J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has given readers all over the world the delights of enchantment since its first installment, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published in 1997. Since then, the series has inspired a spin-off movie franchise, countless works of fanart, and discussion among both amateur and academic audiences. However, one character, while nearly universally beloved, never seems to receive the same depth of analysis or arouse as much discussion as her counterparts.
Lily Potter, the titular hero’s vivacious, courageous mother, who gave her life to save her son, is one of the series’ critical characters, but also one of its most obscure. While Harry learns much of his father and father-figures throughout the series, coming to recognize their flaws and understand their respective experiences and perspectives, little is learned about his mother Lily outside of her defining sacrifice.
The relative obscurity of Lily Potter makes it easy, in some cases, to brush her to the side. It is true she makes for a less interesting character study than other Potter figures such as the ever-ambiguous Severus Snape or Albus Dumbledore. She is a singular character in that, although vital to the story line, we see almost nothing of her firsthand; she is almost entirely defined by her relationships to others. Rather than read this as an example of Rowling marginalizing female characters, or of the lack of agency or invisibility of female characters, I believe the emphasis on Lily’s relationships underscores the influence and centrality of her character. She, more so than Harry, is presented as Voldemort’s antithesis, and it is by turning our attention to her relationships that we can begin to unlock the mysterious character of Lily Potter and allow for a deeper and more nuanced reading not only of the power she represents, but also of the meaning of the Harry Potter series as a whole.
This website, as part of a larger project, aims to realize the full significance of the character Lily Potter by examining her different relationships with other characters and the influence these relationships have on the events and outcomes of the series. Drawing primarily on Rene Girard’s mimetic theory, it seeks to uncover and unpack Lily’s various friendships and relations in order to better answer the question: who is Lily Potter and how do we define her power?
This project was completed by Annika Gidley, a student at Hope College. It was supervised by Professor Curtis Gruenler and made possible by the Jacob E. Nyenhuis faculty development grant program.