What Children’s Literature Teaches Us About Money: ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’

What Children’s Literature Teaches Us About Money: J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’

Why doesn’t Harry use more of his enormous fortune?

The first six chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone teach us that many of your problems can be solved by discovering that you are heir to an enormous fortune. Harry Potter lives under the stairs in a house filled with uncaring and abusive family members. Then Hagrid shows up, utters his famous line about being a wizard, and takes Harry to a bank vault full of gold.

Good for Harry, right? He’s finally got that windfall so many of us dream of, since we know we can’t really dream of being Chosen Children and we’re too old for our Hogwarts letters. His life changes, his opportunities expand, and he’s got enough money to buy every treat off the Hogwarts Express cart and share his candy with his new friends.

The Windfall Theory of Personal Finance

Except that’s just the beginning of the story. Harry still has the rest of the book to go—he still has seven books to go—and his piles of gold are only able to help him with a few of the challenges he faces.

Which is sort of how it works in real life. You don’t need me to tell you that having enough money—not even a fortune, just enough—makes a huge difference in what you can do with your life. Money does in fact solve problems.

But it doesn’t solve all of them.

Money does not solve the abuse problem, for starters. Harry’s wealth does not stop the Dursleys from being abusive and neglectful during the summer holidays, as detailed in later books. Harry’s money can’t even get his Hogsmeade permission slip signed in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and sure, it helps that Rowling has ensured his fortune is in non-Muggle currency, but gold is gold, right? Get that stuff converted and emancipate yourself, Harry!

Except he doesn’t, because it isn’t that easy. Not to diminish the value of a Fuck Off Fund, but Harry has one now, and he is still unable to change a lot of his circumstances.

A Story of a Fuck Off Fund

Money also can’t stop Voldemort. I’m thinking really hard, because I’m trying to remember all seven books and I only re-read the first one, but Harry barely uses his money to support the resistance effort, right? He never makes an enormous donation to the wizarding world’s equivalent of the ACLU, not that they seem to have one. Even stuff like that enormous tent they hide in during Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows isn’t funded by the Potter fortune; that tent came from the Weasleys. Harry didn’t buy it, and he didn’t buy anyone else tents so they could go into hiding too.

Harry also never uses his wealth the way money is traditionally used in a political system: to form alliances, confer power, and get things done. He could have been funding newspapers so we didn’t have to deal with Rita Skeeter; he could have been supporting Ministry campaigns—maybe not at age fourteen, but it’s the principle of the thing here—he could have been doing something with his wealth, and he does not, and it’s a really interesting choice.

Also, as we learn courtesy of the Mirror of Erised, money can’t buy Harry love. When Ron looks into the mirror and sees himself as Head Boy and Quidditch champion, well—money can’t buy that, either. Although money can help; remember that Harry’s Quidditch career only took off after Professor McGonagall gave him a top-of-the-line broom, and remember that Ron’s spellcasting is less effective because he is using a secondhand wand.

(It’s fascinating, by the way, that orphaned Harry looks into the Mirror of Erised and sees himself surrounded by family—and Ron, who is surrounded by family, looks into the mirror and sees himself separate from them. This doesn’t have anything to do with money; I just wanted to bring it up.)

Harry could share his fortune with the Weasleys the way they share their love with him, and yet we rarely see him share any of his money with anyone. Right? Ron buys his own wand, his parents give him a Quidditch broom after he becomes Prefect, and Harry keeps his money to himself.

Rowling does provide a parallel to Harry, of course—the nearly-equally-wealthy Draco Malfoy. Draco’s father Lucius uses the family money to manipulate politics and transfer power; even when Lucius uses his funds “for good,” like the time he bought brooms for the entire Slytherin Quidditch team, it comes with the condition that Draco be made the team’s Seeker.

So maybe we don’t see Harry spend much of his fortune because Rowling would rather make the larger point that using money to solve problems is bad.

But using money to solve problems, instead of “hard work” or “friendship” or “standing up for what you believe in,” isn’t necessarily bad. Sometimes money is the only thing you have that works.

There’s a whole ‘nother essay I could be writing, right now, about knowledge being the real measure of value in the Potterverse, and knowing spells that can literally alter reality is way more important than money, and maybe casting petrificus totalus on Neville is kind of like buying his silence.

The point of money—and of being able to do magic—is that you can use your money/magic to help decide what happens to you and to remove small obstacles that might prevent that stuff from happening. It works best on the small scale, whether you’re getting a dishwasher repaired or alohomora’ing a locked door. It gets a lot messier on the large scale; let’s say the political scale for reasons that should be obvious, or the fight injustice scale. (Do we even want to talk about S.P.E.W.?)

Money can solve some problems. It can’t solve them all.

Which might be why Harry Potter’s windfall plays only a small role in the Harry Potter series.


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