In 2010, Maggie and read Gretchen Rubin's book The Happiness Project. Neither of us were unhappy, but Ms. Rubin has really motivated me to "Be Ryan." You will often here me saying, "I gave up caring what other people think of me a long time ago," but the truth is that it is a fairly recent phenomenon in my life. I came across a post from the Happiness Project Blog (2011) where Gretchen refers to a rather famous letter written by Ray Bradbury to a young fan. In the letter, he reminds the child to "Be your own self. Love what you Love!" Way to be Ray! Maybe this is the year I commit to reading Farenheit 451. For Gretchen's blog post, see the below link (it also includes Ray's letter):
I am thankful to the wonderful people at UNC Charlotte's Potterwatch organization that invited me to present my paper at their conference on April 5. I'm providing the full text of my talk below.
How Harry Sees the World: A Meaningful Look at Rowling’s Use of Eyes
Did you know Harry Potter has his mother’s eyes? If you’ve read just part of one book or watched just part of one movie, you probably knew this. In fact, you probably heard that Harry has his mother’s eyes half a dozen times in whatever part of the story you read, listened to, or watched. What about his glasses? Have you ever noticed those? Well, I think it is pretty hard to think of Harry without visualizing those glasses set over a pair of green eyes. So Harry has green eyes – exactly like his mother – and we know that’s important because Rowling first mentions it in Chapter two of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and she doesn’t let us forget about it. This repetition can only indicate that Harry’s eyes play some key role in the seven-part story.
Whenever an author spends a lot of time on a specific descriptive character trait, they are likely trying to convey something more than the image of that character in our mind. The use of eyes in literature typically denotes the way we are meant to feel about a character. For example, if a character is described as having cold, dark eyes, then we can assume that character also has a cold personality. In this case, readers can assume the character is unfriendly, distant, or maybe even without emotion. In Rowling’s universe, Severus Snape’s eyes get the initial description of “cold and empty,” and as a character he tends to come off as unfriendly and without feeling (Rowling, “Stone” 136). So eyes can be used as a tool in describing a character’s personality.
If we pay attention, eyes may tell us something a bit deeper about a character than just personality. As the bodily organ that is literally responsible for vision, eyes provide us with a way of seeing the world. Eyes are the point from which we see the world. They are the entry point for visual stimulus and provide our minds with a visual cue to place meaning upon. In life, people often ask others for their point of view. A common response might start with, “from my perspective.” Both “point of view” and “perspective” literally mean the scene before one’s eyes, but society has extended their definitions to mean the facts known to an individual or their ideas. All this being said, we can now use J. K. Rowling’s eye description to analyze both the personality and the perspective of her central character, Harry Potter.
The first impression we have of Harry’s appearance comes from Rowling’s first description of the boy as having black hair, bright green eyes, and round glasses. Further on, Rowling states that Harry’s glasses are held together with a lot of Scotch tape (Rowling, “Stone” 20). From this small description, it doesn’t seem likely that readers should be able to extrapolate very much about Harry beyond physical appearance. However, since we know information about a character hides in the description of their eyes, we can use Rowling’s description to make some initial observations. We’ll start with his glasses.
By putting glasses over Harry’s green eyes, Rowling suggests that Harry’s point of view is obscured and flawed. Harry cannot naturally see the world, and the Dursleys are at least partially responsible for Harry’s obscured and flawed vision. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon reluctantly raise Harry from his infant years by giving him no more than the bare minimum to survive. The Dursley’s also maintain such a disdain for anything abnormal that they hide Harry’s heritage from him out of fear that his actions might bring some form of embarrassment. In a way, the Dursley’s might be dually responsible for Harry’s poor vision. On the surface, they should really purchase him a new pair of glasses. Trying to see the world through glasses covered in scotch tape seems difficult. Second, the Dursley’s try to control what aspects of the world Harry can see. They lie to Harry about how his parent’s died and assume that by raising him up as a muggle, they will prevent him from discovering the truth about both his parentage and his magical heritage. In effect, they keep Harry’s eyes obscured and Rowling hints at that point very early on when she describes Harry’s eyes as being covered with broken glasses.
When Harry learns of the magical world from Hagrid, his glasses don’t magically mend themselves. Yes, Hagrid introduces Harry to the wizarding world by bringing him to Diagon Alley, but Harry still does not know what it means to live among wizards and see the world as they do. Not until Harry reaches Hogwarts will he actually understand what it means to see the world as a wizard. In the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Hermione Granger uses the spell Occulus Reparo to mend Harry’s glasses just prior to arriving at Hogwarts. This added feature seems to indicate that Harry has now (or will soon have) seen enough of the wizarding world to have a fresh perspective. As we know that J. K. Rowling was heavily involved with the film adaptations, perhaps she agreed with this symbolic addition.
Having sufficiently covered our initial interpretation of Harry’s glasses, the color should now receive some attention. Harry’s eyes are green, and the color lends itself to the common English idiom “green with envy.” As relates to the early story, Harry is almost always green with envy. From Sorcerer’s Stone, we know that he lives in a cupboard under the stairs in the shadow of his cousin. Although we don’t necessarily see Harry yearn for the love of these Dursley relatives, we know he does not have a true family.
After boarding the train to Hogwarts, Harry meets his soon-to-be longtime friend Ronald Weasley. When the snack cart comes by, there is an awkward moment where Ron’s face goes pink because he isn’t given the kind of pocket money needed to buy snacks. Harry is able to buy enough for both of them. Throughout the series, Ron envies Harry’s money and fame, so in some ways Harry’s green eyes make him the object of envy. In stark contrast to that point, Harry meets Ron Weasley and immediately learns all about families consisting of all wizards. This enlightenment makes Harry wish for his own family, and it subsequently makes him envious of Ron.
To further demonstrate Harry’s envy for a true family, Harry discovers the Mirror of Erised with the reverse inscription, “I show not your face but your hearts desire.” Harry who has never known family sees his mother and father (Rowling, “Stone” 207-208). In this moment, Harry discovers with his own eyes what he has already heard repeatedly; he looks like his father except he has his mother’s eyes. With this “mother’s eyes” technique, Rowling paints an interesting symbolic picture that warrants further discussion. Having already established eyes are indicative of a characters point of view, it seems logical to conclude that since Harry has “his mother’s eyes” that he must see the world through the same lens as his mother. In essence, they share perspective and point of view. Interestingly enough, Harry’s dad also wears glasses.
Since Harry and Lilly share the same eyes and point of view, what does this tell us about Lilly Potter? As Lilly grew up a witch with parental approval, it does not seem likely that she shared in Harry’s envy for family, but just as Harry is an object of envy for Ron, Lilly too was an object of envy to others. We don’t see this until the Princes Tale in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but that chapter illustrates one reason Rowling may have chosen to have Harry share his mother’s eyes.
Having secured Severus Snape’s memories and diving face first into the Pensieve, we learn how Lilly is also an object of envy. Lilly was born to a muggle family, so witchcraft was an unknown concept. When Lilly was the only sibling blessed with magical abilities, Petunia became jealous, and her envy ran so deep that she even wrote to the Hogwart’s headmaster begging to be admitted. This set of events led to the eventual estrangement between Lilly and Petunia (Rowling, “Hallows” 663-670).
So the green eyes in both Harry and Lilly indicate that as young children, both were objects of envy to people they cared deeply for. Harry is the object of envy for Ron and Lilly being the object of envy for Petunia. This gets a bit more complicated when Severus Snape who always seemed to despise Harry reveals his love for Lilly. Through Snape’s memories, we learn that he unknowingly provided Lord Voldemort with a reason to kill James and Lilly Potter by relaying the prophecy that indicated a boy to be born at the end of July would have the power to vanquish the Dark Lord. Realizing that Voldemort interpreted this to mean Harry, Snape asked Voldemort to spare Lilly. When Voldemort refused Severus’ request and killed both James and Lilly, Snape placed his allegiance with Dumbledore. Harry survives the attack and wears the eyes of the one person that Severus Snape loved, Lilly Evans Potter (Rowling, “Hallows” 676-679).
With the understanding of Severus Snape’s feelings toward Lilly, we now know that Harry’s green eyes quite literally become an object of Snape’s envy too. In every way, Harry looks like James, but his eyes come from Lilly. Lilly gave Harry the genetics that caused his eyes to be green and as such they are a product of the love passed from mother to son. The power that vanquished the Dark Lord during his first rise to power was Lilly’s self-sacrificial love that she gave to Harry. As Snape looks upon Harry with those cold and empty eyes, he sees the child of a man he hated and of a woman he loved. Snape recognizes Harry as a product of James and Lilly’s love, but when he sees Harry’s eyes, they represent a single love passed from Lilly to Harry. They represent a love Lilly never passed to Snape, and those green eyes make Snape green with envy. Indeed Harry’s eyes actually become an object of envy as they represent the love Snape never had.
Moving past the Snape-Lilly soap opera, we need to explore how Harry’s eyes work at the end of the story, and the eyes are critical to the conclusion. We know that Lilly Potter valued the life of her loved ones over her own and as such refused to move aside when Voldemort came to murder her son. Ultimately Harry shares the same viewpoint meaning he also stands before Lord Voldemort willing to die to save the people he loves. Understand that in this moment, Harry literally shares Lilly’s point of view as he stands in the forest looking at Voldemort unwilling to move and essentially shielding his friends. Harry also shares Lilly’s figurative point of view meaning he shares her ideology – her outlook on sacrificial love. Sharing her point of view both literally and figuratively simply supports the constant, “You have your mother’s eyes” statement, but this isn’t how the final book starts.
