Harry Potter Offers Profound Lessons On The Dynamics Of ‘Power’

Posted on February 19, 2014 in Specials

By Astha Agrawal:

What is ‘power’? The question in itself is mundane enough for one to skip. But here is a thing(s)! The answer (even better when understood) to this question, while remains contested and rightfully so, will offer a key to unlock one of the doors to a more peaceful world.


I have always believed in the magic of Harry Potter, not only have I grown but lived with him. Ritualistically, I visit that magic to reinstate my faith in the fact that, in this world, words matter as much as they do in Harry’s world. One of the very recent visits set me on a journey (a quest?) of understanding the meaning of ‘power’, to an extent that I ended up, and delightfully so, questioning my own beliefs.

Over two centuries ago Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The words, if not the idea, owe their symphony to him. I have heard it being chanted repeatedly by the guardians, and proponents of rights and democracy. Do I buy into the idea? I believe that it is a lot of presumption. Power cannot corrupt one because – Power doesn’t exercise oneself (not entirely), rather one exercises power. Whether it leads to abuse of power depends on how it is exercised — ‘power over’ or ‘power with’? It is not power but the fear of loss of it that causes abuse because one held it only till others lived in fear. Once one exercises it as ‘power with’ s/he will not be afraid of losing it because of its nature of being held collectively. In a game of mud and sculptor, one often wants to be the sculptor who has the power to shape and mold the mud according to their wishes. This is power the way we usually understand it — as the ability to get done what one wants to. However, here is a caveat. What if the mud refuses to be molded?

Not all kinds of mud are amenable to sculptures. This part of the story; the power of mud – the power of resistance – is often missed. We are both mud and sculptor, constantly shaping, and being shaped, molding and being molded by the mélange of societal forces. Michel Foucault suggested that one reaches power through resistance – where there is power there is resistance, where there is resistance, there surely is power! The dialectic is not a deadlock but a beautiful, and eternal, construction and reconstruction of power and resistance. It tells you a very familiar, though rarely acknowledged truth, power is not on the outside and there is no permanent outside to power. The power that Harry Potter had was precisely this. At every level, he resisted the temptation to be the most powerful wizard, to be someone who everybody dreaded. In the last book, after killing the most powerful wizard in the world, having under his possession the most powerful ‘elder wand’, he breaks it!

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
― J.K. Rowling, (Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)

What made harry unique was not his capabilities, but the choices he made despite (or due to?) those capabilities. He reinforces the belief that no destiny is permanent. His power resides, not in the scar he so hated, not in the blessing-in-disguise by the dark lord, but by the relations of love, friendship, respect and equality, that he built and maintained. His power was in the people who cared. The trust he invested in others who supported him not because they feared but because they shared. His friends also trusted him commensurately. He knew, to quote Joss Whedon, that “Recognizing power in another does not diminish one’s own.” Harry is the boy who lived not because of what he was born with but who he chooses to grow up to be. He explained to me well that power is not all encompassing but everything does encompass power. Harry’s world was as hierarchical as ours but it showed that the hierarchy was unsustainable, and undesirable. The fight was not about Harry, as his friend Neville Longbottom (who was perceived to be a weakling) spoke in the end “Doesn’t matter that Harry’s gone. People die everyday–friends..family. Yeah, we lost Harry tonight. But he’s still with us…in here. So is Fred, Remus, Tonks…all of them. They didn’t die in vain! But you will! Cause you’re wrong! Harry’s heart did beat for us! For all of us! It’s not over!” (Of course Harry Potter didn’t die as the story unfolded!)

“It is important to fight, and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then can evil be kept at bay, though never quite eradicated.” ~J.K. Rowling (as Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince). No default setting is permanent. ‘Power over’ is not an eternal, and the only situation. Many consider Harry Potter resembling a fairy tale, as J.K.Rowling inked the end “…and the scar never hurt in 19 years…”. It is often argued it reeked of finality. We know that in the ‘real world’ there is no ‘happily ever after’ there only is ‘happiness’ which has to be continuously produced, gained, or accomplished. Harry demonstrates that the struggle is never-ending, and it has to be fought both inside and outside. The Patronas Charm – “expecto patronum” – used to fight against Dementors (deadly creatures who suck all happiness from one’s soul!) resembles our inner strength (which is not muscular/physical/intellectual) which is developed, not given.

“Perhaps those best suited for power are those who never sought it” ~ J.K.Rowling (as Albus Dumbledore in Harry potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone). The power Harry wielded was one that he never sought, what he rather sought — belonging, love and friendship — yielded him power. Another interesting tale in the series is the character of a magical bird — Phoenix. It repeatedly undergoes burning and resuscitating itself. Its power lies in its tears that heal! Harry Potter demonstrated the power of healing over that of causing injury.

Yes we are humans, self-perceiving as the most powerful species on earth. We can cause suffering with our words and actions, or we can try to heal wounds, sometimes inflicted by us or by others. With great powers come great responsibilities. These are great times, throwing up challenges and opportunities, of dead-ends and windows of hope, of the change of power to the power of change.

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.”
― Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi