Rowling, J. K. 1966-
J. K. RowlingINTRODUCTION
(Full name Joanne Kathleen Rowling; has also published under the pseudonyms Newt Scamander and Kennilworthy Whisp) English young adult novelist and author of juvenile fiction.
The following entry presents an overview of Rowling's career through 2005. For further information on her life and works, see CLR, Volumes 66 and 80.
In a relatively brief period, Rowling—creator of the phenomenally popular Harry Potter series—has become one of the most successful children's authors of all time. Beginning with Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997; also published as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone), Rowling debuted her series of young adult novels focused on the travails of an adolescent wizard coming of age at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The public response to Harry Potter has been unprecedented, with readers purchasing over a quarter of a billion copies of the Potter novels since 1997. Rowling's books have been translated into over sixty languages, and the sixth title in the author's planned seven-novel cycle, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005), set a new world record with an initial printing of 10.8 million copies. Literary critics have compared Rowling's texts to such classic children's fantasy sagas as J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. However, unlike Lewis's works, the Harry Potter series has been denounced by certain Christian groups for allegedly glorifying witchcraft, making the novels some of the most challenged children's texts of the past decade. Despite such controversies, Rowling has been credited with inspiring a generation of avid readers and has earned recognition as one of the most read authors of the modern era.
Rowling was born on July 31, 1966, in Chipping Sodbury, near the outskirts of Bristol, England. As her father was an aircraft factory manager and her mother a lab technician, Rowling was raised in a middle-class household with her younger sister Dianne. She spent her early childhood in Winterbourne, moving with her family at the age of nine to Tutshill in the Forest of Dean. Rowling demonstrated an early interest in reading and writing, hoping to pursue a career as an author. She enrolled at the University of Exeter, studying French and Classics, and eventually moved to London where she worked as a bilingual researcher for Amnesty International. According to Rowling, she first came up with the idea for Harry Potter in 1990 while traveling by train between Manchester and London. She would continue to intermittently work on the manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone over the next six years. When she was twenty-six, Rowling moved to Oporto, Portugal, to teach English. There she met Portuguese journalist Jorge Arante, whom she married in 1992. Though they divorced in 1995, the couple had one daughter, Jessica. In December 1994, Rowling and her daughter moved to Edinburgh, Scotland. Unemployed and unable to afford child care, she lived for a year on public assistance. During this period, Rowling went to a nearby café every day, where she eventually completed her first full draft of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. After being rejected by nine publishers, The Philosopher's Stone was published in the United Kingdom in 1997. In 1998 the novel was released in the United States by Scholastic, who retitled the book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Rowling's first Harry Potter tale quickly became a media sensation in the U.S. and Europe, and its impressive sales allowed Rowling to work as a writer full time. Warner Brothers purchased the film rights to the Harry Potter series and have produced a quartet of internationally popular and high-grossing movies based on Rowling's first four Potter novels. The studio has announced their intention to eventually release film adaptations of all seven of the planned volumes in the Potter series. Rowling now lives in Perthshire, Scotland, with her husband, Neil Murray, an anesthesiologist. The couple has two children, David and Mackenzie.
Each of Rowling's novels represent one year in the life of Harry Potter, an orphaned youngster with a lightening-shaped scar on his forehead. As Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone opens, Harry is living with his cruel aunt and uncle, the Dursleys, who force him to reside in a small cupboard beneath their stairs. On his eleventh birthday, Harry receives a letter inviting him to enroll in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a boarding school for the magically-inclined. When the Hogwarts groundskeeper, the half-giant Hagrid, arrives to deliver Harry to school, young Potter learns that his wizard father, James, and witch mother, Lily, were murdered by Lord Voldemort, an evil wizard of legendary power. Voldemort attempted to kill the infant Harry as well, but for an unknown reason, his killing curse rebounded off of Harry—leaving him with his trade-mark scar—and instead destroyed Voldemort. The wizarding community now reveres Harry as a celebrity (referring to him as "The Boy Who Lived"), while also fearing the possible return of Voldemort (who is simply known as "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named"). After Hagrid takes Harry to Diagon Alley for school supplies and a wand, Potter boards a magical train to Hogwarts which leaves from Platform Nine and Three-Quarters at King's Cross Station in London. Onboard the Hogwarts Express, Harry meets two classmates who will become his best friends and compatriots—Ron Weasley, a good-natured under-achiever from a large middle-class wizarding family, and Hermione Granger, a driven bookworm with two "Muggles" (non-magic humans) for parents. After arriving at Hogwarts, Harry meets the headmaster, Professor Albus Dumbledore, who is rumored to be the only wizard that Voldemort ever feared. Dumbledore becomes Harry's mentor and surrogate father-figure throughout the series. During his first year, Harry takes classes in Herbology, the History of Magic, Charms, Potions, and Defense Against the Dark Arts, while also becoming skilled at the game of Quidditch, a fast-moving sport played on flying broomsticks. As Harry's freshman year progresses, Potter eventually finds himself caught up in a plot surrounding the weakened Voldemort's attempts to obtain a magical Philosopher's Stone that's being kept at Hogwarts, which he believes can restore him to full health. After foiling Voldemort's plans at the end of the school year, Harry returns to live with the Dursleys for the summer—a narrative pattern that all of the subsequent novels would follow.
In the second volume of the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998), Harry returns to Hogwarts after Ron rescues him from the Dursleys in a flying car. However, the school year is marked by tragedy after several students—including Hermione—are frozen in a state of magical paralysis by an unknown foe, and blood-stained graffiti warns that, "The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the Heir, Beware." These incidents shed light on the divisions of class in the wizarding community, particularly the tension between pure-blood wizards and "mudbloods" (a racist term for wizards with some Muggle heritage). To solve the mystery of the Chamber, Harry must contend with his vain celebrity professor Gilderoy Lockhart, Ron's lovestruck younger sister, Ginny, and the mysterious magical diary of a former Hogwarts student, Tom Riddle. With Rowling's third novel, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), the series begins taking on a much darker tone, which parallels Harry's growing maturity and emergence into teenaged adolescence. As the story commences, the wizarding world learns that Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban, a notorious magical prison. Harry is shocked to learn that the fugitive is his godfather, particularly because it was widely believed that Black betrayed Harry's parents to Lord Voldemort. With a murderer on the loose, the Ministry of Magic, the governmental body of the magical world, sends the Azkaban prison guards—soul-sucking vampiric creatures called Dementors—to protect Hogwarts. However, as Harry learns more about the circumstances surrounding the death of his parents, he begins to question whether Black actually played a role in the crime. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), Hogwarts is chosen to host a renowned competition, the Tri-Wizard Tournament, which will pit contestants representing three different schools—Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang—against each other. Though Harry is far too young to enter the contest, the enchanted Goblet of Fire places him into the competition, which raises the suspicions of Dumbledore and the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Mad-Eye Moody. As Harry struggles to survive the contest's deadly challenges, he is also faced with the same emotional troubles that confront most teenagers, such as Ron's growing jealousy of his fame and his first romantic feelings for his classmate Cho Chang. The novel concludes with a shocking death and the full resurrection of Lord Voldemort, whom Harry barely escapes. As Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003) opens, Harry is now fifteen and more plagued by internal adolescent angst than in the previous novels. His general disgruntlement is directed toward various figures of authority and bureaucracy, such as the Ministry of Magic, who have launched a media smear campaign against Harry in order to discredit his claim that Lord Voldemort has returned. However, many wizards—including Dumbledore, the exonerated Sirius Black, and the Weasleys—believe Harry and have formed an underground resistance movement called the Order of the Phoenix to prevent Voldemort from taking power. Meanwhile, Harry is forced to contend with Hogwarts' infuriating new Ministry-appointed headmaster, Dolores Umbridge. In the sixth chapter, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the wizarding community—fully convinced that Voldemort has come back—now looks to Harry as a messianic figure who might be the only one who can save them from the Dark Lord. As the school year progresses, Dumbledore spends much of the term mentoring Harry about Voldemort's personal history, possibly in hopes of finding a way to destroy the evil wizard. Concurrently, Harry searches for a mysterious figure called the "Half-Blood Prince" and fights his growing attraction to Ron's sister Ginny. In the novel's conclusion, Voldemort's followers (known as the Death-Eaters) attack Hogwarts, and one of Harry's dearest friends is killed in the confrontation. With the school in shambles, Harry vows not to return to Hogwarts for his seventh year and instead pledges to track down Voldemort, stating that, "I'm the one who's going to kill him." On several occasions, Rowling has commented that the seventh novel will be the last of the Harry Potter series. Under pseudonyms, Rowling has also published two short supplement texts set in the Harry Potter universe—Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2001) and Quidditch through the Ages (2001)—whose proceeds were donated entirely to charity.
