What is a metaphor?
Metaphors make a comparison between two things, objects, people, or even feelings. This comparison is often hidden, but can sometimes be quite obvious, depending on the intent of the author.
If you compare or portray a person, thing, action, feeling, or place as actually being something else, you are speaking with metaphors.
The author of Harry Potter, JK Rowling, is the master of comparing one thing to another. The book series, which has been read by (according to some estimates) 65% of children in developed countries, is a treasure trove of figurative language that reveals even deeper histories to the characters and the Wizarding World. These comparisons often have hidden meanings that are later revealed in the series. Here are just a few of her best metaphors:
• Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
Mrs. Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbors.
In this metaphor, Rowling compares Petunia Dursley to a crane, a bird that is graceful but also very powerful. For longtime readers of the series, they will see this image again when her story with Harry comes to an end: she is strong and fierce, but there is also a grace to her.
• Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
“For him?” shouted Snape. “Expecto Patronum!”
From the tip of his wand burst the silver doe. She landed on the office floor, bounded once across the office, and soared out of the window. Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears.
“After all this time?”
“Always,” said Snape.”
The silver doe is a particularly powerful metaphor in the Harry Potter world. Snape has always loved Harry’s mother, Lily, even though she married someone else. The doe represents all that Snape saw in her: the grace, strength, and beauty as well as the fact that she never stayed.
• Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
“Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. […] Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself — soul-less and evil.”
This metaphor is complicated, because it is not explicitly stated and the reader has to look deeper. Here, J.K. uses Dementors as a metaphor for depression. While the magical community knows that it is Dementors, non-magical people only feel the effects and have given it the name of depression.
• Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
“I don’t think you should be an Auror, Harry,” said Luna unexpectedly. Everybody looked at her. “The Aurors are part of the Rotfang Conspiracy, I thought everyone knew that. They’re working to bring down the Ministry of Magic from within using a mixture of dark magic and gum disease.”
Luna Lovegood is one of the most beloved characters in the Harry Potter series, however she is also a metaphor for the moon. “Luna” literally means “moon,” and the moon is a mythological sign of madness. Luna has also been described as “glowing” and “pale,” in many books. Luna is quite quirky and some even call her “mad” because of the conspiracy theories she subscribes to.
• Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets / Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
“Well, first the committee took turns in talking about ‘why we were there’. Then I stood up and said my bit, how Buckbeak was a good hippogriff, always cleaned his feathers. And then Lucius Malfoy got up…”
Rowling likes to make one character a metaphor for another character, and Buckbeak is the most prominent example of such. Buckbeak, a mythological creature that is put to death after “attacking” a privileged student, is a metaphor for Harry’s godfather, Sirius. Both were persecuted for crimes that they did not commit because they were not able to fight against the government.
Metaphors are sometimes difficult to spot, because they require quite a bit of thinking. Some metaphors, like Dementors as a metaphor for depression, actually need to be explicitly stated by the author. Look through the Harry Potter books (and films!) and see what metaphors you can find!