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Is there some in-Universe (or somewhat canonical) explanation for why Harry wears glasses - either 100% of the time, or at least, when playing Quiddich?

Surely, given assorted spells, there should be one to repair either the issues with his near-sightedness, or, more likely, to act as lenses (being how magic is used to replace ANY technology, it ought to be able to replace lense-making).

P.S. I seem to recall a spell to make someone see better from afar, but not sure of the details.

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    One of the great HP debates that I had never heard of until now... Sigh. – PearsonArtPhoto May 24 '11 at 2:36
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    The spell you're remembering is probably one that improved his glasses(but not his eyesight) during the match with the heavy rain. – apoorv020 May 24 '11 at 5:11
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    it's a writing ploy that Rowling used to make give him a weakness, since he's the boy wonder and all. :-D – DForck42 May 24 '11 at 18:16
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    @DVK A genetic pre-disposition to bad eye sight such as one not caused by a traumatic incident tends to occur around puberty because that is when the eye undergoes the most change and thus the most can go wrong in the eyes development. I am a M.D. In ophthalmology so I do believe I know what I am talking about. – user14868 May 28 '13 at 4:33
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    Secretly...Harry was a huge fan of Geordi Laforge. – Zibbobz Apr 16 '14 at 15:35

10 Answers 10

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Poor eyesight simply appears to be a non-reversible ailment among wizards.

We have ample evidence that this is so, by the 19 other mentioned wizard and witches who also wear them.

Amelia Bones (monocle), Borgin (pince-nez), Aberforth Dumbledore, Mafalda Hopkirk

Albus Dumbledore (half-moon)

‘Exactly,’ said Dumbledore, looking very seriously over the top of his half-moon glasses.

Minerva McGonagall (square)

Instead he was smiling at a rather severe-looking woman who was wearing square glasses exactly the shape of the markings the cat had had around its eyes.

Myrtle Warren (thick lenses), Bob Ogden (thick lenses), Harry Potter (round)

James Potter (round)

The tall, thin, black-haired man standing next to her put his arm around her. He wore glasses, and his hair was very untidy. It stuck up at the back, just like Harry’s did.

Rufus Scrimgeour (wire-rimmed), Rita Skeeter (rhinestone), Tofty (pince-nez)

Sybill Trelawney (thick lenses), Arthur Weasley (horn-rimmed)

Percy Weasley (horn-rimmed)

‘I – don’t – want –’ said Percy thickly, as the twins forced the jumper over his head, knocking his glasses askew.

Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank (monocle), Eldred Worple

wiki

As to Harry's particular case, as Syltherincess states he appears to simply be genetically predisposed to poor eyesight like his father.

With the large base of people wearing glasses in world it leads to a pretty solid assumption that it cant be fixed magically. Not really a plot hole when you look at the vast list of individuals, simply something Rowling planed magic to have no answer to.

  • Given that poor (muggle) eyesight can be fixed with a simple, but rather expensive operation, might that also not apply to wizards? Perhaps poor eyesight is fixable but there are reasons why such a thing is to be avoided (cultural / financial). – Valorum Jun 20 '16 at 20:05
  • @Valorum some of these listed are some of the most powerful wizards of their time, seems "if" a cure existed they would be most likely to have gotten it. Magically a spell would be "free" only if it required some form of advanced potion with special ingredients could we argue cost was a factor. – Himarm Jun 20 '16 at 20:07
  • This man can literally afford anything. For some reason, he hasn't had laser-eye surgery to correct his eyesight. – Valorum Jun 20 '16 at 20:09
  • @Valorum dont forget lasik is a relatively new tech, and has full % chances of issues, it also can only improve eye sight to a certain degree in which many recipients still need glasses, and is only usable on certain types of eye issues anyway. its a quick fix for mild vision loss, Harrys is relatively bad. aao.org/eye-health/treatments/lasik – Himarm Jun 20 '16 at 20:17
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    @Valorum I think the issue is not that you couldn't use a wand to make the kinds of reshaping that are made in lasik surgery, but that knowing what to do to the eye requires a modern medical understanding of how the eye works, what it does, how it does it and so on and so forth, which wizards presumably wouldn't have, having basically eschewed science, having little need of it with their magic (plus the fact that magic breaks a lot of science). Magical medicine seems to rely more on finding spells and potions to do x or y by magic, rather than understanding anatomy and setting to work on it – Au101 Jul 2 '16 at 5:43
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Harry wears his glasses during Quidditch because he cannot see without them. Why he cannot see without glasses, I think, has to be one of three reasons.

