Harry Potter and the Great Synthesis

This month, we’ve been talking about home in various ways, and I’d like to consider characters we find inextricable from homes/settings.  I’d planned to make a list, but there are so many examples that I decided to offer just one and invite you to play along.  More fun that way, yes?

Here’s mine: In the first Harry Potter book, J.K. Rowling mentions early on that he lives in a cupboard under the stairs. This small detail resonated on several levels for me as a reader.  It was haunting.  I felt incredibly sympathetic toward this young man, about whom I knew very little.  And in a metaphorical sense, he wasn’t even at the foot of the stairs, the great climb, the ascension to the top that is to be his quest.  He was under the stairs at Privet Drive.

Turns out that Harry’s true home is Hogwarts, of course, and there are endless ways in which that place functions as a special sort of sanctuary for him (even though it  holds dangers and challenges as well).  He has moved from the cramped confines of the cupboard to the vast and ever-changing space that is Hogwarts.  And there, the stairways move around unexpectedly, symbolically mirroring the way his quest seems to be aimed first at one adventure/goal and then another.

These two “homes” in direct opposition prepare us for Harry’s transformation from alienated young boy to great wizard belonging to a community.  It’s difficult to imagine the story set anywhere else, so complete is the synthesis of character and place.

Your turn!  Please add your favorite character + place pair in the comments. (Or we can talk more about Harry Potter, if you prefer…there’s always time for HP chat.)


12 thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Great Synthesis”

  1. Fictional home away from home to me is Sleepyside-on-the-Hudson (Trixie Belden). I was 9 when I read my first Trixie and I still revisit them once a year. Oddly, the other home away from home for me is the jail cell in The Count of Monte Cristo. More than any scene in that book, I can picture that cell and the days being marked off on the wall.


  2. What a great topic for a conference paper for you, Cynthia!: the stairs as a metaphor in HP. How ’bout the fact that he falls through the stairs (or rather into the stairs) at Hogwarts at one point? Sweet Harry. I miss him.


  3. I love how you turned this post into something we writers can mull over and be inspired by. The dichotomy between the two worlds is so powerful in HP that it is one reason we are ALL ABOARD right from the get go in that series.


  4. Great post. Yes, Rowling does a great job of enlisting our sympathy for Harry right from the start, and the cupboard under the stairs is a great detail.

    The other one for me is Fitzwilliam Darcy and Pemberly. They’re both grand, beautiful, and a little remote. But once you get to know them, there is a great deal of warmth and beauty there (not just on the outside).


  5. How about Kinsey Millhone’s preference for little homes? At various points in her series she describes the cardboard box she “lived” in after her parents died when she was a child. It also comes into play after her studio apartment is blown up and Henry, her landlord but more importantly her good friend, remodels her apartment into what turns out to be a perfect home for her: small, efficient, snug, charming. He really expresses his love for her by the attention to her specific needs when he does that remodel. I love Henry. 🙂
    For a more classic example, I’d go to Scarlett and Tara. The home she took for granted turned into one of the driving forces of her life.


  6. It was marvelous when Harry found his true home at Hogwarts. He loses this home for a while because of Voldemort, living in betwixt and between in a magical ten in the forest and in a townhouse that is hidden from view. Talk about living in liminal spaces.

    One of my favorite characters “lives” in an office in the basement of the FBI, Fox Mulder. He examines extreme and paranormal happenings, the unexplained, so he is relegated to the netherworld. His apartment in most of the seasons was a leather couch with a big fish tank beside it. The bedroom was filled with boxes until another character took over his life and bought a water bed with a mirrored top. Most un-Mulder-like.


  7. Diane, yes! Sleepyside-on-the-Hudson. So great.
    Jeyna, it’s just so wonderfully done, isn’t it?
    Josie, excellent point about the falling-through! Forgot about that.
    Kristi, I agree…it’s powerful.
    Mary, what a fabulous example! Fitzwilliam Darcy and Pemberly…of course.
    Donna, yay for both Kinsey and Scarlett.
    Theresa, liminal spaces galore! And YES re: Mulder and his underground lair–office. And the I WANT TO BELIEVE poster always in view down there. 😀


  8. Kinsey and her snugs, for sure. Harry and under the stairs. Dallas and Roarke’s fortress. The Narnia children and their dual homes. Oh, and yes, Trixie. One of my earliest faves, for sure. What a wonderful thinking trigger this post is!


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