There has been considerable critical debate surrounding the Harry Potter series, both as works of children's literature and as a unique publishing phenomenon. Lesley Nye has observed that the sheer popularity of the books among children raises a number of fundamental societal questions, such as "the power and purpose of the media; the demise of the written word in the Internet age; the interminable struggle over what and who is taught in schools; the decisive definition of 'literature'; and the criteria used to determine admittance into the literary canon." Several scholars have attempted to ascertain why Harry Potter is so appealing to children, resulting in a variety of speculative conclusions. Critics have noted the wide range of literary traditions from which Rowling draws in the Potter series, including classic mythology, the traditional fairy tale, fantasy fiction, mystery-detective stories, the coming-of-age bildungsroman, and the British boarding-school novel. While popular audiences and many reviewers have lauded Rowling's skillful storytelling, intricate plots, and likeable, well-drawn characters, some critics have faulted Rowling's texts for their overwritten prose, excessive use of adverbs, clichéd phrasing, and repetitiveness. Much critical discussion has focused on the moral and ethical messages of the Harry Potter series, with scholars debating the significance of Rowling's depictions of the relationship between children and figures of authority. Though the novels are very broadly about the battle between good and evil, there has been notable controversy generated by a few fundamentalist Christian organizations who claim that the Potter series advocates Satanism and witchcraft. While many religious groups have praised the positive messages and morality of Rowling's novels, the Harry Potter books topped the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom's most challenged books list in 1999 and 2000. Emily Griesinger has argued that, while the use of wizardry in Harry Potter is "problematic" from a Christian perspective, "Rowling paradoxically integrates into her vision ideas supportive of Christian values and truth…. What children learn from Harry Potter is that power is not morally neutral. The battle between goodness and evil is real; our choices are costly, to ourselves and others, and regardless of size, age, appearance, or ability, our choices matter. In this regard, I find Harry Potter not just a 'good read,' but a morally good book that builds character."
Rowling has won numerous honors and awards for her Harry Potter series. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone received the British Book Award for Children's Book of the Year, the Nestlé Smarties Gold Award, the Publishers Weekly Best Book Award, the Booklist Editor's Choice Award, the New York Public Library Best Book of the Year Award, the Parenting Book of the Year Award, and the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets won the Nestlé Smarties Gold Award, the Booklist Editor's Choice Award, the ALA Best Book for Young Adults Award, and the School Library Journal Best Book of the Year Award. In addition, Rowling received the Whitbread Prize for Children's Literature, the Nestlé Smarties Gold Award, the Booklist Editor's Choice Award, and the Los Angeles Times Best Book Award for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. For Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Rowling was presented with the W. H. Smith Children's Book of the Year Award, the Hugo Award for Best Novel, and the Whitaker Platinum Book Award. Goblet of Fire was also voted Britain's fifth best-loved novel by the British public as part of the BBC's The Big Read program. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix received the Bram Stoker Award for young readers and the W. H. Smith Book Award for fiction. In 2005 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince won the Best Book and Best Children's Chapter Book at the first annual Quills Awards.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (young adult novel) 1997; published in the United States as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, 1998
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (young adult novel) 1998
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (young adult novel) 1999
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (young adult novel) 2000
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them [as Newt Scamander] (juvenile fiction) 2001
Quidditch through the Ages [as Kennilworthy Whisp] (juvenile fiction) 2001
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (young adult novel) 2003
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (young adult novel) 2005
Lesley Nye (essay date spring 2001)
SOURCE: Nye, Lesley. "Editor's Review." Harvard Educational Review 71, no. 1 (spring 2001): 136-45.
[In the following essay, Nye offers assessments of the first four Harry Potter novels—Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire—placing Rowling's young adult series within a historical context and comparing it with other works of children's fantasy literature.]
I finally accepted the fact that Harry Potter was truly an unusual phenomenon when I arrived at my 82-year-old grandmother's house in Nashville, Tennessee, the day before the release of [Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ]. She greeted me, as usual, with her special blend of enthusiasm and grace, led me by the hand into her tidy little apartment, and then pointed to a Visa card on the kitchen table. "Tomorrow, you will pick up the copies I ordered," she intoned. "I need to know." That sealed it for me: J. K. Rowling has created something that is not merely a typical children's book series. But what makes it so special?
The hue and cry about Harry Potter since the release of The Goblet has been overwhelming, and the debates are raging far and wide. Everyone seems to have an opinion: literary critics, educators, parents, journalists, 10-year-old Boy Scouts, historians, Wiccans, fundamentalist Christians, politicians, rabbis, graduate students, and especially grandmothers. Proffered concerns and opinions span quite a spectrum and address fundamental social issues: the power and purpose of the media; the demise of the written word in the Internet age; the interminable struggle over what and who is taught in schools; the decisive definition of "literature"; and the criteria used to determine admittance into the literary canon. Even Rowl-ing's detractors should admit that the Harry Potter series has sparked new conversations about a host of critical topics and has reinvigorated a genre.
However, public conversations and arguments about Harry, his influence, his character, his author, and his world have also tended to be oddly ahistorical. Many of his most virulent critics behave as though this is the first time a popular children's author has written about the supernatural, or a secondary fantasy world paralleling this one, or the nature and manifestations of evil. And they are both upset and threatened by these themes. According to one newspaper report:
Parents in more than 13 states have demanded that librarians and school officials keep Harry out of their kids' hands. John Miesburg, a parent in Jacksonville, Fla., claims that the Harry Potter books "glorify witchcraft." Miesburg objected when his local library held Harry Potter parties and awarded pretend Hogwarts certificates to Harry Potter readers. "It's a travesty that the city of Jacksonville and our library would be promoting the evil of witchcraft to our children," said Miesburg. "There are no words strong enough to say how surprised I am," said the author (Rowling), who plans to write more books about Harry. "Magic will be a theme in children's literature as long as the human race exists."1
Why do so many of Harry's detractors focus on the apparently unusual aspects of magic in Rowling's work? One is tempted to suggest that this is because the majority of the voices rising above the clamor are those of folks who are not members of the typical reading public. One of the most extraordinary accomplishments of Rowling and her publishers is the ambush of numerous unsuspecting members of a complacent TV/computer generation—and their parents. Kids who have never voluntarily picked up a book in their lives—and are proud to say so on national television—are flocking to local bookstores in droves, egged on by peer pressure and natural curiosity. The complaints usually directed at more mainstream media are suddenly being rerouted to literature in a dramatic way.
Harry Potter, as many of us now know, is a young boy who was raised along with his hateful cousin, Dudley, by his unsympathetic aunt and uncle (the Dursleys), after his parents' death in what he is told was an automobile accident. He awakens on his eleventh birthday to discover that, rather then being a perfectly normal orphan, he is in fact a wizard, and not just any old wizard either. Ten years before, his parents were murdered by the most evil and powerful wizard of modern times, and he—baby though he was—apparently caused this character's (Lord Voldemort, or You-Know-Who's) downfall, though not his demise. Harry is thus greatly revered in the wizarding world—an alternative universe with its own rules and laws, a Ministry of Magic to oversee them, shopping centers, athletic stadiums, and train stations—which exists alongside the regular mortals' (Muggles's) world, unbeknownst to, and unsuspected by, them.
Freed from the stifling and uncaring authority of his relatives, Harry embarks upon a series of adventures at his new boarding school, Hogwarts, where the curriculum includes such courses as Defense Against the Dark Arts and Care of Magical Creatures; Quidditch (a game played on broomsticks, involving goal posts, hoops, and several different flying balls) is the sport of choice rather than football (either American or European); and trolls and ghosts prowl the hallways, wreaking havoc on students' nerves as well as the furniture. There, between classes, school dances, and surreptitious forays into the Forbidden Forest (which harbors such creatures as giant spiders, self-propelling automobiles, and centaurs), Harry consistently finds himself encountering, and then doing magical battle with, the minions of Lord Voldemort. The latest chapter of the saga finds him face-to-face with the Dark Lord himself, and Harry barely escapes with his life.
As Rowling herself admits, however, the character type that Harry Potter represents is not new, nor is his an entirely novel world. His story is not unusual, nor are his concerns and crises (both the natural and the supernatural) particularly original. As one reviewer writes, "They share so many elements with so many children's classics that sometimes it seems as though Rowling had assembled her novels from a kit."2 Even the method of his publication is not unprecedented; serials and sequels were a favorite Victorian treat and continue to be employed regularly. While certain aspects of his universe are unique, Harry Potter is really only the latest protagonist in a long and honorable line of fantasy children, and the youngest general in the age-long battle against the forces of evil. The rest of this review will attempt to put Harry Potter and his magical world into historical perspective and to compare and contrast J. K. Rowling's work with some of the admitted classics of children's fantasy literature.