  • Harry's poor eyesight is collateral damage from Avada Kedavra, the darkest of evil curses. Body parts that are damaged, destroyed, or severed due to dark curses don't seem to be repairable in Potterverse:

    Mrs Weasley looked round and said, ‘I can’t make it grow back, not when it’s been removed by Dark Magic. But it could have been so much worse ... he’s alive.’

    Deathly Hallows - Page 66 - UK Hardcover

  • Harry's eyesight is poor because the author wanted her hero to wear glasses.

    When a fan asked J.K. Rowling why Harry Potter wears glasses, Rowling answered: "Because I had glasses all though my childhood and I was sick and tired of the person in the books who wore the glasses was always the brainy one and it really irritated me and I wanted to read about a hero wearing glasses. It also has a symbolic function, Harry is the eyes onto the books in the sense that is always Harry's point of view, so there was also that, you know, facet of him wearing glasses".

    JK Rowling - BBC INTERVIEW 07.18.05

  • Harry inherited his poor eyesight from his father James Potter, and values other qualities in himself (much like the reason Snape doesn't attend to his hygiene, per JKR) and doesn't feel that he needs to "fix" his eyesight.

Regarding spells, Hermione uses Impervius to protect Harry's glasses during Quidditch in PoA. There is a spell called Obscuro, which blindfolds a person (Hermione uses it on Phineas Nigellus). the Supersensory Spell lets a person see objects that are out of their line of vision (Ron uses this to pass his Muggle driving test). The Conjunctivitis Curse affects the vision of anyone hit with it (Sirius suggested it to Harry as a possible Curse for the first task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament; Madame Maxime uses it against the giants when they acted up when she and Hagrid went to meet with them). As an aside, Oculus Reparo does not appear in the books; it's a movie-only spell.

ETA: Just adding confirmation that James Potter did indeed wear glasses: This was in contrast to the only wizarding photograph on the walls, which was a picture of four Hogwarts students standing arm in arm, laughing at the camera. With a leap of pleasure, Harry recognised his father; his untidy, black hair stuck up at the back like Harry’s and he, too, wore glasses. (Deathly Hallows - Kreacher's Tale)

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    Does #2 imply JKR was not brainy? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 23 '12 at 2:11
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    How genetic is poor eyesight? - is pretty heritable IIRC – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 23 '12 at 7:35
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    @OpaCitiZen -- From DH: This was in contrast to the only wizarding photograph on the walls, which was a picture of four Hogwarts students standing arm in arm, laughing at the camera. With a leap of pleasure, Harry recognised his father; his untidy, black hair stuck up at the back like Harry’s and he, too, wore glasses. It's in the chapter Kreacher's Tale – Slytherincess Jan 23 '12 at 9:55
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    @John -- That was in Deathly Hallows, yes, but I don't know if Harry was wearing glasses as a baby. I'll check. Okay, no, no mention of glasses: A black-haired baby was zooming in and out of the picture on a tiny broom, roaring with laughter, and a pair of legs that must have belonged to James were chasing after him. :) – Slytherincess Mar 23 '12 at 19:07
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    @hims056 -- I get what you're saying, but the body is very complex. I myself got my mother's eyes -- exactly, down to one of our lids squinting up a bit more than the other when we smile -- yet I need glasses and my mother doesn't. I don't think "Harry has Lily's eyes" has the same meaning as cloning. – Slytherincess Jul 31 '14 at 16:31
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There's a difference between healing an injury, i.e. returning someone to their natural state, and attempting to override one's natural physical characteristics.

There are several healing spells mentioned in the books, such as repairing a broken nose, removing/regrowing bones and healing cuts. These are not trivial spells and they can go disastrously wrong if cast improperly. Even these spells only speed up the body's natural healing process; some injuries are so traumatic that they can't even be healed by magic.

IIRC the only magic powerful enough to physically alter someone's appearance (and eyesight) is polyjuice potion, and that wears off fairly quickly.

