Everyone loves Harry Potter and his friends, but how many people recognize the gifted behaviors or the problems and concerns of gifted children reflected in the Harry Potter stories? Each of the protagonists in the series represents one common type of gifted children. And the story itself can be seen as more than a children’s fantasy story. It can also be seen as the coming of age story of gifted children, about the struggles they face and the way they come to terms with their abilities, their intensities, and their concerns about themselves and their world.
Quick Summary of The Harry Potter Story
For those still unfamiliar with the story, Harry Potter is a young wizard, whose wizard parents were killed by the evil Wizard Lord Voldemort when Harry was just a year old. Voldemort had tried to kill Harry too, but his curse backfired. Instead of killing Harry, it seemed to have destroyed Voldemort. Harry become the one and only person to have survived the killing curse, but because he was now an orphan, he was left on the doorstep of his aunt and uncle, Petunia and Vernon Dursley, by Professor Dumbledore, an old and wise wizard, who also happens to be headmaster of the wizarding school Hogwarts.
The Dursleys, who are “Muggles” (non-wizards), have a son of their own, about the same age as Harry. They lavish praise and gifts on their son, while mistreating Harry and depriving him of all but his very basic needs. On Harry’s eleventh birthday, he receives an invitation to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and from then on his life takes quite a different turn. Instead of dealing with the Dursleys, he must now spend each year at school battling Lord Voldemort, who had not died, but had become less than human and is trying to return to power.
Giftedness Reflected in the Main Characters in the Harry Potter Series
Hermione Granger is the one who is closest to the stereotypical image of the gifted child. She behaves and believes firmly in following the rules, never questioning them or the teachers who impose them. She reads all the time, and seems to remember everything she reads. She studies hard, loves to get A’s, and is the top of her class in almost everything.
However, when Hermione can’t learn by reading, she can get frustrated. She is not particularly good at flying since that requires a physical skill and she quits Professor Trelawny’s Divination class, taking instead “Arithmancy,” which relies much less on intuition. She is clearly more logical than Divination requires a student to be.
Hermione is also essentially friendless at the beginning of the first book. She has trouble making friends and is seen as a know-it-all. While she does become friends with Ron Weaseley and Harry, we never see her develop any friendships with other girls. This is not unusual with gifted kids. Gifted girls often prefer boys as friends, while gifted boys often prefer the friendship of girls.
Ron Weaseley represents the gifted child who is overlooked. For one reason or another, some gifted children fall through the cracks. It could be that they don’t stand out like the Hermione Grangers do. They are not particularly interested in studying academic subjects, but may be exceptionally good in other aspects of life. Certainly that is true for Ron’s brothers, Fred and George, who constantly get themselves in trouble and seem to take pride in the fact that they do well enough to get by, but no more than that. However, they are quite good at creating new spells that they use for joke materials and also later demonstrate quite an aptitude for business.
Ron must follow in their footsteps as well as the footsteps of his two older brothers, who were both prefects at the school. One was also a star quidditch player, who was offered a spot on the national quidditch team. (Quidditch is a wizard sport something like soccer played in the air on brooms.) Rather than trying to compete with his brothers, Ron becomes a classic underachiever who doesn’t bother to try. It is safer for him not to try than to try and fail to live up to expectations people have of him based on their knowledge of his successful brothers. This is especially true because Ron, like Fred and George, are always being compared to their older brother Percy, who embodies all traits their mother thinks all her children should have.
Because Ron does not do particularly well in school, many people assume that he doesn’t have the ability. However, his advanced cognitive ability is clear in the first book when Ron demonstrates his talent for chess. Ron also demonstrates excellent leadership skills at the end of the first book, when he not only plays a masterful game of chess, but also takes charge during that chess game, making sure that the task they must complete gets done, even if it means he must sacrifice himself.
Finally we have Harry. The first gifted trait we recognize in Harry is his natural ability in flying a broom and playing Quidditch. Not only has Harry had no experience playing this wizard sport before, he is new to the entire wizard world. He had never seen Quidditch played before or even knew what Quidditch was. However, he becomes the first first-year student in a hundred years to get on a Hogwart’s Quidditch team.
That natural ability as a sports hero does not carry over into other aspects of his life at school. In spite of his winning moves on the Quidditch team as well as being the “boy who lived” and the one responsible for the “demise” of Voldemort, Harry does not seem particularly popular at school, nor does he seem interested in becoming popular. He has a limited number of friends and he is at times socially awkward. The same can be said for many gifted children, who often seem to prefer a few close friends to a large circle of friends and acquaintances and who are sometimes uncomfortable in social situations.
Harry does well in school, but unlike Hermione, he does not stand out. He is not exceptional, but he is not an underachiever like Ron. Also unlike Hermione, Harry will question authority and rules when he believes they are wrong or unfair. Like many gifted children, Harry is extremely concerned about fairness and justice and will stand up for those whom he believes is being treated unfairly, regardless of the consequences.