It was not until the nineteenth century that children even became a target audience for authors; until then, children simply relied upon those adult tales and sto-ries that engaged their imaginations. Naturally, their preferred chronicles generally included some element of fantasy, which should come as no surprise to people who either know—or have ever been—children.3 Thus, in the Middle Ages, as the oral tradition began to give way to the printed word, children were beguiled with Aesop and his fables, stories of King Arthur and his knights, Robin Hood, and Beowulf, as well as tales from the Bible. Puritans like John Bunyan deliberately included elements of fantasy in their religious tracts in order to appeal to children; The Pilgrim's Progress (1671), intended as a Christian allegory, included monsters, dragons, giants, and other imaginary creatures. Witches, faeries, and alternative worlds continued to appear in the adult realm, and consequently to appeal to children, during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century; for example, in the works of Herbert Spenser, William Shakespeare, and Jonathan Swift. Swift's Gulliver's Travels, for example, although written as a political satire, is thus described by Charlotte Bronte's child Jane Eyre:
This book I had again and again perused with delight. I considered it a narrative of facts, and discovered in it a vein of interest deeper than what I found in fairy tales: for as to the elves, having sought them in vain among foxglove leaves and bells, under mushrooms and beneath the ground-ivy mantling old wallnooks, I had at length made up my mind that they were gone out of England to some savage country … whereas Liliput and Brobdingnag being, in my creed, solid parts of the earth's surface, I doubted not that I might one day, by taking a long voyage, see with my own eyes the little fields, houses and trees, the diminutive people, the tiny cows, sheep, and birds of the one realm, and the cornfields forest-high, the mighty mastiffs, the monster cats, the tower-like men and women, of the other.4
By the mid-nineteenth century, children finally became the primary focus of attention for certain authors, and children no longer had to "make do." One has only to glance at the works of many of the great nineteenth-century writers, most notably Charles Dickens with his A Christmas Carol and other fantasy-based stories, to recognize their attraction to the land of the faeries and their interest in engaging children's imaginations. This is the period of the Brothers Grimm, John Ruskin, Charles Kingsley, George MacDonald, and Lewis Carroll, whose Alice in Wonderland has been called the archetype of modern children's fantasy. These authors embraced dwarves and giants, conversed with mice, cats, and lizards, danced with animated chess pieces and playing cards, and explored underwater worlds and parallel "Looking Glass" universes. Moreover, they included real children in their stories who interacted with the bizarre characters and actively participated in the unfolding of the tales. They demonstrated a certain amount of knowledge about—and respect for—children's intelligence and interests, while they also portrayed a moral and rule-bound universe with clear designations of "wrong" and "right" and often deep insights into societal and political issues.
Fantasy in children's fiction blossomed at the turn of the twentieth century—particularly in regard to the creation of "secondary" magical worlds. Edith Nesbit plagued her child protagonists with odd creatures such as the petulant Psammead (pronounced SammyAd), the vain Phoenix, and a flying carpet, which whisked the explorers out of their staid drawing room and into magical domains. Mary Poppins took up residence at the Banks's abode, from which she led her child charges on a series of other-world escapades. Sir James Barrie produced Never-Never Land, through which Peter Pan swooped, fought, and crowed his way into the hearts and minds of several generations of children. At the same time, children in the United States joyfully romped through the fields and mountains of L. Frank Baum's fabulous Oz, enjoying the first truly complete and self-contained "Secondary World" in children's fantasy literature. Rather than being the dreamy result of an overactive imagination, as Never-Never Land and Wonderland had been, Oz was a real world, a physical place, with its own topography, politicians, and laws (although those reared solely on the Judy Garland film, and not the Baum books, may not realize this).
In these and other early twentieth-century tales, children from this reality were swept or summoned into an alternative land, a "secondary world," where they had great adventures battling and overcoming forces of evil, with the aid of friendly locals. However, the magic ended when they returned to their own worlds—cornfields, nurseries, or damp music rooms—where the return to normalcy was generally embraced, though the lost excitement was sometimes mourned.
Like many of his predecessors, Harry Potter straddles a "secondary" world of magic—embodied by Hogwarts school, Diagon Alley, and Platform Nine and Three-Quarters—and the normal Muggle one, which includes Dudley, the Dursleys, and yellow taxicabs. And as with many secondary world fantasies, the two worlds are rather distinct; their inhabitants and cul-tures are kept carefully separate. Nevertheless, there is an especially warm familiarity about Harry's secondary world, where the political and social organizations almost precisely mirror those of the primary one, and whose characters and fates are clearly but ineffably tied to those of the Muggles. Clearly, Rowling, like other fantasists before her, has deliberately modeled Harry's world of dragons, flying broom-sticks, and goblin-guarded gold on the one she sees around her.
The "Secondary World" genre reached its zenith in the works of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, both to whom Rowling has referred as inspirations. These works also embody the epic tradition in children's literature. In this tradition, a hero, or group of heros, engages with, fiercely battles, and eventually defeats a dire and powerful embodiment of Evil. Symbolic swords and wise teachers, treacherous and faithful friends, and tests of moral strength are common factors in the tales. Generally, a single, omniscient, and practically omnipotent individual wields great moral and magical influence and guides the protagonists through their adventures. The fall of Evil is often followed by a crucial and terrible choice: whether or not the hero(s) of the story will choose a life of continued magic and presumably infinite bliss, or whether they will return to the mundane world of humanity.
In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis's child heros and heroines initially enter Narnia through the back of an old wardrobe in an odd old country house. There they discover the wonders of talking animals and the horror of the callous White Witch, who has cast a frosty spell over the land so that "it is always winter and never Christmas." They are befriended by Aslan, the great lion, who tells them it is their destiny to overthrow the evil witch and rule Narnia as good kings and queens. They proceed, with his help, to do so. Although there are exceptions, a similar pattern evolves in most of the subsequent Narnia chronicles. Children, sitting at a common British train station or peering at a picture of a seafaring vessel, find themselves abruptly plunged into the forests or salty waters of Narnia, where they are assigned a specific heroic task, which always involves fighting the forces of Evil and reinstating the supremacy of Good. They struggle against minor jealousies and selfish tendencies, learn to appreciate true friendship and the power of trust, and in so doing inevitably grow up. Aslan acts as their oracle throughout, allknowing, but also intent on forcing the child-heros to make their own decisions and forge their own paths. In the end, the children always return to their own world (except in The Last Battle, which is more directly a Christian allegory) where they grow old and must strive to remember the lessons they have learned.
J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle Earth is quite different, in that it does not involve the intervention of children from this world, although the primary protagonists and heros—hobbits—are diminutive in stature and childlike in appearance. Rather, his Lord of the Rings trilogy features other-world characters such as hobbits and dwarves, elves and goblins, wraiths and Ents, engaged in a mighty and all-encompassing war for domination of their own land. But once again, the primary Evil is absolute, embodied in the Dark Lord Sauron and his minions. Minor evils fret and worry the heros throughout their quests: self-doubt and loathing, greed, anger, lust for power, and muttering beasts with bulging eyes and padding, webbed feet. Talismans, such as the One Ring to Rule them All and the Sword that was Broken, play key roles in the drama. Gandalf the Wise, the noble and ancient magician, acts as the story's main prophet and guardian of Good. After the defeat of Sauron, the last remnants of elves and wizards, along with a chosen number of heroic hobbits and other mortals, depart from the shores of Middle Earth, leaving the rest—bereft of magic and mystery—alone to rule and guard the land.
Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series, written in the mid 1960s, and Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising, written primarily in the 1970s, are also prime examples of the epic tradition in children's fantasy literature. Alexander's Prydain series involves a young pig-keeper who metamorphoses into a kingly leader; a Dark Lord whose agents of menace are threatening to take over the land; magic harps and talking crows, prideful princes and lovelorn lads; an ancient and revered wizard who dispenses wisdom and is seemingly indestructible; a sword that when wielded by a true heart and an honest hand can slay even the king of darkness; and a promise of immortality and eternal happiness at the end of the tale, rejected by the hero in favor of a human life, with its associated joys and losses.
Finally, Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising encompasses most of these same themes. Children vacationing in Cornwall stumble upon a valuable token of great magic, a grail that is sought by both the ancient powers of the Dark and the agents of the Light. An epic struggle ensues, drawing upon Arthurian and lo-cal legends. The forces of the Light are led by an old man who turns out to be none other than Merlin himself, while the forces of the Dark are aided by supernatural beings who assume various human shapes, as well as "normal" people, overcome by their personal and moral flaws and driven to do evil. The usual sword motif appears in the final book of the series, as the son of King Arthur delivers the final blow that turns the armies of the Dark aside and sends them out of the world forever. Faced with a choice between immortality and forgetful humanity, he elects to remain with his humble friends and share their world, rather than to return to his father's side in perpetuity.
Harry Potter, though only midway through his epic, seems to be treading along this familiar path. Much like his literary ancestors, Harry begins as a "normal" boy in an unhappy home. As mentioned above, on the eve of his eleventh birthday, he is pleasantly surprised to find that he is, in fact, a wizard. Endowed with strange and as-yet unforeseen powers, he has already unknowingly vanquished one of the most evil and potent wizards in history, and it is now time for him to assume his rightful place in the magical realm.
