Aspects of Good and Evil in "Harry Potter - The Prisoner of Azkaban"

Term Paper, 2002

14 Pages, Grade: good minus



2) Introduction

3) The concept of good and evil

4) The eternal struggle of good and evil

5) The fusion of good and evil character traits in Sirius Black

6) Creatures and animals in The Prisoner of Azkaban
6.1) Good and friendly animals and creatures
6.2) Evil and dangerous animals and creatures

7) Are the Harry Potter stories evil in itself?

8) Conclusion

9) Bibliography
9.1) Primary literature
9.2) Secondary literature

2) Introduction

In novels and fictional stories we often meet good and evil characters, characters which fight each other. This fight between good and evil makes the story really interesting and exciting because it hurries the action along. But often the reader is not able to say which character really belongs to the good or the evil ones. It is the ambiguity of the characters and their changes during the story that grip the readers. This paper will have a look at one exemplary character and try to solve the question whether it is good or evil. Besides, the thesis that animals and creatures in The Prisoner of Azkaban cannot be categorized as clearly as the main characters will be dealt with. In this way different aspects of the terms "good" and "evil" shall be demonstrated.

3) The concept of good and evil

"Good" and "evil" represent a pair of opposites that is part of many stories and of our whole life. Actions which are against virtues and values, which are reprehensible and damnable, are generally seen as evil. Pleasure in destroying, in lying, in betraying and in being cruel, in neglecting the rights of human beings, these aspects are declared to be evil.[1] They belong to actions and their consequences which are caused by human beings, for example torturing innocent people in a war. Due to St. Augustine, these are moral evils or deficiencies of man's will. He thinks of the moral evil as the true evil because human beings have free will and the choice to do good or evil. So it is their choice to commit evil actions or not.[2] But an evil action can also be considered theologically and then we talk of evil as a sin, an action against God's ten commandments. This includes, for instance, taunting, insulting, revenge seaking and lying.[3] On the other hand, we have natural evils, bad consequences that derive from natural forces like earthquakes or diseases, which nevertheless let human beings and animals suffer a lot.[4]

The opposite of evil is the term "good" which can be defined as "morally excellent, virtuous", "satisfactory in quality" or "well-behaved"[5]. "Good" characterizes a feature of a human being, a thing or an action. It has the meaning of perfection and so the term "being good" stands for the fulfilment of a positive potentiality.[6] Socrates, for example, equates good with beautiful and useful. A good character in general is one who is guided in his actions and thoughts by values of our society like freedom, justice, self determination, solidarity and fairness.[7]

In the Christian sense of the terms, good is understood to be superordinate to evil because good is synonymous with God who is omnipotent, omniscient and completely good. Evil only became part of history when man disobeyed God and ate fruit from the tree of knowledge. But evil is still subordinate to good and God because God is the creator of our world, whereas other authors regard good and evil as two warring equals, as two powers in a dualist model where none of them will really win the eternal fight.[8] This is, for example, the case in the Harry Potter books and the fight between Harry and Lord Voldemort. If one side were to win, the story would be over and that is not what the author and the readers would have wished.

All in all the moral meaning of good and evil works out the background for our interaction in daily life. It is the set of criteria to judge our actions, our thoughts and behaviour. Good and evil represent a norm of our life and offences will be punished by imposing several kinds of sanctions.[9]

4) The eternal struggle of good and evil

The struggle of good and evil is part of many books and stories and it is clearly represented in the Harry Potter books. The most obvious conflict is the one between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort. Harry defends the good High Magic whereas Lord Voldemort is a supporter of the Dark Magic. The whole story begins with Harry's unconscious victory over the Dark Lord when he was a young boy.[10] But that was not a final victory because several supporters of Lord Voldemort and the Dark Magic tried to kill Harry and to defeat the good wizards again and again.

Harry himself appears as a real character in those situations but the Dark Lord mostly cannot be seen. He is substituted by other characters like, for example, Professor Quirrell.[11] In his fight against evil Harry gets help of Professor Dumbledore who is "working tirelessly"[12] against the supporters of the Dark Magic. He is a person one can trust in, a director who is concerned for his pupils' safety.[13] He will never allow the Dark Magic to gain the upper hand as long as he can do something against it.

