relationships with Harry, Snape and Draco. Dumbledore is protector of Draco’s (relative) innocence by offering sanctuary to keep Draco from committing murder. Dumbledore also is protector of Severus Snape, keeping him out of Azkaban and providing him safe haven as part of the Hogwarts staff. Dumbledore does ask Snape to take dangerous actions on behalf of the Order, presumably based on a secret pact. Dumbledore also has a special relationship with Hagrid and protects him from adversarial forces as well.

Light: Dumbledore appears to have command of both space and time. He also demonstrates superior insight and a higher state of consciousness. Dumbledore has a transcendent authority that is obeyed by both good and dark wizards, the latter complying despite individual will and verbal commentary. Even Voldemort/Riddle indirectly submits to Dumbledore by fleeing the Ministry of Magic. Dumbledore unveils Harry’s powers gradually, emphasizing repeatedly that his greatest power is love.

Shadow: While Dumbledore was very knowledgeable, he was also highly secretive. For example, he kept Harry from knowledge that Snape was the prophecy spy. Dumbledore also acknowledges that some of family members are less than reputable.

Atonement Situation: Harry, after witnessing Dumbledore’s murder, goes after Snape and Draco in anger. He seeks revenge and atonement for his mentor’s wrongful death. Despite this anger, Harry ultimately does not lose sight that Voldemort must neutralized for the sake of the Magical and Muggle worlds. Atonement must be sought despite the loss of the great wizard.

Sirius Black
Relationship to Harry: Sirius is Harry’s godfather and surrogate father in the wake of third adventure. His original promise, made in Prisoner of Azkaban, was that he and Harry would be family. The promise was delayed until Voldemort appeared and the Order of the Phoenix regrouped. Harry and Sirius spent part of the summer together and also Christmas break, but the expectation never fully manifested itself. Sirius was immersed in a type of self-pity – Harry loved him as the only real family he knew, but the relationship was bittersweet.

To Another: James Potter's best friend.

Light: Sirius was James Potter’s closest friend who overcame his dark wizardry upbringing. Sirius opposes the Death Eaters and other dark wizards with the whole of his being. He is brave, handsome and an adventure seeker.

Shadow: Sirius wants Harry to be James. He hates Snivellous Snape to the extent that it eats him up inside. Sirius is to a large extent self-destructive. He can be unforgiving and reckless, even vindictive toward those not in his inner circle. He seemed to lose his will to live in Order of the Phoenix and was dejected living in the house of his youth. Revenge was frequently dominant in of his thoughts. He was empty inside and even Harry could not help him overcome this.

Atonement Situation: The loss of Sirius creates a new vacuum in Harry’s life. Harry yields to thoughts of revenge after Bella Lestrange killed Sirius. Harry feels he must atone for Sirius’ death.

Mr. Weasley
Relationship to Harry: While Harry perceives Sirius as his surrogate father, Mr. Weasley largely adopts Harry from the point where his Ford Anglia retrieves Harry from Privet Drive in the second adventure. Arthur advises Harry, particularly from a safety perspective throughout the series, and takes Harry’s concerns seriously. Harry confides in Mr. Weasley when he can’t share issues with Ron. Arthur is as proud of Harry’s accomplishments and bravery as much as any father.
To Another: Arthur is a man with a kingly name and princely sons who seem to provide for his magical round table. Like King Arthur, he is the romantic father who ‘was mad’ for Molly back at Hogwarts. His manner expresses a deep and gentle love.

The kingly relationship of Arthur's clan:

  • (Prince William) Bill - Grown; Arthur has not only accepted Bill’s choice of curse-breaker from his principal heir, he has brought him into full partnership and trust within the Order of the Phoenix. Bill is prepared to assume the duties of ‘The Father’.
  • (Prince Charles) Charlie - Grown; Arthur has reconciled Charlie’s choice to become a dragonkeeper.
  • (Sir Percival) Percy - Asserting adulthood; Arthur finds difficulty in dealing with the moral rejection of son. Percy is making his own way in adulthood replete with immaturity. He is intellectually gifted, but rigorously seeks a way imposed by others such as Crouch, Fudge and Scrimsgeour. He has not matured enough to make his own moral judgements and as a consequence was prematurely separated from his parents. Percy is headed towards his own atonement with his father.
  • (Sirs Frederick and George) Fred/George - Grown; Arthur is dealing with their choice of opening a Joke shop.
  • (Sir Ronald) Ron – Has achieved the age of wizarding majority and found his love; Arthur’s acceptance of Ron’s adulthood is pending. Ron still struggles with the authority of his mother. He has the model of his elder brothers breaking through to independence (with both positive and negative results in his mind). He should know at this point what he must do.

Whence shall the quest commence?

Light: Arthur expresses loving relationships, understanding, and a wishful and inquisitive manner bordering on childlike innocence. He is in on the secrets of his children, supportive if not a co-conspirator. Through his efforts in the Order, he is known to be brave but not aggressive.

Shadow: There is some secrecy in why Arthur is in a subordinate position at the Ministry, when he commands great respect and is capable of transforming the magical world with his values. The reader also has a sense of Weasley loyalty to Harry but no understanding of why this relationship exists.

Atonement Situation: There is a deep divide between Arthur and his son Percy, who rejected his parents’ involvement in the Order. Pseudo-reconciliation was presented in Half Blood Prince, but this encounter revealed Percy being manipulated by the new Minister of Magic to get at Harry.



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All rights reserved.