Supported and counseled by Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School and reputedly the only other wizard capable of dealing with Voldemort, Harry embarks upon a series of increasingly challenging and frightening encounters with his terrible nemesis. Dumbledore offers sage advice and presumed protection but allows Harry to engage demons on his own terms, and typically fails to turn up until the very end of each dramatic denouement. Left generally to his own devices, the boy and his brave, loyal band of friends again and again foil and frustrate the plans of the master villain and his disguised henchmen.
The storylines are punctuated with underlying social and personal concerns, as in all other epic children's fantasies. Jealousy, anger, petty misunderstandings, budding romances, selfishness, and the other usual suspects repeatedly manifest themselves. In the latest book, Rowling does a particularly good job of portraying the various insecurities and fears suffered by young people on the eve of their first dance, as well as the destructive power of young male egos and the continued allure of the school jock. As expected, while Harry and his friends gallantly spar with their adolescent angst, they learn important lessons about themselves and the world(s) around them.
However, certain differences set Harry Potter aside from his fellow epic heros. Perhaps most importantly, in defiance of a traditional pattern in secondary world writing, in which children from our tedious world find themselves unintentionally thrust into a magical one, Harry himself personifies magic in a Muggle World. Typically, magic happens to the child protagonists in these stories.5 They are spellbound or unintentionally catapulted into alternate worlds, or they just happen to stumble upon a magical ring, or book, or carpet, or creature. Harry, on the other hand, is master of his own universe. Although still an amateur, he is becoming increasingly proficient in the art and science of magic, and he belongs to Hogwarts more than he does to the Muggle world. The Dursleys's—the Muggle house in which he was raised and tormented for most of his young life—is obviously not Harry's home, nor are the train stations and taxi stands and other "normal" places and situations in which he finds himself. He is happiest and most comfortable when he is firmly and completely ensconced in the "secondary" world of magic; it is the real world that he finds truly unfamiliar.
Another interesting twist on the children's epic fantasy tradition is the fact that the books are becoming ever more frightening and intense as the series continues. The sense of impending doom and the reader's awareness of the extent of Voldemort's nastiness are dramatically heightening as Harry grows older and more capable of understanding the scope and potential of evil. This stands in stark contrast to the works of Lewis or Tolkien, in which the horror of the White Witch and the power of Sauron are made immediately and terrifyingly apparent from the very outset. Rowling, interestingly, seems to be giving her hero—and perhaps her readers as well—time and room to grow used to the idea of Voldemort's malevolence; it is as though the level of wickedness in each book is directed at a particular developmental stage.
Symbolism also seems to be less important in the Rowling universe than in other epic fantasies. Granted, a particular sword appears from a magic hat just in time to slay a giant serpent, and a magic goblet (grail) selects the names of the competitors in the Triwizard Tournament. But there are very few consistent themes or images throughout the four books. This may, of course, simply be because the series is only partly complete, and it is naturally difficult to determine the extent of an object's symbolism until the tale is entirely finished. However, it will be interesting to see which artifacts reappear in the next few episodes of Harry's great adventure.
It is also impossible to predict with any accuracy whether or not Harry will eventually face the traditional challenge of the epic hero: the final choice between his two worlds. We can assume that eventually he will vanquish the powers of darkness, and that he will do so with the aid and assistance of Dumbledore, his friends, his teachers, and a few select Muggles. But whether or not his future includes the disintegration of the magical world and the reinstitution of the primacy of the Muggles depends entirely upon J. K. Rowling.
To return to the initial question, then. What is it about this series that is so different and captivating? Without a doubt, it is not groundbreaking. Secondary worlds, witches, dragons, large sporting events, troublesome classmates, evil masterminds, ghosts, giants, nasty teachers, tests of bravery, magical swords—all have been done before. Heros have grappled with terrifying monsters and their own adolescence for centuries. Wise wizards have observed and taught, good friends have bonded and fought. Swords have been lost and broken, and tasks have been set and accomplished. Good has always overcome Evil in the end, and the boy almost always gets the girl. We expect nothing less from Harry.
While some critics would use this point as evidence against Rowling, it seems rather more a point in her favor. She has embraced a certain genre, children's epic fantasy, and is adding a new hero to the canon. And she is doing an excellent job with him. Harry seems to us a real boy, facing real problems, and engaged in a real battle with the creeping darkness that we all know is out there. Despite the oddities of his world, we are able to recognize it as our own and appreciate the struggle for both petty and absolute power within it. This, in and of itself, is a great accomplishment. After all, J. R. R. Tolkien, who created what is arguably the greatest of the "Other Worlds," the wonderful Middle Earth, wrote in "On Fairy-Stories":
To make a Secondary World inside which the green sun will be credible, commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labour and thought, and will certainly demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft. Few attempt such difficult tasks. But when they are attempted and in degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art; indeed a narrative art; story-making in its primary and potent mode.6
When do you think the next Harry Potter will be out, anyway?
1. "News Debate: Banning Harry Potter," Current Events, October 13, 2000, p. 3.
2. "Why Harry's Hot," Newsweek, July 17, 2000, p. 52.
5. The exception is Susan Cooper's Will Stanton. Will is, however, not really a "child," although this initially comes as a surprise to him. He is what is termed an "Old One," an immortal guardian of the Light, and therefore more immune to the vagaries and concerns of adolescence than any of the true child protagonists discussed here.
6. J. R. R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories," in Tree and Leaf (London: Unwin Books, 1964), p. 45.
Lloyd Alexander, The Black Cauldron, New York: Dell, 1980.
――――――. The Book of Three, New York: Dell, 1980.
――――――. The Castle of Lyr, New York: Dell, 1980.
――――――. The High King, New York: Dell, 1980.
――――――. Taran Wanderer, New York: Dell, 1980.
Sir James Barrie, Peter Pan: The Complete Book, New York: Tundra Books, 1988.
L. Frank Baum, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, New York: Dover, 1984.
――――――. The Marvelous Land of Oz, New York: Penguin, 1985.
――――――. Ozma of Oz, New York: Dover, 1985.
――――――. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, New York: Morrow, 1987.
Charlotte Bronte, "Jane Eyre," in The Brontes: Three Great Novels, Oxford, Eng.: Oxford University Press, 1994.
John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress, Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin Books, 1965.
Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, London: Macmillan's Children's Books, 1984.
Susan Cooper, The Dark Is Rising, New York: Collier Books, 1986.
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, New York: Bantam Classics, 1999.
Sheila Egoff, Worlds Within: Children's Fantasy from the Middle Ages to Today, Chicago: American Library Association, 1988.
Charles Kingsley, The Water-Babies: A Fairy Tale for a Land-Baby, London: Dent, 1982.
C. S. Lewis, The Narnia Chronicles: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Silver Chair; A Horse and His Boy; The Magician's Nephew; The Last Battle, London: Harper Collins, 1980.
George MacDonald, Dealings with the Faeries, London: Strahan, 1867.
――――――. The Golden Key, New York: Farrar, 1976.
――――――. The Princess and Curdie, Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1970.
――――――. The Princess and the Goblin, Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1984.
Edith Nesbit, Five Children and It, New York: Puffin Books, 1992.
――――――. The Phoenix and the Carpet, Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1984.
――――――. The Story of the Amulet, New York: Puffin Books, 1996.
John Ruskin, The King of the Golden River, London: Dover Press, 1975.
Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels, New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1986.
J. R. R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories," in Tree and Leaf, London: Unwin Books, 1964.
――――――. The Hobbit, London: Allen & Unwin, 1984.
――――――. The Lord of the Rings, New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 1994.
Pamela Travers, Mary Poppins, London: William Collins, 1982.
Jack Zipes (Trans.), The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, New York: Bantam Books, 1992.
Roberta Seelinger Trites (essay date fall 2001)
SOURCE: Trites, Roberta Seelinger. "The Harry Potter Novels as a Test Case for Adolescent Literature." Style 35, no. 3 (fall 2001): 472-85.
[In the following essay, Trites delineates recurring themes in the Harry Potter series which are characteristic of the young adult literature genre, such as personal autonomy, mortality, interaction within social institutions, and sexual awakenings.]
When I first read J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (1997), I did not understand its mass appeal. It is clever and charming, but it is also episodically plotted, relatively predictable, derivative of Baum, Lewis, and Dahl, and it is altogether more sexist than it needs to be. But as I read the final chapter, I discovered Rowling's secret ingredients: the book portrays parents' love as omnipotent, and it provides a reassuring message about death. These represent two of the most essential ingredients of children's literature.1 As a whole, the series also participates in the traditions of adolescent literature. As the characters in the series grow older, the books shift solidly onto the terrain of adolescent literature. The characters learn to recognize their autonomy from their parents, but death becomes more threatening, more of a menace, than it is in the first Harry Potter book. Moreover, the Potter books demonstrate another defining characteristic of adolescent literature: the characters begin to explore their sexuality. Throughout the series, the books also rely on social institutions to proscribe adolescents' place in society. Thus, as a series, the Harry Potter books provide us with the opportunity to interrogate what constitutes adolescent literature.