Another example for the struggle of good and evil is the conflict between Harry and his schoolmate Malfoy, whose father was, and still is, a supporter of Lord Voldemort. They are arch enemies ever since they met during their first year at Hogwarts.[14] Not only does Malfoy try to hurt and denigrate Harry himself but also his friends Hermione, Ron and Hagrid. When he is bitten by Hagrid's creature Buckbeak he stages his hurt[15] to get rid of Hagrid whom he does no like very much. In this way Malfoy is able to pester his enemy Harry indirectly. Their most obvious confrontation takes place on the Quidditch field. It is not only a normal fight of two players and teams to win the game but also the private fight of Harry and Malfoy. Therefore, Malfoy tries to influence and manipulate Harry by faking the appearance of a Dementor that shall frighten him to death.[16] He does not shrink back from playing unfair to reach his goals.[17] It is this scene in the Potter books where "the enmity between Harry and Malfoy [is] at its highest point ever"[18] because Malfoy is angry that his plan to grass on Harry to Professor Snape has not worked. At this moment he has to admit his inferiority to his arch enemy but he will take advantage of his next chance to outdo Harry and to show the power of evil.

The struggle of good and evil, of Harry and Malfoy, will never end: One time the good side wins a fight, next time the other side but there is no final victory of a party, at least not until the end of book four.

5) The fusion of good and evil character traits in Sirius Black

When reading a story, the reader often thinks he or she knows which group a character belongs to. This first impression is decisive for the assignment to the good and evil characters. But is it really so obvious? Is it not possible that a character changes in the course of the story, that the reader has to change his judgement about the character? The answer has to be "Yes"! Only very few characters are really stable and have only good or bad traits. But in most cases we have ambiguous ones with a mixture of good and evil traits, Sirius Black for example.

In the past, Black was the best friend of James Potter, Harry's father. They were at school together and trusted each other without hesitation. After school, Black became the Secret-Keeper of the Potters[19] to protect them from Lord Voldemort. Until this point in time, the reader would talk of Sirius Black as a good and honest character who never did harm to anybody. But as turns out a few moments later, he betrayed the Potters by playing a double-agent role:[20] In the presence of the Potters he pretended to be a friend and Harry's godfather but in their absence he revealed their hiding place to Lord Voldemort and later killed several people. So he turned out to be an evil character who offended the norms of the wizard society. As punishment and sanction he was taken to Azkaban, a prison where only really evil persons have to go.


[1] See Rudolf Eisler, ed. Wörterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe 1, 4th ed. (Berlin: Mittler und Sohn, 1927), p. 227.

[2] See Ester S. Buchholz and Joshua K. Mandel, "Reaching for Virtue, Stumbling on Sin: Concepts of Good and Evil in a Postmodern Era.", Journal of Religion and Health 39.2, (2000): p. 130.

[3] Ibid., p. 129.

[4] See Robert Audi, ed. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (Cambridge: University Press, 1995), p. 610.

[5] Ester S. Buchholz and Joshua K. Mandel. "Reaching for Virtue, Stumbling on Sin: Concepts of Good and Evil in a Postmodern Era.", Journal of Religion and Health 39.2, (2000): p. 138.

[6] See Hermann Krings, Hans M. Baumgartner and Christoph Wild, eds. Handbuch philosophischer Grundbegriffe 2 (München: Kösel Verlag, 1973), p. 658.

[7] See Annemarie Pieper, Gut und Böse (München: Beck, 1997), p.15.

[8] See Steve Bonta, "Harry Potter's Hocu-Pocus."The New American 16.18 (2000) <>

[9] See Annemarie Pieper, Gut und Böse (München: Beck, 1997), p. 15.

[10] See Joanne K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, 1st ed. (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1999), p. 15.

[11] Ibid., pp. 210-214.

[12] Joanne K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 1st ed. (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1999), p. 222.

[13] Ibid., p. 102, p. 176.

[14] Ibid., p. 90.

[15] Ibid., p. 130, p. 133.

[16] Ibid., pp. 284-285.

[17] Ibid., p. 335.

[18] Ibid., p. 325.

[19] See Joanne K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 1st ed. (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1999), pp. 221-222.

[20] Ibid., p. 223.

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Aspects of Good and Evil in "Harry Potter - The Prisoner of Azkaban"
University of Münster  (English Seminar)
good minus
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Aspects, Good, Evil, Harry, Potter, Prisoner, Azkaban
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Andreas Kellner (Author), 2002, Aspects of Good and Evil in "Harry Potter - The Prisoner of Azkaban", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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