Bella Swan and Harry Potter are essentially the same character
Very hot take coming up.
So I’ve been re-reading Twilight and of course rifling through my own (still surprisingly sharp) memories of the Harry Potter books, and got struck with the notion of Twilight being very like Harry Potter in the sense that it too was essentially a mystery wrapped in a fantasy: There is central mystery of who Edward is in Twilight and the seven different mysteries of HP that their protagonists have to solve. Harry of course roams the castle for clues and Bella herself plays detective by interrogating other people about the mysterious Cullens, fake-flirting with Jacob, and doing internet research on vampires.
But that’s not all they have in common. They also have the same kind of protagonist.
Both books are about a young, pure-hearted protagonist discovering a world of magic, introduced by an inhabitant of that world, one that co-exists with their own regular human world and one the protagonists must navigate and learn. Both protagonists consistently attract trouble: Harry’s “I’m not looking for trouble, trouble usually finds me” and Edward’s wry description of Bella as a “danger magnet.” Bella is often criticized as being passive, but Harry, especially in his younger years, is almost completely so. Even his heroism is essentially reactive: It is based purely on his trying to survive several threats to his life. When he does act, it is to save himself, other people, or to sacrifice himself for other people—something that Bella succeeds at when she gives herself up to James and contemplates when she thinks about becoming a distraction à la third wife to save Edward. In their “saving people thing,” they act rashly and are easily deceived by a canny villain who uses a beloved (Sirius and Renée) to lure them to their deaths.
Both Harry and Bella are humble, have modest tastes in tandem with a mild appreciation of finery, do not covet worldly goods and fame, are deeply uncomfortable with attention, have quietly fierce independent streaks, and have moments of selfishness, great anger, myopia, and temper. They are devastated when even considering leaving the world they discovered behind—Hogwarts and Edward, essentially. They even have a similar power, a love shield: Harry passively via his mother’s sacrifice and Bella eventually actively via her own love for her beloveds. Both are essentially private people, with similar dark sense of humor tinged with irony and snark, making jokes about their death. Both share many traits with their creators and are framed as the moral centers of their series.
In each, they have an eventual character arc from complete ignorance and innocence to a complete mastery of and integration into the discovered world, either by defeating a personal evil or by becoming one of the inhabitants physically. In doing so, however, neither of them compromise who they are nor taint their inner goodness irredeemably.
But how come these parallels aren’t really all that evident for most readers? What makes these two protagonist register with readers in different ways even though they are similar in personality? Harry could be just as a passive, if not more so, as Bella, and Bella’s self-sacrificing tendencies are as marked as Harry’s. Both have been criticized as being bland and passive protagonists surrounded by much more interesting side cast of fan favorites, and have been at the center of contentious shipping wars (Hinny, Harmony, the infamous Team Edward and Team Jacob wars). Harry has had his sharp criticism, but no great hatred as Bella gets. So what gives?
The reason, I think, has to do with genre, and what readers expect from a hero versus a heroine. A male protagonist’s actions are (not always, but mostly) viewed contextually or situationally—what would be the most reasonable reaction or action to a given situation. The passiveness of a male protagonist, then, is caution or deliberation, or simply circumstantial inability (poverty, age, danger, etc). But a heroine’s passivity both uses ancient tropes of female helplessness and challenges the more popular trope of the female machista that accepts and adopts patriarchal values. There is also the psychology of their ages and audience: Harry begins his series at 11, ends at 17, and Bella begins hers at 17. Harry’s entrance into the wizarding world is entirely independent from romance and so is his coming-of-age; Bella’s entrance into the vampiric world is completely dependent on it. Harry’s abilities also allow him to participate more in this new world than Bella can as a mere human, except for when she becomes a vampire and is finally made equal in status to Edward—social elevation are, very unsurprisingly, key themes in both.
(This also explains why both their film adaptations’ issues with writing their protagonists, with Film!Twilight deleting the mystery element entirely and thus removing Bella’s agency in pursuing Edward and the erotic tension, and Film!HP smoothing out Harry’s thornier, authority-phobic side, and even his reactive heroism in favor of uncomplicated male heroism).
So in sum: Bella Swan and Harry Potter are essentially the same character type in terms of character traits and roles in their respective works, but are received differently by their audience due to genre and sexist double standards.