Although the task of defining adolescent literature has engaged numerous scholars, many do so by comparing the genre to adult rather than children's literature. Certainly, both children's and adolescent literature were greatly influenced by Romanticism. Indeed, the first novels to focus on the transition between childhood and adolescence were written during the Romantic era; Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (1795–96) is often cited as the first such novel. Labeled "Bildungsromane" by such literary critics as Susanne Howe, G. B. Tennyson, and Jerome Buckley, the coming-of-age novel focuses on the development of the adolescent into an adult. Buckley, for example, defines an adult as one who has achieved the capacity to work and love, but his model is relatively androcentric (22-23). Feminist critics including Annis Pratt; Eve Kornfield and Susan Jackson; Barbara White; and Elizabeth Abel, Elizabeth Langland, and Marianne Hirsch point out that the pattern of development differs for the male and female protagonist. Female protagonists are more likely to define maturity in terms of inner growth and familial relations than they are in terms of achieving independence from their parents (Abel, et al., 8-11). Regardless of the protagonist's gender, however, crit-ics of the Bildungsroman seek to understand narrative structure in terms of character development.
But scholars of literature written specifically for adolescents—to which I refer as "young adult literature"—are more likely to focus on issues of audience and need than on paradigmatic stages of character development. Such critics as Ben F. Nelms, Sheila Schwartz, Kenneth Donelson and Alleen Pace Nilsen, Geraldine DeLuca, Robert C. Small, Marilynn Olson, Michael Steig, Marc Aronson, and Michael Cart tend to ask the implied questions "for whom is the novel written and what is its purpose?" Peter Hollindale, for instance, singles out the epiphany as the defining characteristic that provides adolescent novels with a cathartic function; he firmly believes adolescents need the emotional outlet that books provide (116-32). Maria Nikolajeva and Caroline Hunt also employ poststructural methodologies to investigate how material culture infiltrates the genre to help define it. Most of these critics still assume that depicting characters who grow is still an essential component of the genre.
From my vantage point, however, the crux of defining adolescent literature as distinct from children's literature resides in the issue of power. While in children's literature, growth is depicted as a function of what the character has learned about self, growth in adolescent literature is inevitably depicted as a function of what the adolescent has learned about how society curtails the individual's power. The adolescent cannot grow without experiencing gradations between power and powerlessness. Consequently, power is even more fundamental to the genre than growth is. During adolescence, adolescents must learn their place in the power structure by experiencing each of three interrelated issues: They must learn to negotiate the many institutions that shape them, they must also learn to balance their power with their parents' power and with the power of authority figures in general, and, finally, they must learn what portion of power they wield because of and despite such biological imperatives as sex and death. Adolescents are empowered by institutions and their parents and by their knowledge of their bodies, but by offering up rules and holding repercussions over their heads that limit their newfound freedoms, these things also restrict them. Foucault tells us it is in the very nature of power to be both enabling and repressive because it is omnipresent: "power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything but because it comes from everywhere" (History of Sexuality 93).
Harry Potter, the disempowered orphan we meet at the beginning of the Harry Potter books, is a classic example of adolescent growth being constructed in terms of power that comes from everywhere. When we first meet Harry, he is pitiful in a comic sort of way. He lives under the stairs at his aunt and uncle's house. They are his guardians because his parents are dead. On Harry's eleventh birthday, he magically receives a letter that tells him he is a wizard eligible to attend Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. Receiving the riches that his parents have deposited at the wizards' bank is only one part of the patrimony that subsequently enables him. Suddenly the boy who has nothing has everything, including more power than the family he is living with, those noaccount, non-magical Muggles (as those of us who are magic-deprived are called). Virtually all of the characters in the book are obsessed with power, especially with increasing their magical powers. In the initial story, these powers are defined as either "good" or "bad": a character in the first book reduces everything in Harry Potter's world to a reductive power binary when he comments, "There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it" (Sorcerer's Stone 291). But as the series progresses, so does the depiction of the moral complexity of power, and some characters' powers are portrayed ambiguously. In the third and fourth novels, for example, one of the teachers in Harry's school, Severus Snape, is portrayed as having an ambivalent relationship with the leader of evil in the wizarding world. The dark forces—currently disempowered by Harry Potter and his parents—spend the entire series trying to rebuild their power base. In each of the first four books Harry has enough power to save the world from complete destruction. But his first and most important empowerment comes from the sense of identity he has as a member of his school.
In the case of the Harry Potter books, school serves as the institutional setting of socialization that teaches the protagonist both his abilities and his limitations. As Gregory Maguire points out in the New York Times, that Rowling has coupled the hero's tale of apprenticeship with the school story accounts for much of the series' success. The books all partake of the formula familiar to readers of School Stories: addressed to children from the point of view of a child, the texts are middle-class in their perspective, and they follow a boy through several years at school focusing on two types of adventures, competition at sports and moral adventures (Clark 3-4). If the pur-pose of the School Story is to indoctrinate school-aged children into their place in the market economy (Clark 4-5), then the Harry Potter books certainly succeed. While at Hogwarts, Harry learns the uses of money and the problems with a social class system based on identity politics (including learning to distinguish "pureblood" wizards, "mudblood wizards," in whose veins flows some rather unfortunate Muggle blood, and, worst of all, the subalterns of the wizard world, Muggles). He learns the caste system of the supernatural world (ghosts are superior to poltergeists, for example, and most wizards despise giants); and he learns that those with the most honor ultimately have the most power. After all, Dumbledore, the school's headmaster, is the world's most powerful wizard because he is the most noble.
As class-conscious as most schools are, Hogwarts displays a dynamic traced by Yoshida Junko that is present at the heart of many school stories. Borrowing from Jeremy Bentham's model for the ideal prison, Foucault depicts a "panopticon" as a circular prison guarded by a central watchtower. Prisoners housed on the circumference of the wheel theoretically behave themselves because they never know when they are being watched (Foucault, Discipline 201). This model is at work in The Chocolate War (1974), by Robert Cormier (Yoshida 111). Certainly the students at Hogwarts—who are watched not only by their teachers, but also by prefects, by poltergeists, and even by the portraits on the wall—live in an atmosphere of constant surveillance designed to remind them of their powerlessness. The greatest testimony to the power Harry Potter's father and his friends wield in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999) is their ability to hide a portion of their magical powers from their omniscient headmaster. This sense of institutional watchfulness is present in most novels for adolescents, reinforcing for the adolescent reader the impossibility of solipsism.2
Mikhail Bakhtin might note that the need for the panopticon exists in conjunction with the carnivalesque atmosphere present in all schools. The carnival exists as a steam-letting measure that allows the masses to feel temporarily empowered so that they will willingly retain their disempowered social status (195-206). At Hogwarts, the trips to the local town and the occasional high-jinks tolerated by the school faculty provide an antidote to their students' sometimes overwhelming power. The carnivalesque has, nevertheless, a constraining function since its ultimate goal is to ensure the status quo. Thus, schools repress with authoritarian measures, such as the panopticon, and they repress with allegedly antiauthoritarian measures, such as carnivals—but in order to endure, the institution must necessarily invoke some form of tolerable institutional repression. Harry and his friends coexist with this system, recognizing it as especially necessary in an environment wherein magic has empowered students far more than students in the average (Muggle) school. But the fact remains: the school teaches them, increasing their knowledge and therefore their power, while it simultaneously represses those powers. The very function of such institutions as school, government, religion, identity politics, and family is to serve as "Ideological State Apparatuses" that interpellate subjects as socially constructed beings (Althusser 155). School is the institution that indoctrinates Harry and his friends into the social state in which they live. Hogwarts does so by simultaneously liberating and limiting the adolescents who live there. In almost every adolescent novel, some institution exists that simultaneously increases and decreases adolescents' sense of their own power.
If being empowered by institutional repression marks one necessary ingredient of adolescent literature, the adolescent's ability to negotiate parental authority marks another. According to Jacques Lacan, the child's first emotional crisis must be negotiated with the mother as the child moves from a stage of Imaginary oneness with her to a recognition that he is separate from her (Écrits 1-7, 197-99; see also Natov 1-16). From there follows entry into the Symbolic Order, marked by conflict with the Name-of-the-Father (Lacan, Écrits 199). For adolescent literature, this translates into a necessary form of the Oedipal struggle that seems (at times maddeningly) unavoidable for Western authors of adolescent literature. For critics of the Bildungsroman, such as Buckley and Tennyson, the son's ability to reject the father is the critical component of maturity. Feminist scholars and those who have learned from Lacan have a slightly more nuanced reading of the process that includes the adolescent's ability to (Imaginarily) identify with and eventually separate from the mother.
In any event, Harry Potter displays both strands of crisis with parental authority. For example, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry learns that his mother saved him from certain death through sheer dint of her love for him. When Harry was a baby, his family was attacked by the evil wizard Voldemort (often called—in language that seems to parody Lacan—"He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named").
