History and Tradition

Hogwarts is a school with a rich history and tradition. Along with books in the library, much of that history is either hanging on the walls in the form of portraits or wandering the halls as ghosts. Unlike portraits in the Muggle world, these portraits can move around and talk. The people in the portraits can observe and comment on events as well as describe historical events. The portraits, like the ghosts, are an interesting and inventive literary device. The portraits can provide clues to the heroes in the form of historical facts and in some cases can carry messages from one place to another. But, they also work as a metaphor of the importance of history and tradition.

In our quest for understanding of life we always have two important sources of information. We have our own observations and experiences but we also have the knowledge of those who lived in the past. Our own experiences give us an understanding of the world we live in today. Because they are direct and personal, our experiences form the view of life we have. Living in the present we may not realize that those in the past have had many of the same problems that we face today and we can draw on history to help us in our understanding.

Although the technology, politics and social structures of man change through the centuries, human nature remains the same. The questions about life that we have today are the same questions and concerns that man has always had. We must decide what is good and what is evil, and then choose which we will live by. We have this mystery of life and death to consider as well. It is not necessary that we rediscover everything anew in each generation. Those who have come before have left their thoughts, their questions and answers for us to consider. We can learn from their successes and we can learn from their mistakes. But, only if we are aware of history and study it can the lives of others be a benefit to us.

The portraits in the Hogwarts headmaster's office are a good example. The current headmaster has available to him all the knowledge and decisions of those who preceded him. He can turn to them for comment and advice when needed. Dumbledore does not always accept their opinion, however. When Phineas Black complains that you can't trust the students, Dumbledore tells him to be quiet.

The other major source of historical information is the library. Harry, Ron and Hermione regularly search the library to find out background information that they need.

Thus, although the voices that speak to us from the past can offer helpful advice, we must also know when to reject that advice. Human nature doesn't change, but the situations we find ourselves in do change. We must be careful not to just get stuck in tradition because it is tradition. We have to judge the present situation on its own merits, apply the traditions we have been taught, and the wisdom of others from the past, when they are appropriate and reject them when not.


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