This Harry Potter Character Is Lauded as a Hero But He’s Really a Dick

Movies


The Big Picture

  • James Potter, Harry’s father in Harry Potter, is a complex character who was not always a hero and had a history of bullying.
  • Despite his flaws, James joined the Order of the Phoenix, showed no signs of prejudice, and sacrificed his life for his loved ones.
  • The story focuses on James’ best moments, leaving fans with a positive impression of him, but it’s important to acknowledge his mistakes.


Harry Potter features many characters who fall into the category of morally gray. This allows for more complex character arcs that greatly enhance the story. Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) are the most common examples, but there are many throughout the series. However, the fans don’t always acknowledge it, choosing instead to see a harsh division between good and evil, leaving them to cheer for characters as undisputed heroes rather than complex individuals. With so many characters in the series, some appear very little, yet they are still important to the story. Perhaps the best example of this is the father of the franchise’s hero, James Potter (Adrian Rawlins), who is dead before the story begins, but serves as a role model for Harry (Daniel Radcliffe). Being both morally gray and rarely onscreen leaves James in an odd situation, of which fans often ignore the nuances.

Despite his untimely death, James is referenced a lot. Throughout the series, we learn many things about him. James is one of the Marauders, a member of the original Order of the Phoenix, a secret animagus, best friend to Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) and Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), and most importantly, the deceased father of Harry. Through his association with Harry and many other notable characters, James becomes a significant part of the series despite only briefly appearing in memories and other magical ways. With him appearing in just a few scenes and most of the story told through the eyes of a son who never really knew him, it’s hard to get a clear picture of James. Harry undoubtedly looks up to the man, idealizing him as a son is expected to do. Yet, despite the good deeds that the series focuses on, James wasn’t a perfect person. In fact, in his younger days, he wasn’t particularly nice at all, begging the question: does the cruel bully deserve the title of hero?

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Adaptation of the first of J.K. Rowling’s popular children’s novels about Harry Potter, a boy who learns on his eleventh birthday that he is the orphaned son of two powerful wizards and possesses unique magical powers of his own. He is summoned from his life as an unwanted child to become a student at Hogwarts, an English boarding school for wizards. There, he meets several friends who become his closest allies and help him discover the truth about his parents’ mysterious deaths.

Release Date
November 16, 2001

Rating
PG

Runtime
152 minutes

Writers
J.K. Rowling , Steve Kloves


Before ‘Harry Potter’ James Bullies Snape

Young James Potter (Robbie Jarvis) smiles as he bullies Snape
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

As so many people remind him, Harry looks like James, but that doesn’t mean they are the same. James Potter may have been the Gryffindor Quidditch star back in his day as well, but he has little in common with his son. It’s important to recognize the differences in their childhood. James was the only child of loving and wealthy parents, while tragedy struck Harry early, leaving him to grow up in a home where he was ignored at best. The difference in their backgrounds leads to drastically different behavior during their years at Hogwarts. James’ Hogwarts years are largely remembered for two things: his crush on Lilly Evans (Geraldine Somerville) and his mistreatment of Severus Snape. Snape’s memories show that James always disliked him, often treating him terribly for the crime of being friends with Lily. A scene set in the fifth year shows James publicly humiliating Snape and laughing about it with his friends simply because he was bored. This is a prime example of James’ worst behavior, but fans often ignore it, despite this being one of the few scenes with the character.

James’ treatment of Snape proves he was not a flawlessly noble individual, as the series sometimes seems to imply. Certainly, people make mistakes in youth, but this was a repeated habit, and Snape still carries trauma from it. Even James’ best friends do not deny that it happened. Yet, memories can be altered and Snape has spent his entire life nursing a hatred for James. Though the bullying is impossible to deny, perhaps it is exaggerated in Snape’s mind. But even allowing for the perspective of the memory, it’s not a good look for James. The exact extent of James’ bullying isn’t totally clear as the events are long over before the series. With the only other characters in the series who grow up with James being his friends, it’s impossible to tell if his venom was reserved for Snape specifically or if he had other victims as well. But it does show he had a mean streak, so why does everyone consider him a hero?

How Can ‘Harry Potter’ Fans Call James a Hero?

Despite this glaringly obvious issue, James does several good things. He joins the Order of the Phoenix, actively defying Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and putting him on the good side of the overall conflict. He also shows no signs of prejudice, even marrying a muggle-born girl, despite coming from a long-respected pureblood wizard family, yet that is a low bar for heroism. James is loyal to his friends, specifically Remus Lupin. While at Hogwarts, James and the others discover Remus is a werewolf, and they not only keep his secret but accept him. They even went out of their way (and broke the law) to become animagi to support Remus during his transformations, sneaking out at night during the full moon to keep him company. This shows that there was always more to James than a bully, as he is a loyal friend despite the prejudice against werewolves. But perhaps the most memorable thing James did was die. When Voldemort attacked the Potters’ home, James sacrifices himself, hoping to give Lily time to escape with baby Harry. Though it changed nothing in the end, his final act of heroism leads people to forget his problematic past.

There is both good and bad in James, but the story, and therefore the fans, seem to focus on his best moments. The explanation is simple: it’s Harry’s story. With so much of the films centering on Harry and his perceptions, of course, James won’t be vilified. Harry admires his father but, honestly, knows little about the man. As an 11-year-old, Harry enters the Wizarding World, meeting people who knew his father for the first time, and they tell him of all his father’s best deeds. Not wanting to disillusion Harry or speak ill of the dead, no one discusses James’ mistakes, with the sole exception of Snape. His best qualities and the narrative told to Harry leave a positive impression of James Potter, even though he was a flawed man.

Does ‘Harry Potter’ Make James Redeemable?

James (Adrian Rawlins) and Lily (Geraldine Somerville) Potter dancing as they pose for a photo.
Image via Warner Bros

The series presents several characters, who may be on the right side of the overall confrontation but are not necessarily good people, and James is one of them. James behaved terribly in his youth, and, unfortunately, died too young to make things right with Snape. He is not shown to take responsibility for his actions, but admittedly, that would be difficult for him to do from beyond the grave. It is worth noting that the only other person James was known to bother, not only forgave him, but married him.

Perhaps James did mature before his death and acknowledge the hurt his actions caused, but his care for his family and friends doesn’t prove that he changed. Without a clear moment of regret, it’s hard to be sure of James. With more time, the upcoming Harry Potter TV series could address James’ shortcomings and potential growth into a better person, but the films never do that. He may be a hero in the First Wizarding War and to Harry, but that doesn’t necessarily make James a good man. The complex distinction allows for nuances and creates a fascinating and realistic character. While denying the darker parts of James is tempting, it does a disservice to the story. James Potter did many good things in his life, but that doesn’t erase his mistakes.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and the rest of the franchise is available to stream on Max.

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