Plus, I can't help feeling it would be considered a fairly gross thing to do, to use magic on your own body... kind of like plastic surgery when used for vanity's sake. It feels like more of a dark wizard thing... like splitting one's soul.

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    Yes, splitting one's soul, mildly altering the shape of the eye's lens. Totally the same. ;-) – Jeff May 24 '11 at 15:35
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    @Jeff: I know, right?! And it's not even mildly altering the shape of the lens because Harry's eyesight was really bad! Maybe he could get immortal sight or... hey, are you being sarcastic? ;) – Kalessin May 24 '11 at 17:56
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    @Kyralessa: Sorry. I was referring to the healing spells gone wrong. If you don't believe it, see book 2. – PearsonArtPhoto May 25 '11 at 14:12
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    You are clearly evil if you use magic to become more attractive. Like shrinking a pair of beavery front-teeth for example. ;> – Aifos Nov 11 '12 at 22:26
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    @Aifos Alright, look, I wish I hadn't made any references to dark magic, it's just the overall impression I got. I'm not trying to say it's evil just... you know... icky. Don't forget, Hermione was embarrassed when her DIY dental work was noticed. – Kalessin Nov 12 '12 at 7:03
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Well, we know that his vision wasn't perfect, and so he needed them in the Muggle world. It seems like wizards don't use any modern muggle technology, and contact lenses would definitely fit into that (Plus how could he afford them, he didn't exactly have muggle money...)

One not as well known thing about Lasik surgery is that people should be 18 to do it. Why, might you ask? Well, it's because eyes are still changing significantly until one reaches about that age. So, even if he did want to ditch the glasses, he wouldn't be old enough for Lasik. I'm going to assume that the same thing would be true of any wizard treatment that might exist.

Also, in order to fix vision, one has to know a fair amount of optics and human biology. Things have to be done exactly correctly, or else one will mess things up even further. With some of the other things we see fixed, it's more of a matter of getting things to an appropriate size, and approximately the right location, but for eyes, they must be very precise, to the micron level.

Finally, the glasses to a large degree represent many things which Harry often represented, intelligence, respect, little money (Especially with the broken glasses to begin with), and not particularly physically strong.

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    If a wizard can figure out how to manipulate memories, I think reshaping an eyeball would be child's play. – Ryan May 24 '11 at 2:46
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    @Ryan: Manipulating, yes. Manipulating in a way to fix it, well, not quite as easy. Besides, pretty much all of the memory manipulation we see is destructive, which is a bit easier. – PearsonArtPhoto May 24 '11 at 2:47
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    All of this has got me thinking, it'd be a simple spell to make it so someone couldn't see. Wonder why it's never attempted... – PearsonArtPhoto May 24 '11 at 2:48
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    @DVK: healing other injuries is merely restoring their bodies to their natural state. I'm sure they could heal you if your eye was cut (but not removed! See Mad-Eye), but in this case the 'natural state' is a misshapen lens. – Jeff May 24 '11 at 15:37
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    @DVK: Healing usually involves speeding up biological processes that would have occurred anyhow. A broken bone will mend, if set properly, but magic could make it heal very quickly. Vision does not heal itself, so there's no process for magic to speed up. – Wayne May 24 '11 at 16:54
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Eyesight may not be viewed as a deformity by the magical world.

Speaking for someone who's worn glasses since they were in primary school, I'm not sure they'll want corrective surgery if and when such surgery that would correct all their vision faults becomes available. Viewing the world through glasses and viewing the world without glasses will mean a huge shift in perspective and having to relearn all sorts of things.

Maybe the spell is available, but not everyone makes use of it. Harry couldn't when he was younger (imagine the Dursley's response) and may just not care one way or another at current time.

Percy Weasley, Dumbledore and Prof. McGonagall too wear glasses.

McGonagall and Dumbledore may like the way they look with glasses. (Being able to look over the tops of your glasses at students when you need to intimidate is widely regarded as a good thing by some teachers.)

