IVP - Strangely Dim - Poster Children for Perpetual Youth

August 9, 2004

Poster Children for Perpetual Youth

By David A. Zimmerman

Who would win in a fight, I wonder: Spider-Man or Harry Potter? Both have proven themselves heavyweights—each starring in a blockbuster film this summer. Both of them have exceptional abilities, and generally both of them fight the forces of evil. But what if they fought each other?

Would it be a fair fight? Spider-Man has the proportional strength, speed and agility of a spider, along with the ability to spin webbing as a weapon and a knack for sensing trouble just in the nick of time. Harry Potter, on the other hand, has a growing command of magic and a keen eye for the Snitch. Laying them both side by side, I’d have to vote for the one with the webbing.

I’m probably betraying my age by siding with Spider-Man. We were, after all, kids at roughly the same time—if you count about twenty years’ difference as rough. At least, by virtue of the comic-book convention of capping a character’s age at about thirty, I’m closer in age to Peter Parker than I am to Harry Potter, and by virtue of J. K. Rowling’s late entry into publishing juvenile fiction, Spider-Man had a profoundly more significant impact on my upbringing.

Spider-Man was a poster child for teen angst in the 1960s, and though he grew to young adulthood before I was born, his stories still had relevance for me by the time I started reading them. Here was a hero who was obviously younger, with more joie de vivre, than other costumed heroes such as jingoistic Superman and dour Batman; here was a hero who liked to bounce around the bad guys, cracking wise, even though his girlfriend had just dumped him and his Aunt May was nagging him and his boss was being a jerk—not to mention that his enemies were trying to kill him. Peter Parker, even before he was Spider-Man, was a child of promise who was having to endure the growing pains of adolescence and, later, young adulthood. While lots of characters were my heroes, he was a role model.

By comparison, Harry Potter is a scrub, too wet behind the ears to know what’s good for him. He goofs around, bends rules, slacks off, frustrates his professors, goes looking for trouble and bungles relationships. He wastes so much of his potential by risking his neck; he needs to do some serious growing up.

Again, perhaps I’m dating myself. In reality, Harry Potter may well be the Spider-Man of his generation. Here’s a kid who’s coming into his own sense of empowerment and character formation before our eyes, who from book to book and from film to film is the same old Harry yet substantially different, who is forced by horrible circumstance after horrible circumstance to grow up fast and yet who somehow still manages to enjoy his youth. When I step down from my grouchy old thirty-something high horse, I have to tip my hat to Harry; he’s living life to the full.

But Harry, just like Spider-Man and just like all of us, will grow up. Rowling has suggested that Harry’s adventures will end after seven volumes have been written, and though the series will continue to entertain and inspire young people for years, he will eventually, necessarily, yield the stage to another icon as his generation yields to another. And in the meantime, if things ever get tense between him and Spider-Man, my money’s still on Spider-Man.

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Check out my book, in stores this December.

Who is this masked man?

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at August 9, 2004 7:47 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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