Harry's mother has sacrificed her own life for her son's. As a result, Voldemort can kill the boy neither in that attack nor in subsequent attacks later in the series. Once Harry realizes this, he feels loyally identified with his mother. In his memory, he exists within her powerful love, is One with her, and so cannot be vanquished by this masculinized agent of World Death.3 Harry struggles throughout his life with this male agent of the Symbolic Order who would separate him from the inviolability of his Imaginary existence with his mother. But, of course, his sense of Imaginary Oneness with his mother can exist only because she is dead. The relationship is therefore entirely imaginary in both the Lacanian and the non-Lacanian senses of the term.
Harry's father plays a prominent role in the third novel, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Harry fears the Dementors, a type of incubus that sucks people's souls out of their bodies. From his father's best friend—a thinly veiled father-figure functioning in loco parentis—the boy learns to work a spell called a "patronus" that evokes the spirit of the father to protect him from Dementors. Harry's ability to work the spell resides in his eventual perception that his father lives within him; the boy has supplanted his father and become his father so that now he can save himself from evil. Only because of this introjection is Harry fully able to enter the Symbolic Order, an entry marked by his success in evoking the necessary words of the spell that give him power over the (always and only male) Dementors. It is as if Harry has created a spell out of words evoking his father in logos parentis, if my violent yoking of heterogeneous languages can be forgiven.4 The physical absence of Harry's father necessitates the boy's creation of a symbolic presence for his father to serve as a defense against death. When Harry defends himself from death by creating his father out of words within his own mind, he has experienced a misrecognition, a méconnaissance, that allows him to (mis)perceive himself as an "'Ideal-I,' a person whole and entire, capable and independent" (McGillis 42). With this action, the boy proves that Oedipus is alive and well at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry—and he proves the inseparability of his growth from his perception of his power in relationship to his parents' power.
A necessary component of every Harry Potter book is his conflict with the power wielded by at least one of his teachers. Throughout the series, Harry and his friends conflict with Severus Snape, the potions teacher at Hogwarts. Harry also has conflicts in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1999) with a teacher named Gilderoy Lockhart because Harry recognizes how duplicitous the man is. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, he questions the authority of the journalist named Rita Skeeter. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), Harry conflicts with one of the Ministers of Magic. In all of these experiences, Harry is testing his powers; but significantly, in all of them, he still manages to retain a tenable position within Hogwarts as an institution. While he is able to confront authority, he never completely overthrows it. He is never an agent of anarchy. Ultimately, all of his actions serve to support the intentions of the headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, so while Harry may appear rebellious, he is no iconoclast. In fact, although many protagonists in young adult novels initially appear to be iconoclasts, few still are by the end of a YA novel. Indeed, most have found subversive ways to work within the system and still remain a part of it, drawing their own authority from a system they once purported to resist.
In the fourth book of Rowling's series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry and his friends discover yet another dimension of power, that of their burgeoning sexuality. The sexual tension that has been smoldering between Harry's two best friends, Ron and Hermione, begins to sizzle, and Harry himself is enamored of Cho Chang. In the media hype that preceded the release of the fourth book, much was made of the fact that Harry and his friends would discover sexual attraction in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. That Rowling waited until the midpoint of the series—the fourth book of a projected seven—reflects the cultural tendency to define sexuality as the purview of maturation.5 No one can be surprised that adolescent novels discuss sexuality far more often than children's novels do. Experiencing sexuality is almost a de rigueur rite of passage for adolescents. After all, part of the titillation of sexuality for many teenagers resides in being able to rebel against authority figures by enjoying a forbidden sexuality.
Far more interesting, however, is the connection between sex and death in adolescent literature. Sex and death are linked in western discourse from at least as far back as that Ur-story of human sexuality, Adam and Eve's fall from the Garden of Eden. Only once Eve discovers knowledge is she doomed to procreate and to die. Thus, in western discourse, knowledge of sexual pleasure is inevitably linked with power: sexuality and knowledge both empower and disempower Eve (Foucault, History 53-73). In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Cho Chang, Harry's inamorata, also attracts the attention of Cedric Diggory, one of Harry's rivals for the Triwizard Cup in a tournament that involves three wizarding schools. Among its many other uses in the narrative, the tournament is a mechanism for Cedric and Harry to work out their male aggressiveness as they compete for the attention of the same girl. By the tournament's end, both Cedric and Harry have descended to an underworld of death as they fight Voldemort, who is reborn into a new body during the enterprise. And Cedric, one of the characters who has felt sexually attracted to Cho Chang, dies there.
Sexuality and death are often linked in adolescent literature to depict the carnality of the human body: experiencing sexuality is as important to maturation as understanding that we are mortals who will die. Robert Cormier links sex and death in the first chapter of The Chocolate War when the protagonist fleetingly remembers his dead mother and he compares the thought to "seeking ecstasy's memory an instant after jacking off" (10). The protagonist of Aidan Chambers's Breaktime (1978) tries to distinguish his own authority from his father's authority in a quest that leads him to better understand both sex and death; in one scene, the narrator describes a couple having sex in a coffin (130-31). In yet another example, the protagonist of Madeleine L'Engle's A House Like a Lotus (1984) finally understands her mentor's predatory sexuality only once she understands that it is linked to the woman's fear of death. Hugh and Irene, the double protagonists of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Beginning Place (1980), do battle with an incarnation of the fear of death—a creature that smells of semen—and make love for the first time after they have killed the creature. Given the frequency of this pattern in adolescent literature, it seems likely that as the Harry Potter series continues, Harry's sexuality will become even more clearly implicated in his understanding that death makes us mortal. Accepting sexuality and mortality gives adolescents the ability to better understand the power and limitations of their own bodies.
Moreover, according to Roland Barthes, accepting the death of the parent (the ultimate authority figure) creates the ultimate grief, for from it the child learns of his own mortality. Harry's parents are dead; ergo, he himself is mortal. Perhaps the greatest difference between children's and adolescent literature resides in the two genres' implications about the limits of the human body. In children's literature, death represents children's separation from their parents (Coats 116-20); in adolescent literature, death functions as the adolescent's own awareness of herself as Being-toward-death, the stage that Heidegger identifies as the individual's recognition that her or his existence can be defined only in terms of her or his lack of existence—that is, in terms of the limits of her or his own body (304-07).
Barthes employs photography as a metaphor that explains the objectification of the individual inherent in her death. Every photographic image of a person that captures the individual as an object transfixed in time is an artifact that contains "this catastrophe" of death (Barthes 96). The photographed object, like the corpse, is powerless, devoid of agency—except in Harry Potter's world, where photographs wave at the person watching them. Wizard photographs have agency, so they serve as artifacts that defy death: Harry's parents wave to him from a photograph album in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (304) and in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (212). This denial of death's power is symptomatic of the series' conflicted attitude toward death. After all, the first book describes death as "the next great adventure" (297), effectively neutralizing death's power and denying the primacy of Being-toward-death in an adolescent's self-definition. This tendency to minimize death might seem odd unless we bear in mind that this is the very nature of power, to both admit and deny, simultaneously to empower and repress (Foucault, "Two Lectures" 88-92). Thus, marking the series' obsession with death, the photography metaphor at once affirms and denies the permanence of death.
Barthes notes that photography became established in the nineteenth century (92) during an historical era in which death became removed from home life and institutionalized by hospitals, morgues, and the funeral industry (Ariés 2). During the same era, the Bildungsroman—the novel that codifies the inexorable growth of the individual as s/he progresses one stage of life closer to death—became entrenched in the Western literary canon. And, simultaneously, Freud taught Westerners that sexual repression drove all of their impulses. In other words, as the culture became fascinated with climaxes—as the culture became obsessed with ending(s) and teleology—photography emerged simultaneously with the Bildungsroman, a genre about growing more sexual and nearer to death. This metaphorical relationship between time passing and photography appears in a number of late twentieth-century adolescent novels, including Block's Witch Baby (1991), Chambers's Breaktime, Cross's Pictures in the Dark (1996), Johnson's Toning the Sweep (1993), Krisher's Spite Fences (1994), Lowry's A Summer to Die (1977), and Magorian's Good Night, Mr. Tom (1981). The adolescents in these novels contemplate various pictures in much the same way that Harry Potter pores over photos of his parents. Once the protagonists gaze upon a recursive image repeated with some sort of variation, however, they experience an epiphany that helps them to reconcile themselves to Being-toward-death (Trites, "Narrative Resolution" 129-49). Harry, for example, has internalized the image of his father from gazing at his photograph so often. When he sees himself from afar at a critical moment in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, he assumes that what he has seen is his father. Later, he realizes that he has actually gazed upon himself in a magical moment in which he has existed in duplicate. The significant point, however, is that because of his physical resemblance to his father, he can acknowledge that his father exists within him. This epiphany allows him to reconcile himself to his father's death and presumably to his own Being-toward-death. But the epiphany has been enacted only because Harry's father's image has appeared with variation: this time the image is Harry himself.
