Like so many others, my thoughts were about celebrating with dad last weekend. But when you live on the opposite side of the country from your parents, one has to make do with a phone call.
I couldn’t help but reminisce during my chat with Dad. One particularly strong memory from when I was 11 came to mind. To trick my parents into thinking I was fast asleep instead of reading “Harry Potter” well past my bedtime, I would frequently use a blanket to keep lamp light from escaping under my bedroom door.
One evening, my dad encountered the makeshift barricade. Less than amused, he forbade me from reading late into the night again. Since I'm a nerd, I naturally found my way around his command.
There were plenty of reasons to disobey Dad when I was 11: Death Eaters, magic wands, Polyjuice Potions and Norwegian Ridgebacks. There was also Arthur Weasley, who reminded me so much of my father. Slightly bumbling and a kid at heart, he always put his family first.
Much like his enchanted Ford Anglia, there’s no real cause to notice something special about him until you take a closer look. This modest father of seven is by far my favorite dad of fantasy fiction. I love his quirks; I respect his loyalty; I adore how deeply he loves his wife, Molly, and I find myself constantly amused at his fascination and curiosity with Muggle artifacts. Above all else, I admire his devotion as a father.
While there are many strong father figures in fantasy literature, actual fathers like Arthur Weasley seem to be few and far between. Or absent altogether.
“Young adult literature famously has conflicts with fathers. Parents are either lacking or antagonistic,” said Annette Wannamaker, a professor of children’s literature at Eastern Michigan University. “In Western culture, it’s popular for the adolescent to try to find their own identity away from the family.”
A large percentage of children’s literature features main characters who appear to be orphaned - if not literally, they are almost always so figuratively, Wannamaker said.
The protagonists in a fantasy world often partake in dangerous adventures that a parent typically would forbid, said Elisabeth Gruner, an associate professor of fantasy fiction and young adult literature at the University of Richmond. Being free from a parent’s protective reach allows characters to exercise their journey without restraint. But Arthur Weasley turns that literary model on its ear, she said.
“Mr. Weasley is quirky, funny, and he’s also very generous and forgiving of his children. There’s this strong sense of family throughout the series, which is lacking in a lot of fantasy stories,” Gruner said.
“Arthur is an absolute rarity in the fantasy world of literature. And I think that’s what makes the 'Harry Potter' series special. It gives us some of the things that are common in a realistic family. I can’t think of any other popular book who has that kind of importance to a series on a whole.”
The "Harry Potter" series explores fatherhood from varying angles. Lucius Malfoy and Vernon Dursley most likely wouldn’t get No. 1 Dad mugs from any of us. Sirius Black and Dumbledore aren’t fathers themselves, but they are certainly crafted with immense heart as father figures. James Potter symbolically guides his son beyond the grave, and it’s easy to imagine that Remus Lupin would’ve been a brilliant father to Teddy.
“Mr. Weasley is quite different because he is literally a father,” Wannamaker said. “He’s kind of a fantasy father in the sense that he’s a father every kid wishes they had. He’s loving but stern when he needs to be. He’s more of a permissive father, where he sometimes allows kids to break the rules and gives them a nod and a wink.”
Most significantly, Arthur Weasley allows us to see the magic in our own world.
His fascination with the Muggle world resonates with our own imaginative dreams. What if we could enchant a car to fly with invisibility? One would certainly never have to sit through traffic. And maybe we do take everyday things such as “eckeltricity” for granted, though I’m sure many wouldn’t mind the opportunity to shout “lumos” throughout the day.
In a 2007 interview with NBC, J.K Rowling revealed, “If there's one character I couldn't bear to part with, it's Arthur Weasley. And I think part of the reason for that is there were very few good fathers in the book. In fact, you could make a very good case for Arthur Weasley being the only good father in the whole series.”
So my hats off to a man who’s always willing to do the right thing, no matter the cost. If I could, I would send many plugs and batteries his way, and I hope he has finally discovered his dearest ambition - to find out how "aeroplanes" stay up.