Perhaps Harry’s most obvious gifted characteristic, however, is his intense concern with good versus evil and right versus wrong. The immediate focus of this concern over good versus evil is, of course, Lord Voldemort and his followers. Harry risks his life to do the right thing and help vanquish the evil Lord Voldemort. However, it’s not just grand issues of good versus evil that Harry tackles. He also tackles good and evil on a smaller scale of right versus wrong. He stands up to Malfoy, for example, in the first book when Malfoy takes Neville’s “Rememberall.” Harry also, like many gifted children, has a strong sense of fairness and justice and will get quite upset and even angry when anyone is treated unfairly. It doesn’t matter who the victim of the injustice is, he will try to make things right, even if it means he could get in trouble.
Themes of Giftedness in Harry Potter
Two Different Worlds
The world of the Harry Potter series is divided into two different worlds: wizards and non-wizards (Muggles). Wizards have special powers; they can do magic. Many Muggles, like the Dursleys, dislike the wizards. They resent the wizards’ ability to do magic and don’t trust them. They may also, like Harry’s Aunt Petunia consider wizards to be freaks. Wizards, on the other hand, either dislike the Muggles or, like Mr. Weaseley, find them quaint. Wizards have hidden their world from Muggles because of friction between the two groups and because the wizards believe that the Muggles would want the wizards to do everything for them once they learned they how easily things could be done with magic.
Wizards, when in the Muggle world, usually try to hide who they really are, but they are not always successful. In other words, they are still clearly different. For example, in Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire, the wizards must dress like Muggles when they arrive for the Quidditch World Cup, but they don’t all know how. One wizard wore a housedress since it was most like his wizard robes. He felt the dress was acceptable because he found it in a Muggle shop.
These two worlds closely resemble the “worlds” of the gifted and the non-gifted. The gifted are in many ways different from the non-gifted. They have abilities that the non-gifted don’t have, and some non-gifted people resent the gifted, particularly the intellectually gifted. Like the wizards, the gifted will sometimes try to hide who they are in an attempt to fit in. Gifted children in school, for example, will “dumb down,” purposely not doing as well as they could, but like the wizards, not all are successful at hiding who they are.
Prejudice and Acceptance
In Harry Potter’s world, not all wizards agree on who belongs in the wizard world. Some wizards believe that Muggles have no place in the wizard world, regardless of how much innate magic ability they may have. These wizards believe that only the “pure blood” wizards belong, that is, those without any Muggle blood. Others believe that it is the ability that matters and that those with innate ability deserve to be trained so that they can reach their magical potential. Pure Muggles are probably the most resented for their ability. Hermione is a pure Muggle who is the smartest witch in her class. She is the first to learn spells and achieves the highest marks, sometimes earning over 100%. However, Hermione is not envied by her classmates, particularly the “pure bloods” like Draco Malfoy. Wizards like Malfoy have a deep dislike and contempt for Hermione.
Harry, on the other hand, is also a bright wizard. His marks may not be as high as Hermione’s, but he does well. In his third year, he is able to master the Petronus Charm, a spell that is considered much too difficult for underage wizards. He is also so skilled at defense against the dark arts that he is able to teach other students. Why is he not resented as much as Hermione? Unlike Hermione Harry is good at sports: he can play Quidditch. His ability to play the game well and win gives him a status that Hermione will never achieve by her book smarts alone.
A similar situation exists with the gifted, especially in school settings. No one, not even the experts agree on the meaning of gifted. Who should be considered gifted? Someone who has a special talent, like a gifted pianist? Someone who has the talent and the motivation to achieve great things in life. Or someone with the potential to achieve? Which children are identified for gifted programs in school often depends on how giftedness is defined. Quite often those with innate ability are missed because they are not high achievers. Conversely, some with a great amount of potential are not chosen because they don’t fit the definition, a definition which usually includes high motivation.
Gifted children from minorities have an even harder time being accepted as gifted and placed into gifted programs. Some people even seem to resent gifted children from minorities. They are like the bright Muggles at Hogwarts like Hermione. They are not always accepted by their classmates or worse by those responsible for identifying gifted children and providing them with an appropriate education. However, just like at Hogwarts, if a gifted student also excels at a sport, they are much more likely to be accepted. In other words, the intellectual ability is simply overlooked, while the athletic ability is admired.
Another link between Harry Potter and the gifted is the theme of choice. At one point, Dumbledore says to Harry, “It’s not our abilities that make us who we are, Harry — it’s our choices.” Harry makes his first choice in the wizard world when he first arrives at Hogwarts and is waiting with the other students to go into the hall for the sorting ceremony. Draco Malfoy hopes to make friends with the famous Harry Potter by offering to help him stay away from “the wrong sort.” He offers his hand to Harry, but Harry refuses to take it and tells Draco he can figure out the wrong sort for himself. It is clear that Draco thinks Ron is one of the wrong sort while Harry doesn’t.
Harry is forced to make changes throughout the series and always chooses the right choice over the easy one. For example, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire he chooses to save Cedric Diggory rather than grab the Triwizard Cup for himself. Harry makes these choices in spite of the hardships and persecution he has experienced throughout his life. His parents died leaving him in the care of his aunt and uncle who are emotionally abusive. Lord Voldemort, we learn, has also endured some abuse as a child, but he chose to use his special abilities for selfish and evil purposes.
The same is true of gifted children. It is not their abilities that make them who they are. It’s their choices. It is their choices that determine their character, not their abilities. We should help our gifted children understand that distinction and we can do that by praising the ways they use their abilities and not simply the abilities themselves.