The hugely successful Harry Potter series has been embraced by millions of readers worldwide. It’s sold more than four hundred million copies and has been translated into numerous languages. Both children and adults alike have rejoiced to the whimsical story, told by the author J.K. Rowling, about a hero and his perilous journey to an ultimate goal. What many probably do not realize is that they, more likely than not, have read stories like it before. For centuries, various cultures have told similar tales that contain the common themes that Rowling’s book exhibits. These themes are the blueprints for stories that have high appeal to everyone in the world and any author that makes use of them can find success. The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, clearly states every step that is taken by the Hero from stories all around the world and history. Rowling makes heavy use of Campbell’s following themes: “The Call to Adventure”, “Refusal of the Call”, “Supernatural Aid”, “The Crossing of the First Threshold”, “The Belly of the Whale”, “Atonement”, “Apotheosis”, “Ultimate Boon”, and “Freedom to Live”.
Campbell begins “The Hero’s Journey” with “The Call to Adventure”. He describes this step as the beginning process of change that presents itself to the Hero as a challenge. This challenge is what gives characters a reason to leave their old life behind and begin their adventure; “destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown” (Campbell 58). This step is also marked by the appearance of The Herald; a being that announces the beginning of his or her journey. This being is usually an unnatural entity that seems to be frightening at first, but reveals itself as the guide to adventure. “The herald or announcer of the adventure … is often dark, loathly, or terrifying, judged evil by the world; yet if one could follow, the way would be opened through the walls of day into the dark where the jewels glow” (Campbell 53). These two characteristics of the first step are clearly portrayed by Rowling in chapters three and four. When the mail that is addressed to Harry is delivered in spectacular ways and in mass amounts, there is no denying that he is destined for some greater cause; this is his “Call to Adventure”. Later, in Chapter Four, the first step of “The Hero’s Journey” becomes complete with the introduction of Hagrid. With his frightening entrance and intimidating attitude, he explains who Harry is and what he is destined for. This is according to Campbell, the very definition of The Herald. When the endless mail addressed to Harry began to flow through every crevice of the Dursely’s home, his rich uncle refuses him the right to read any of them. This is a direct interference to Harry’s destined life outside of the muggle world and in essence the next step, “Refusal of the Call”. Campbell writes that in many stories, a Hero that refuses The Call to Adventure is sometimes imprisoned, physically or psychologically. In that sense, Dursley’s meddling with the Hogwart’s mail system keeps Harry ‘imprisoned’ in a life less ordinary. Although his uncle had stopped him from reading the mail, it only delayed the inevitable. Campbell states, “Not all who hesitate are lost. The psyche has many secrets in reserve” (64). He goes on to suggest that the Call is only delayed until the right moment of intervention happens, such as the coming of “Supernatural Aid”. Campbell writes that the coming of this “Supernatural Aid” brings psychological and physical support to the hero. They usually will give much needed wisdom and guidance to a hero, in an unfamiliar world. Mostly being of a feminine representation, they can also be in male form. Regardless of sex, the Supernatural Aid is there for the guidance of the hero, “What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny” (Campbell 71). In Rowlings’ story, she makes use of two aids that assist Harry throughout his adventures. Albus Dumbeldore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, who gives Harry his invisible cloak along words of wisdom later in the story. And more apparent early on, Hagrid, the ogre that rescues Harry from his awful life with his guardians and introduces him to the wizard world. According to Campbell, both Hagrid and Dumbeldore, seem to fall into the literal sense of being the Supernatural Aid, “In fairy lore it may be some little fellow of the wood, some wizard, hermit … the teacher, the ferryman, the conductor of souls to the afterworld” (72). Dumbeldore is the wizard and the teacher. Hagrid is the ferryman guiding the new students on their trip to Hogwarts (Rowling 111). As Hagrid exposes Harry to the magic world for the very first time, he experiences what Campbell calls “The Crossing of the First Threshold”. This phase is described as entering the world that is unfamiliar and alien to the Hero. This new physical world symbolizes the psychological changes that must occur in order for the Hero to understand who he or she is. “The adventure is always and everywhere a passage beyond the veil of the known into the unknown; the powers that watch at the boundary are dangerous; to deal with them is risky; yet for anyone with competence and courage the danger fades” (Campbell 82). For Harry, this moment is when Hagrid takes him shopping for school supplies. When they open the door to the Leaky Cauldron, Harry is immediately transported to an entirely different world. His life of unpopularity and servant-like existence is now over; he begins a new life with new founded respect. That first step into the pub was Harry’s maiden step into his journey. After the Hero makes his first few steps through the First Threshold and its initiation, he is usually swallowed symbolically or literally, this is what Campbell refers to as “The Belly of the Whale”. While in the belly of the beast the Hero finds deeper courage, battles his way out, and comes out stronger than ever. Campbell writes, “instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, [the Hero] is swallowed into the unknown, and would appear to have died” (90). In Harry Potter, when Harry, Hermoine, and Ron fall down the trapdoor and into the Devil’s Snare plant. With the tendrils wrapping around their bodies and necks, they seem to have met their doom. It was Harry’s idea to use fire that actually saved them from it and allowed them to continue their final journey. Another scene that may symbolically represent “The Belly of the Whale” would be when Hagrid brings Harry to Diaggon Alley in Chapter Five. This chapter does have Harry’s crossing of the First Threshold, but it also has him transforming from a poor nobody and into a wealthy celebrity. Hagrid brings Harry to his bank which has untold amounts of gold and everywhere he goes he receives warm welcomes and praise. This symbolically represents the Hero going into the belly and coming out reborn. Campbell writes, “instead of passing outward, beyond the confines of the visible world, the hero goes inward, to be born again” (91).