Hermione describes Harry’s eyesight as awful in The Seven Potters chapter, so we are again reminded that Harry literally cannot see clearly (Rowling, “Hallows” 52). It so happens that due to imperfect information, he also doesn’t have the information to share Lilly’s outlook on sacrificial love. Yes, he is willing to go horocrux hunting, but he doesn’t yet understand that he must sacrifice himself in order to save everyone else. Harry does not get this information until the already discussed trip into the Pensieve in the Princes Tale chapter where he learns that he actually is a horocrux.
As Lilly knew what she had to do when Lord Voldemort came to murder her son, the Prince’s tale information allows Harry to now share Lilly’s point of view because he can clearly see that he must repeat her decision. Harry walks into the Forbidden Forrest to face Lord Voldemort. Harry sees Voldemort with the same sacrificial eyes that Lilly did, stands his ground, and takes the full brunt of the avada kadavra curse (Rowling, “Hallows” 704). Rowling then does something brilliant to drive the eye imagery home. Harry awakes in Kings Cross Station and he can now see clearly without glasses. The eyesight that Hermione commented on in Chapter 4 has been corrected. Harry has gone through a transformation that has left him with purity of sight. His path forward has been laid out, he can now see the world clearly without glasses, and he continues to see it with Lilly’s eyes.
Harry’s choices are governed by three influences: traits received from his mother, traits received from his father, and traits that surface because of the Voldemort soul fragment. As Snape explains over the course of seven novels, Harry acts in a way most consistent with his father as he continually bends school rules and at times has little respect for authority. From Voldemort, he gets some unhealthy ambition toward power and some obscure abilities like Parseltongue. Lastly, and to the subject of this discussion, he has Lilly’s eyes, the characteristic meant to symbolize his mother’s love and their shared method for viewing the world.
In a way, the confrontation between Harry and Lord Voldemort in the Forbidden Forrest is a return to the confrontation of seventeen years prior when Lilly stood defenseless in front of her son with her eyes locked on Voldemort. At that moment seventeen years prior, Harry was given a part of Lilly in the form of a mother’s love and a part of Voldemort soul. Each of these “gifts” came with a symbol. Voldemort’s soul fragment is symbolized by the scar on Harry’s head, and Lilly’s love is symbolized by the green eyes she has genetically passed to him. What we have in the Forbidden Forrest is a battle between these two “gifts”. Harry returns from King’s Cross with his green eyes, but the soul fragment has been destroyed. We can see how the eye imagery contributes to the love conquering immortality theme.
Throughout the Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling has used Harry’s eyes as a way of communicating a message to her readers. Along the way, Rowling places hints that guide us toward the realization of those messages. As has been discussed, Harry’s green eyes show him to be both envious and an object of envy. Through Harry’s envy, Rowling shows us the importance of family. Through Snape’s envy of Harry’s eyes, we come to understand the power of love. Rowling finishes Harry off by placing a set of round rim glasses over his eyes. The glasses indicate that Harry has a flawed point of view, and as a reader we learn how valuable trying to understand your enemy’s point of view can be. Professor Snape’s dying wish was to look upon Harry’s eyes because he viewed them as a way to reunite him with Lilly Potter. As readers, we can look upon Harry’s eyes as a way of understanding many aspects of this entire series.
Just a few items:
- blastr.com reports that Rocke S. Obannon has said that a Farscape movie is not out of the question - Link. I was watching a lot of Farscape before I got busy, so I haven't made it through Season 2 yet. If there was a movie announcement, the muppet series would become a top priority.
- Flavorwire.com has a nice list called "10 Writers on How to Drink." My favorite is Mark Twain who says, "I always take Scotch whiskey at night as a preventive of toothache. I have never had the toothache; and what is more, I never intend to have it." Be sure to check out the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote too - LINK.
This blog was accurately named "Dust and Cobwebs." When Nettica contacted me to renew my domain a couple of weeks ago, it should have clicked that I haven't posted since the last domain renewal. Perhaps my busy schedule has had something to do with it. Two posts ago, I stated that I was working on a book. Like this blog, that book also sits among the dust and cobwebs.
For the last year, I have taken six courses for MA credit at the Mythgard Institute:
- Taking Harry (Potter) Seriously
- Modern Fantasy
- Intro to Creative Writing
- Science Fiction Part 1
- Science Fiction Part 2
- The Story of the Hobbit
This spring, I'm going to take my seventh class: The Dystopian Tradition. Unless you live far under the misty mountains at the center of a lake, you have most likely heard of the major work covered in this class (1984, Blade Runner, Hunger Games, etc.).
While all of these classes are online, I have managed to meet a lot of people with common interests, and Mythgard has given me the opportunity to spend a lot of time on subjects that fascinate me. When I first signed up for "Taking Harry Seriously," I already had a paper subject swirling around in my mind. I used that topic in class, and I'm currently working on version two for the Potterwatch Conference this weekend.