Despite advocates on all sides of the romantic pairing spectrum, Harry Potter is a Hero’s Journey. That’s not to say that romance does not play a significant part in the series. There is one major character [highlight for spoilers] (Severus Snape) whose murky motivations are finally revealed to be the result of romantic love. This person’s near obsession led to a life of both extreme bravery and a bullying sense of resentment; it also gave us one of Rowling’s most interesting and layered characters. However, in spite of the fact that this story line crosses and twists through Harry’s and influences the hero’s journey in ways we only learn about at the bitter end, it changes nothing about Harry’s story; it just broadens his perspective.
Harry, like all teenaged boys, thinks about sex; but he has bigger things to worry about then getting into Ginny Weasley’s knickers. Even the main romantic arc of the series, the charming two-steps-forward-two-steps-back awkwardness that is Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger’s relationship, takes an understandable back seat to their best friend’s life-endangering quest and the threat of domination by an evil overlord wizard.
So what is it that draws the romantics of the world to this story of the bespectacled little wizard that could, one who doesn’t have time for romance? What induces them to root, and root hard, for the couples of their choice when flirting is often the last thing these weary and worried kids on a quest to save the world are thinking about?
I’m sure there are papers out there on the nature and psychology of shipping, but I think it can be boiled down to something pretty simple: We just want them to be happy. The books are drenched with love of all kinds, so why wouldn’t we want to channel some of it into a little Happily Ever After? These characters have earned their happy endings, and the fans along for the ride want it for them in the worst way.
The concept of the love of your life is mainly a romantic one. Sometimes there’s an implication of fate bringing people together, but the power behind that one transcendent relationship in your life is that it is one of your choosing. It is not the biological imperative that links a mother to her child but rather a connection that is found and cultivated. This love that does the most for you and means the most to you and makes you a better person is not always romantic.
For Harry, there is no love more important than that between him, Ron, and Hermione, and there never will be. This isn’t a bad thing. It doesn’t mean that he won’t love anyone else or won’t have other fulfilling adult relationships of all kinds, but it does turn the notion of the all consuming love of romance on its ear a bit. He loves his friends with a passion and commitment that’s fully returned and would not be the same without them.
Harry’s story is stronger for playing out as it did, with romance on the backburner and the power of other facets of love explored more closely. Too often, romantic love is placed on this pedestal of the ultimate, the more, when it is merely the different. In Harry Potter, the love of a mother for her child not only meant home and comfort and counsel, it brought about the defeat of a Dark Lord and then led to his resurrection; it drove Belatrix LeStrange to her knees and shifted the Malfoy family’s loyalties.
The fierce, loyal love of the friendship between Harry, Ron and Hermione, the tenacity and forgiveness and the sheer value they placed upon it was a direct contributor to their successes. This friendship was directly contrasted with the friendship between James Potter, Remus Lupin and Sirius Black, and the way distrust found its way in and contributed to the death of James and Lily Potter and the incarceration of Sirius Black. Yes, Peter Pettigrew was a friend too, and it was his betrayal that is ultimately to blame, but his ability to wreak havoc was assisted heavily by Remus and Sirius’s suspicion of each other.
That Harry and his friends succeeded where the original Order of the Phoenix failed is not merely a matter of prophecy, for, as Dumbledore said, prophecies don’t actually have to come to pass, but a matter of will and trust, and love.
Just as love for friends and family is the backbone of Harry’s journey, so love of our own friends and family provides the foundation of enjoying the Harry Potter series. The books have more meaning because we’ve shared them; with parents and sisters and cousins and friends. People have formed online communities to reach out and talk to people about these books; it’s all part of the experience. We have speculated wildly, lined up at midnight for book releases and waited to get into theaters to see the story unfold on the big screen, and we have done it together.
Even as I’m sorry to have no more personal firsts left in this series, I’m looking forward to the day my niece discovers Harry for herself. She’ll turn to the first page of the first book for the first time, and I will be there to share in it all over again.
Harry Potter may not be a romance, but it is most definitely a love story.