Magic Realism?

Bernard muses (in the way one does in the pub over a beer, or on a blog) about the lack of gay characters in Harry Potter. The conversation is continued by others including the award winning Stephen Tall, Leo on Hunting for witches and a bit of a bad tempered reaction from Nofolk Blogger.

It developed as these things do into an examination as to the lack of realism in the Potter books when it comes to sex. But are the books that unrealistic? Clearly they are escapist fantasy books, aimed at children but enjoyed by a wider audience. For these reasons the books are unrealistic and rightly so.

But on the charge of the portrayal of underage sex, while gritty “in your face” realism is avoided, I am not so sure the portrayal of teenage relationships is that far from reality.

What we need to bear in mind is while the books are written in the third person, they are virtually told totally from Harry’s perspective. We know little more than Harry does, and few scenes happen without Harry there to witness them.

Leo observes:

1) Harry doesn’t actually kiss a girl until he’s 15. Don’t know about many of you, but to me that seems about a year or so later than is currently socially expected amongst teenagers. And even despite that, he still displays the “girls? eurgh!!” attitude you might expect of a preadolescent child, certainly not of a fourteen or fifteen-year-old one.

Well it may be true that it is socially acceptable to have your first kiss before 15. But not everyone does, and many of those who don’t lie to save face. The reality is not everyone is cool and confident and outgoing and manages to click with members of their favoured sex. To most kids it seems that everyone else is having all the fun, and they are left out. Sex and relationships happened very much off screen for me, and I’m sure I’m not atypical. If you weren’t one of the unhappy, geeky, unconfident kids who felt left out, well done I’m happy for you. But don’t be fooled into thinking your experience of childhood is somehow typical.

It is clear that Harry is, relatively speaking, a later developer than some. There is enough background detail to tell that others are more successful on the relationship front than Harry’s immediate circle of friends. But because they aren’t part of Harry’s direct life experience these remain in the background. It’s also true that sex isn’t mentioned, but then we also don’t see anyone go to the loo other than to cry or make illicit potions, or see what’s on the table at ever single breakfast. It’s unnecessary detail for what is, after all, a children’s book.

On the charge of the lack of gay characters I have to refer to the perspective argument again. At my school I was only aware of one gay person among my peers, a supposed lesbian who was teased mercilessly by my more horrible classmates. There were the rougher kids who got off with each other right left and centre, but I was only peripherally aware of these people. I found out later that some of my friends were gay, but at the time I was not aware of this. Stephen’s article does make a valid point that a potentially gay character is in the final book* outed as heterosexual.

Were it not for the role fate chose for him, Harry would be a typical kid that no-one bothered with. He’d have only a couple of close friends, perform above averagely, still be bullied by Draco. In a muggle school in the 80s he’d be in the small group in the computer lab, not outside in the middle of the social circle with Dean and Seamus.

Mind you, perhaps there is one condiment to my views: I am myself much closer to Joanne Rowling’s age than Harry Potter’s. I went to what is often unfairly called a “Bog standard comprehensive” not a boarding school. Perhaps times have changed. They do continuously. I doubt they have changed that much.

*That I’ve yet to read.


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