Peter Brooks notes that all novels are teleologically-oriented, that is, all narratives are created with the function of delaying their own climaxes—i.e., their own deaths (97-109). According to Brooks, most narratives rely on recursive actions to delay their endings. We could say that they try to retain their power over the reader by repeating events until resolution is achieved through repetition with variation, as the recurring photographs of Harry Potter's parents demonstrate. In another example out of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry and his friend Ginny communicate with a boy named Tom Riddle through his enchanted diary, an artifact of a boy presumed dead. Appearing numerous times, it provides Harry with clues as to the whereabouts of the Chamber of Secrets. Not until the diary appears repeated with variation, however, can the plot achieve resolution. When the author of the diary reveals that Tom Riddle was his childhood name before he became Lord Voldemort, Harry gains the knowledge that he needs to defeat at least this manifestation of the evil wizard. He saves himself and others from death, but, more important, he fulfills his parents' destiny to defy the agent of World Death. Harry—and the text itself—struggle against Being-toward-death until the boy's acceptance of his symbolic power allows the resolution of the plot to effect the book's demise.
The Limits of Adolescent Literature
Everything in adolescent literature is designed to teach adolescents their place in the power structure. In order to mature, teenagers must understand that sexuality is a powerful tool, that they are mortal and will therefore die, that they must both break free from and accept the authority figures in their lives, and that they are institutionally situated creatures, as all people are. If the use of institutions, if the teenager's rebellion against parental authority, if the adolescent protagonist and the very narrative itself are Being-toward-death in a movement simultaneously designed to admit and deny death's power over the human body—then what is the ideological message of the adolescent novel? With incredible consistency, the answer is this: You shall know your power and that power shall set you free—that is, until you begin to abrogate institutional power or parental power or sexual power or the very power of death itself, in which case, the narrative will remind you of your powerlessness as surely as Harry Potter must return at the end of every school year to reside in relative impotence with his Muggle relatives.
Ultimately, most adolescent novels carry some ideological message that reinforces the need for the adolescent to conform to the status quo. If we believe Hollindale's assertion that the power of adolescent literature lies in its cathartic power for the reader, then asking the reader to internalize these continued messages about the need for adolescents' power to be limited is tantamount to destroying the adolescent reader's potential power. Generally speaking, most adolescent novels make this argument at an implicit ideological level that is reinforced by issues of narrative structure. For example, adult characters are more likely to be the intradiegetic narrators who express Ideological Truths than are adolescents. That is, adult narrators who are interior to the text often have more authority than intradiegetic child narrators (see Genette 227-37). The source of ideological authority in the Harry Potter novels, then, makes this series' implicitly conservative agenda clear. An adult, Dumbledore, utters the theme(s) of every novel: "to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever" (Sorcerer's Stone 299); or "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we surely are, far more than our abilities" (Chamber of Secrets 333); or "You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us?" (Pris- oner of Azkaban 427); or "Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open" (Goblet of Fire 723). These are the themes of popular psychology and popular culture that many parents want their children to internalize. Not once in these four novels does an adolescent proclaim a major theme. That a textually-constructed adult (rather than a teenager) serves as the source of all this parentally-approved wisdom reminds the reader that adults have more knowledge than adolescents, so they must have more power. It follows logically that the only way for adolescents to empower themselves is to quit being so adolescent. Grow up. Get over yourselves.
Moreover, the villain in this series is a figure who refuses to honor socially sanctioned limits on power. That is, Voldemort is something of a teenager run amok—a rebel who refuses to internalize the repression mandated by his civilization. He wants to have power so he can use it to dominate others. In that sense, he is the perfect foil for Dumbledore, who has power that he does not want to use. It is Dumbledore's self-control that marks his maturity, and Voldemort's refusal to capitulate to the power-in-check model proffered by the state or institution that marks him as adolescent. And, of course, no good teenager would want to be like that. It is with such messages to readers that adolescent literature is all-too-often dedicated to teaching the intended reader that her or his subject position is inherently flawed and will continue to be so until s/he becomes an adult. In that sense, adolescent literature is probably the only genre in the world designed to propel the reader out of her or his own subject position.
Lest I appear to be singling out the Harry Potter books (which I actually quite enjoy) as somehow unusual or as a Betrayal Of The Sacred Trust of Adolescent Literature, remember that I offer them as a test case. The Harry Potter novels are among scores of adolescent novels that inculcate in teenagers their power relative to institutions, authority, and the limits of the human body. Novels by Francesca Lia Block, Bruce Brooks, Aidan Chambers, Susan Cooper, Robert Cormier, Gillian Cross, Chris Crutcher, Peter Dickinson, Virginia Hamilton, S. E. Hinton, Mollie Hunter, M. E. Kerr, Norma Klein, Madeleine L'Engle, Michelle Magorian, Margaret Mahy, Walter Dean Myers, William Sleator, Mildred Taylor, Sue Townsend, Cynthia Voigt, Barbara Wersba, Lawrence Yep, and Paul Zindel all display these characteristics, as do virtually every YA novel published in English since Hinton's The Outsiders broke new ground for the genre in 1967.
In fact, the very existence of the YA novel depends on a cultural ability to question the power relations that construct the individual. YA novels require at their core the type of postmodern questioning of power relations traced by such theorists as Barthes and Foucault and Lacan.6 Without the postmodern impetus to question how a character like Harry Potter comes into being informed as a subject by the social forces that act upon him, adolescent literature as we know it could not exist. Without the postmodern imprimatur on iconoclasm, the institutionally-sanctioned rebellion of adolescent literature would not be possible. Without the postmodern injunction against blind acceptance of divinely-ordered authority, adolescent literature would be unable to depict teenagers temporarily rejecting authority. Without the postmodern impulse to question the relationship between the individual and institutional power, we would be left with the type of linear Bildungsroman that was the darling of the Victorians.
But then, given that the genre's underlying agenda may perhaps be to assure adolescents that they need to get over themselves and just grow up, perhaps adolescent literature is, as Jacqueline Rose would have us think of children's literature, always already impossible. Indeed, adolescent literature may be as intent on thwarting adolescent power as Lord Voldemort is on obliterating Harry Potter.
1. For a cogent description of the parent-child relationship in children's literature, see Coats "Lacan with Runt Pigs." Two of the standard articles on death in children's literature include Butler's "Death in Children's Literature" and Gibson and Zaidman's "Death in Children's Literature."
2. Significantly, Harry's father bequeaths to him an invisibility cloak that allows him to move about the grounds without being seen, and, indirectly, the Marauder's Map that shows the whereabouts of every teacher on the grounds at any given time. But these two gifts function in the carnivalesque ways I describe below.
3. One of my friends assures me that Voldemort represents the epitome of capitalistic evil because his name said aloud sounds essentially like "Walmart." The more standard interpretation of the name is that it derives from French, "Flight of Death."
4. For more on the concept in logos parentis, see Trites, Disturbing the Universe 61-69.
5. Foucault distinguishes "sex" as a biological act from "sexuality," which is discursively constructed and ideologically confined (History 68-69).
6. See Trites, Disturbing the Universe 16-19.
Abel, Elizabeth, Marianne Hirsch, and Elizabeth Langland. The Voyage In: Fictions of Female Development. Hanover: UP of New England, 1983.
Althusser, Louis. "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses." Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. Trans. Ben Brewster. New York: Monthly Review P, 1971. 127-86.
Ariés, Philippe. Western Attitudes to Death from the Middle Ages to the Present. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1974.
Aronson, Marc. "'The YA Novel Is Dead' and Other Fairly Stupid Tales." School Library Journal (Jan. 1995): 36-37.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. "Rabelais and His World." The Bakhtin Reader. Ed. Pam Morris. New York: Routledge, 1994. 195-206.
Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1981.
Brooks, Peter. Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative. New York: Knopf, 1984.
Buckley, Jerome. Season of Youth: The Bildungsroman from Dickens to Golding. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1974.
Butler, Francelia. "Death in Children's Literature." Children's Literature 1 (1972): 104-24. Rpt. in Reflections on Literature for Children. Ed. Francelia Butler and Richard Rotert. Hamden, CT: Library Professional Publications, 1984. 72-90.
Cart, Michael. "Of Risk and Revelation: The Current State of Young Adult Literature." Journal of Youth Services in Libraries 8 (1995): 151-64.
Chambers, Aidan. Breaktime. New York: Harper and Row, 1978.
Clark, Beverly Lyon. Regendering the School Story: Sassy Sissies and Tattling Tomboys. New York: Garland, 1996.
Coats, Karen. "Lacan with Runt Pigs." Children's Literature 27 (1999): 105-28.
Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War. New York: Dell, 1974.
DeLuca, Geraldine. "Taking True Risks: Controversial Issues in New Young Adult Novels." The Lion and the Unicorn 3 (1979): 125-48.
Donelson, Kenneth L., and Alleen Pace Nilsen. Literature for Today's Young Adults. 5th ed. New York: Longman, 1997.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage, 1979.
――――――. The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Volume I. Trans. Robert Hurley. 1978. New York: Vintage, 1990.