  • see my response to apoorv020. Based on both the source text (Harry having trouble during Quidditch), and my own experience playing sports with glasses, indicate that Harry would have made use of the spell if he could. It's about simple physical sports-related problem, not about psychological angles. I fail to see either of the 3 other glass wearers playing high-impact sports :)))) - and I agree that they may like the glasses "professorial" look. – DVK-on-Ahch-To May 24 '11 at 13:25
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It could be a combination of several reasons:

  • He really doesn't mind his glasses. After some time, glasses start feeling like a part of you. Plus, AFAIR, he isn't teased about his glasses in the wizarding world. (I suspect that glasses are not considered uncool. Plus, Dumbledore and Lupin both wear glasses).

  • He doesn't realize that magic can be used to cure everyday maladies (like tooth, pimples) etc. He views the hospital as something you go when you have misplaced every bone in your body or maybe poisoned yourself.

  • They may not even have the good technology magic for it. Certainly they can do some wonderful stuff, but it may not be very safe, convenient or inexpensive. If there's an instantaneous cure for bad sight, I will take it. But if I have to wait three weeks in the hospital for it, nah.

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    I wear glasses. I can certainly say that the first bullet point is, if not 100% false, at least not true for 100% people. Heck, they play havoc with soccer. Never mind Quidditch. – DVK-on-Ahch-To May 24 '11 at 5:51
  • @DVK:Yeah I had forgotten the violent sport factor of it. – apoorv020 May 24 '11 at 6:48
  • I wouldn't give up my glasses, just like I wouldn't shave of my hair even if it gets in the way sometimes. I look much better with them. – Aifos Nov 11 '12 at 22:33
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I have no idea whether there's a canonical answer to that, but if I had to draw up a theory I'd say his sight was damaged by the same spell that gave him that famous and apparently also incurable scar.

(On a side-note worthy of Captain Obvious I'd say having problems with his vision is quite symbolic: He's constantly looking back into memories or looking forward to his impending confrontation with his nemesis: focusing on the present is a kind of a struggle for him in itself.)

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    Moreover, Avada Kedavra was described as a blinding jet of green light: "Sometimes, when he strained his memory during long hours in his cupboard, he came up with a strange vision: a blinding flash of green light and a burning pain on his forehead." (Book 1, chapter 2) – rems Aug 17 '11 at 18:05
  • Slytherincess's answer just demolished the Avada Kedavra theory of poor eyesight (though she mentioned it herself) - James Potter wore glasses as well and he didn't have the same excuse as Harry. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 23 '12 at 2:15
  • @DVK I don't see why there HAS to be a connection between Harry and James wearing glasses. It is not uncommon to inherit bad vision from the parents but Harry might could just as well have bad eyesight for his own reasons. It is not clear just how bad his eyesight is but I think it is worth mentioning that he had glasses early. I'm no expert but people who get the same eye problems as their parents usually develop it later, around puberty. I would say that the idea that the green light damaged his eyes is still likely. – Aifos Nov 11 '12 at 22:44
  • @Aifos - I'm strongly skeptical about "people who get the same eye problems as their parents usually develop it later". Do you have any references? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Nov 11 '12 at 23:03
  • No, sorry, I don't. It is just something that my optician used to tell me. As I said, I'm no expert. – Aifos Nov 12 '12 at 10:50
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We know that technology in the magical world follows Muggle technology with a long delay. Wizards use candles for lighting, fireplaces for heating, and a steam locomotive for traveling.

Both contact lenses and laser eye surgery are new technology, have improved a great deal in the last decade, and are still improving. I would thus expect that contact lenses or laser eye surgery were not yet readily available in the wizarding world at the time the story of Harry Potter happened (eg. in 1997).

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I don't have any canon for this, just my opinion. Harry wore glasses because it was the only physical way to tie him to James (other than his unruly hair which a lot of people have). Everyone commented on his eyes - his mother's eyes, but the glasses were the only thing that visually tie him to his father and made them look alike. If there were no glasses he would have been any ordinary boy with dark hair.

Remember when Hagrid first saw Dudley in the ocean shack? He was under the impression that Dudley was Harry until Harry stepped out and Hagrid saw the (James') glasses.

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Perhaps he could have had his eyes fixed but it is a complex spell which needs a specialist in eye healing/surgery magic and they are hard to get appointments or Harry had not found out about the specialist yet. Or perhaps one must be a certain age before the repair can be made by magic so that the eye continues to grow with the individual. Plus, it may be very expensive/dangerous.

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