Case Study: Character Arcs in the Harry Potter Series

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I’ve always found that analyzing is one of the best ways of learning. You get a sense of what works by analyzing stories and movies you enjoy. Then, you can start employing that wisdom in your storytelling.

Here, you can read a quick analysis of character arcs in Harry Potter as I see them, showing how the different arcs help drive the conflicts and plots throughout the series.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Positive Character Arcs

Positive Arc: The character grows or improves, overcoming flaws or gaining new strengths.

Harry Potter

Harry Potter experiences a positive character arc throughout the series. He evolves from a neglected orphan into a confident and self-assured leader. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), Harry begins as an unsure boy, unaware of his magical heritage. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011), he becomes a heroic figure who defeats Voldemort.

His growth influences the plot and conflicts; Harry’s increasing confidence allows him to tackle more complex challenges and assume leadership roles, such as organizing Dumbledore’s Army or leading the quest for Horcruxes. His arc makes him a nuanced character, raising the emotional stakes the more we get to know him, making his eventual triumph over Voldemort satisfying.

Neville Longbottom

Neville Longbottom also undergoes a positive arc, evolving from a timid, insecure boy to a brave and confident hero. His growth becomes particularly evident in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011), where he destroys the final Horcrux, contributing to Voldemort’s defeat.

Neville’s development parallels and contrasts with Harry’s journey, adding layers to the series’ broader themes of courage and growth.

Ron Weasley

Ron Weasley’s arc is positive, marked by his journey from an insecure sidekick to a loyal and brave friend. His growth is evident in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010), where he overcomes jealousy and fear to support Harry and Hermione.

Ron’s development underscores the importance of friendship and loyalty, contributing to the series’ emotional core.

Negative Character Arcs

Negative Arc: The character declines or deteriorates, succumbing to flaws or losing virtues.

Tom Riddle, aka Voldemort

Tom Riddle/Voldemort’s negative arc drives the central conflict of the series. His descent into darkness contrasts sharply with Harry’s positive growth. Voldemort’s increasing ruthlessness and obsession with power create a formidable antagonist whose actions propel the narrative forward.

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), young Tom Riddle’s manipulation of Ginny Weasley shows his early malevolence, setting the stage for his eventual transformation into Voldemort.

Severus Snape

Severus Snape‘s arc can be considered a negative character arc. Initially portrayed as an antagonist, his backstory reveals him as a tragic figure whose actions, though often misguided, stem from a place of love and loss. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), Snape kills Dumbledore, seemingly cementing his role as a villain.

However, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—Part 2 unveils his true motivations and enduring love for Lily Potter. This revelation adds complexity to the plot, as Snape’s often conflicting and morally ambiguous actions drive conflicts and influence Harry’s perception of loyalty and bravery—the narrative benefits from this layered characterization, presenting themes of redemption and sacrifice.

Draco Malfoy

Draco Malfoy experiences a negative arc but with hints of redemption. Initially, he embodies the prejudices and arrogance of a pure-blood wizard. Over time, Draco’s internal conflict becomes apparent, particularly in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), where he grapples with the task of assassinating Dumbledore. By the series’ end, Draco’s reluctance and fear illustrate a more complex character who struggles against the darkness he once embraced.

Flat Character Arcs

Flat Arc: The characters remain unchanged, but their consistent traits influence and transform the world or other characters around them.

Albus Dumbledore

Albus Dumbledore largely follows a flat character arc. He remains consistently wise, kind, and morally grounded throughout the series. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Dumbledore is a mentor, guiding Harry with wisdom and subtlety (see more about the mentor role in this article about character archetypes).

Despite facing personal challenges and revealing darker aspects of his past in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore’s fundamental nature does not change. His steadfastness provides a narrative anchor, offering stability amidst the evolving character arcs around him.

This consistency influences the overall story arc by providing a moral compass against which other characters’ actions and decisions are measured.

Hermione Granger

While largely positive, Hermione Granger’s arc remains relatively consistent. She starts as an intelligent but somewhat rigid character and grows into a resourceful and empathetic leader.

This evolution generates conflict, especially in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), when she confronts her fears and takes risks to protect her friends. Hermione’s steadfastness and adaptability frequently balance Harry’s impulsiveness, creating dynamic interactions.

Conclusion

Different character arcs impact the plot and conflicts in the Harry Potter series.

Harry’s positive arc drives the main plot forward, as his growth parallels the rising stakes in the battle against Voldemort. Snape’s negative arc introduces complexity and moral ambiguity, enriching the story’s themes and providing unexpected twists. Dumbledore’s flat arc offers a steadying influence, ensuring that Harry and his friends do not lose their moral compass amidst the chaos.

The interplay of these arcs creates a dynamic narrative structure.

Positive arcs, like Harry’s, generate hope and progression, while negative arcs, like Snape’s, add depth and tension. Flat arcs, exemplified by Dumbledore, bring consistency and reliability. This combination creates a well-rounded and dynamic narrative throughout the books and films.

Up Next: What are character tropes?

Author

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  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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