Friday, July 23, 2010

The Parental Perspective

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been re-reading the Harry Potter books. For those of you who’ve lived under a rock for the past decade or so, this is a series of seven books that follow a young wizard from age 11 to age 18 as he fights dark wizardry. The main characters are his fellow students, but of course there are plenty of adult characters: the professors and staff at his school, his friends’ parents, his parents’ friends, and even the adult dark wizards. I began reading the series of books about ten years ago, when I was single and childless, and although I was much older than Harry and his friends, as I read about their exploits, I imagined myself in their shoes, recalling when I was that age and wondering how I would have behaved in a similar situation. But reading the books again now, I see the entire series with fresh eyes: the eyes of a mother.

The most traditionally motherly character in the book is Harry’s best friend Ron’s mum, Mrs. Weasley. Mrs. Weasley is a short, plump, sweetly fussy mum, the kind who spits in a handkerchief to wipe dust off her son’s nose, feeds anyone who’ll let her, is kind and welcoming to all her children’s friends, and turns into a snarling, protective mother bear when any of her children are threatened. She serves as a bit of comic relief early in the series, fussing about in that sweet but annoying way that moms do, going ballistic over what the children perceive as minor infractions, and getting embarrassingly emotional over their accomplishments (or the lack thereof). The reader is invited to like her but also to laugh at her a bit. But now that I have a child of my own, I don’t laugh at her at all. I can picture myself in her shoes, fretting about sending my child off into the wild and dangerous unknown of the world.

The professors, as well, were simply “stage fill”, as theater people term all the non-specific bodies in crowd scenes who don’t have notable personalities but who serve merely to take up space. But again, as I re-read the books from a parental perspective, I can see their desires to shape and mold young minds, I can sympathize with their frustrations at student inattention and thickheadedness, and I can understand their pride in seeing their students mature from timid children into self-assured young adults. No longer are they in the background, merely taking up space, but instead they all serve as crucial role models and instructors for their students.

I’m that much more impressed with the depth and detail of the books, since they are so complete and true-to-life when read from both perspectives. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by that – after all, the author is a mother, too.

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