by Meredith O'Brien
Harry Potter has been on my mind a lot recently. He’s been on the minds of a lot of other people as well. Why? Well, unless you have little to no contact with the outside world, you couldn’t help but notice that the sixth film based on the books about the fictional British boy-wizard has just came out and is achieving boffo box office numbers after having garnered a ton of media attention and the cute-as-a-button Daniel Radcliffe (Potter) has appeared on magazine covers with his co-stars.
For the past few weeks, as the date for the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince  approached, I re-read the sixth book, then started re-reading the seventh and final book, which is being made into two separate movies. (For the record, my twin 10-year-olds have read all seven books  at least seven times a piece. Maybe more. I’ve lost count.) As I poured through hundreds of pages of Potter, it dawned on me that the series could, in some ways, be considered a public service campaign which promotes a rather parent-positive notion. You see, Harry Potter lost his parents when he was a baby, in fact they died in the act of trying to protect him from an evil wizard who wanted to kill him. Throughout the entire series, Harry keenly and deeply felt their absence. The message: Parents matter, which is quite refreshing, actually. How many times have you read analyses complaining that in many popular kids’ movies -- particularly of Disney ilk -- moms are absent, usually dead and occasionally replaced by wicked stepmothers? Plenty of verbiage has been offered to deconstruct these films and discern what kind of message this fare sends to children about mothers, especially when they’re “replaced” by selfish step-monsters.
Not so in the Potter series. Harry spent his childhood seeking out parental role models to fill the gaping, empty holes in his heart left when his mother Lily and father James died. Sadly, no one ever quite filled the parental roles, not for long anyway, because just when Harry would think he’d found someone who’d treat, guide, love and nurture him like kin, that person seemed to disappear or get killed. The closest Harry got to feeling like a member of a loving family was when he spent time with his best friend Ron Weasley’s family, helmed by Ron’s parents Molly and Arthur who gave Harry birthday and Christmas gifts and generally looked out for him when they could. (It should be noted that Harry did have a few blood relatives left – his mother’s sister Petunia – but she, her husband and their son emotionally and physically abused Harry throughout his childhood, embittered because they’d been forced to house and feed what they saw as the spawn of the weird, magical side of the family about which they never spoke and pretended didn’t exist. In the first book began, readers learned that Harry, who was dramatically underfed, was forced to live in a closet underneath the stairs.)
Once Harry learned, at age 11, that he was a wizard and became privy to the details of how his parents died, he spent the rest of his childhood idealizing Lily and James, especially Lily’s decision to throw her body in front of his to block a killing curse. While Harry did, in his later teens, learn that his father had been somewhat of a bully and actually made fun of fellow students in ways which made the distinctly kind Harry feel uncomfortable, those negative observations were balanced out by tales of James Potter’s talents and bravery. His mother Lily, though, was roundly complimented as a whip-smart witch with an uncommon level of empathy and compassion who befriended the friendless and whose warm smile spread joy to others. A mother being portrayed positively? In literature aimed at children? Positively novel.
Though they were dead when the series began, Harry’s parents made appearances several times, always in ways which gave a hard tug to the heartstrings and demonstrated that, even in death, Lily and James were the single biggest influences on their son’s life. In his first year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, 11-year-old Harry discovered a magical mirror called “The Mirror of Erised.” If you sat in front of it, you were supposed to see a visual image of your deepest desires. While other people saw visions of themselves as popular, celebrated athletes, or as collecting accolades, Harry simply saw himself standing with his parents. “The Potters smiled and waved at Harry and he stared hungrily back at them, his hands pressed flat against the glass as though he was hoping to fall right through it and reach them,” J.K. Rowling wrote in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. “He had a powerful kind of ache inside him, half joy, half terrible sadness.”
Near the end of the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry was in the middle of an intense duel with the very same wizard who tried to kill him when he was a baby, Lord Voldemort. In one, odd moment, the light emitted by their two wands formed a connection and those who’d been killed by Voldemort’s wand started to appear in apparition form. Two of the apparitions were Harry’s parents. His heart pounding, his strength waning, Harry wondered whether he’d succumb, only to be emotionally buoyed by his parents who told him what he needed to do to survive.
Again and again, Harry was told by adults how much he reminded them of his parents – his eyes like his mother; his hair, facial structure and glasses like his father -- a constant reminder that they had the opportunity to know and laugh with Lily and James, whereas Harry had no memories of his own and could only cling to a small number of photos, handwritten letters and assorted anecdotes.
By the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry turned 17. And as much as teens like to think they absolutely do not need a parent telling them what to do, offering them guidance, support and love, Harry’s character vividly dramatized the important role parents play in a child’s life and what their absence really means. Amid the dark magic, sadness and deaths, the courage, camaraderie and hope in the Rowling series, the significance of having loving parents in a child’s life is one I can really get behind.