Thursday, November 09, 2017
Storyteller’s Rulebook: The Value of the Baby in a Basket in Harry Potter
Oedipus is a baby in a basket. So is Achilles. So is Superman. One variation on the theme is Moses, who is sent to less modest circumstances, but even there, he’s separated from the source of his future super-powers until he discovers his birth parents.
And of course Harry Potter is a classic “baby in a basket” hero.
Why does this archetype work so well? Because there are two competing human impulses: the inclination to admire those of great birth, and the contradictory inclination to admire those who learned from rough circumstances. The magic of the “baby in a basket” is that he gets to be both at the same time, ensuring that everyone will like him
These stories also speak to us because they reflect our universal sense of being misunderstood. We all feel like we are destined for greatness and mistreated by a world that insists on treating us like ordinary people, and we long to read about characters for whom that’s really true. The moment where the hero finds out that he was born to be great is the ultimate wish fulfillment for the reader.
Rowling also taps into another universal feeling, as least for anybody with a sibling. Every sibling feels, at one time or another, that they’re being slighted in favor of another sibling. Rowling takes that universal sense of injustice and magnifies it a thousand-fold, creating deep identification.