――――――. "Two Lectures." Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977. Ed. Colin Gordon. New York: Pantheon, 1980.
Genette, Gérard. Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1980.
Gibson, Lois Rauch, and Laura M. Zaidman. "Death in Children's Literature: Taboo or Not Taboo?" Children's Literature Association Quarterly 16 (1991): 232-34.
Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. 1927. Trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper and Row, 1962.
Hollindale, Peter. Signs of Childness in Children's Books. Stroud: Thimble Press, 1997.
Howe, Susanne. Wilhelm Meister and His English Kinsmen: Apprentices to Life. 1930. New York: AMS Press, 1966.
Hunt, Caroline. "Young Adult Literature Evades the Theorists." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 21 (1996): 4-11.
Kornfield, Eve, and Susan Jackson. "The Female Bildungsroman in Nineteenth-Century America: Parameters of a Vision." Journal of American Culture 10.4 (1987): 69-75.
Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton, 1977.
――――――. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis. Trans. Alan Sheridan. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. New York: Norton, 1978.
Magorian, Michelle. Good Night, Mr. Tom. New York: Harper & Row, 1981.
Maguire, Gregory. "Lord of the Golden Snitch." New York Times Book Review, 5 Sept. 1999.
McGillis, Roderick. "Another Kick at La/can: 'I Am a Picture.'" Children's Literature Association Quarterly 20 (1995): 42-46.
Natov, Roni. "Mothers and Daughters: Jamaica Kincaid's Pre-Oedipal Narrative." Children's Literature 18 (1990): 1-16.
Nelms, Ben F. "From Little Women to Forever." English Journal (April 1992): 9, 11.
Nikolajeva, Maria. Children's Literature Comes of Age: Toward a New Aesthetic. New York: Garland, 1996.
Pratt, Annis. Archetypal Patterns in Women's Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1981.
Rose, Jacqueline. The Case of Peter Pan, or The Impossibility of Children's Fiction. London: Macmillan, 1984.
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic, 1999.
――――――. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, 2000.
――――――. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic, 1999.
――――――. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1997.
Schwartz, Sheila. Teaching Adolescent Literature: A Humanistic Approach. Rochelle Park, NJ: Hayden, 1979.
Small, Robert C., Jr. "The Literary Value of the Young Adult Novel." Journal of Youth Services in Libraries 6 (1992): 277-85.
Steig, Michael. "Never Going Home: Reflections on Reading, Adulthood, and the Possibility of Children's Literature." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 18 (1993): 36-39.
Tennyson, G. B. "The Bildungsroman in Nineteenth-Century English Literature." Medieval Epic to the "Epic Theater" of Brecht. Ed. Rosario P. Armato and John M. Spalek. Los Angeles: U of Southern California P, 1968. 135-46.
Trites, Roberta Seelinger. Disturbing the Universe: Power and Repression in Adolescent Literature. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2000.
――――――. "Narrative Resolution: Photography in Adolescent Literature." Children's Literature 27 (1999): 129-49.
White, Barbara A. Growing Up Female: Adolescent Girlhood in American Fiction. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1985.
Yoshida, Junko. "The Quest for Masculinity in The Chocolate War: Changing Conceptions of Masculinity in the 1970s." Children's Literature 26 (1998): 105-22.
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John Pennington (essay date 2002)
SOURCE: Pennington, John. "From Elfland to Hogwarts, or the Aesthetic Trouble with Harry Potter." Lion and the Unicorn 26 (2002): 78-97.
[In the following essay, Pennington argues that the Harry Potter series is a "fundamentally failed fantasy" due to Rowling's derivative, thematically inconsistent, and stylistically flawed storytelling.]
"Broaden your minds, my dears, and allow your eyes to see past the mundane!" (277). So explains Professor Trelawney in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third book in the projected seven-part Harry Potter series. And readers and critics have certainly looked past the mundane: Harry Potter is, quite simply, a crosscultural phenomenon with critical kudos to boot. Janet Maslin, in a review for The New York Times, writes of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire : "This time Ms. Rowling offers her clearest proof yet of what should have been wonderfully obvious: what makes the Potter books so popular is the radically simple fact that they're so good" (B1). The New Yorker is equally enthusiastic. In her review, Joan Acocella contends that "the great beauty of the Potter books is their wealth of imagination, their sheer shining fullness" (76). With the impending publication of book five in the series and now the release of The Sorcerer's Stone film, we can imagine that Harry Potter will remain in the forefront of popular cultural taste, defining the parameters for successful children's literature, particularly fantasy literature.1 With continued projected sales, the Harry Potter books may in all likelihood sell more overall volumes than those touchstones of modern fantasy, J. R. R. Tolkien's Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia.
But do the Harry Potter books "broaden" our minds and allow us to "see past the mundane"? Or are they simply mundane entertainment? Jack Zipes identifies the Harry Potter phenomenon as a complex cultural intersection of completing impulses: "Phenomena such as the Harry Potter books are driven by commodity consumption that at the same time sets the parameters of reading and aesthetic taste" (172). This taste, argues Zipes, is quite ironic, for the Harry Potter phenomenon is a return to the strictly conventional: "What appears as something phenomenal turns or is turned into its opposite through a process of homogenization: the phenomenal thing or occurrence must become a conventional commodity that can be grasped or consumed to fit our cultural expectations" (174). Thus some questions: Is Harry Potter a phenomenon because it is great, or even good, literature? Or is it a phenomenon because it provides readers with simple escape, a conventional quick-read? Is this conventionality, then, merely mundane? Or does Harry Potter tap into the societal need for magic? Acocella contends that "part of the secret of Rowling's success is her utter traditionalism. The Potter story is a fairy tale, plus a bildungsroman, plus a murder mystery, plus a cosmic war of good and evil, and there's almost no classic in any of those genres that doesn't reverberate between the lines of Harry's saga" (74). But is this utter traditionalism merely, as Zipes posits, a homogenization of the fantasy tradition that Rowling has seemingly reinvigorated?
My trepidation over the Harry Potter series is founded on the disconnect between what the books attempt to say—those significant archetypal themes Acocella elucidates—and how Rowling says them, a disconnect between form and content. No matter how popular Harry Potter remains, I argue that on aesthetic grounds the series is fundamentally failed fantasy. In The Goblet of Fire, Barty Crouch reminds us that "we must follow the rules, and the rules state clearly that those people whose names come out of the Goblet of Fire are bound to compete in the tournament" (277). But the tournament's rules have been violated, we find out; in fact, Mad-Eye Moody tells Harry that "cheating's a traditional part of the Triwizard Tournament and always has been" (343). The rule-bending/breaking in the Triwizard Tournament is a metaphor for Rowling's basic violation of fantasy literature ground rules—she violates the integral rules of the fantasy game, never capturing the integrity of the very fantasy tradition that she is mining for riches. And thus the aesthetic trouble with Harry Potter.
Kathryn Hume suggests that the two impulses that define literature are mimesis—the "desire to imitate"—and fantasy—which "desires to change givens and alter reality" (20-21). Consequently, Hume de-fines fantasy as "any departure from consensus reality, an impulse native to literature and manifested in innumerable variations, from monster to metaphor" (21). On a fundamental level, Rowling is unwilling—or unable—to depart from this consensus reality; her novels, for all their "magical" trappings, are prefigured in mundane reality, relying too wholly on the real from which she simultaneously wants to escape. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, for example, is essentially a realistic description of common British schooling practices, with the magic an awkward touch sprinkled in. This magic, in turn, is primarily grounded wholly in the real—the various potions classes replicate boring school curriculums. Magic is defined by its relationship to the real. For example, the Nimbus Two Thousand and the Firebolt, conventional broomsticks from witch lore, are described in no more fantastical ways than a Sharper Image advertisement for its Razor scooters:
This state-of-the-art racing broom sports a streamlined, superfine handle of ash, treated with a diamond-hard polish and hand-numbered with its own registration number. Each individually selected birch twig in the broomtail has been honed to aerodynamic perfection, giving the Firebolt unsurpassable balance and pinpoint precision. The Firebolt has an acceleration of 150 miles an hour in ten seconds and incorporates an unbreakable braking charm. Price on request.
(Prisoner of Azkaban 51)
Exclusive Rugged™ Razor with Big Tires
Razor's Rugged™ model boasts real air-filled tires that roll smoothly over rough roads, cracks and curbs. Its sturdy, non-slip deck is 16 3/4 inches long and a wide 4 inches for optimal stability. Steering column adjusts from 23 to 38 inches high. Features a rear fender friction brake. Weighs just 7 lbs.; steering column folds to a compact 4 × 12 × 22. Attached clip secures the grips when folded…. $89.95.
(The Sharper Image 38)
Which toy seems more magical and enticing? The Firebolt's "aura" of magic is parasitic, the host being conventional commodities that are found in popular culture. In fact, throughout the Harry Potter universe the Muggle world overpowers the wizard world: wizards go to work at toiling jobs, have the same governmental bureaucracy, have newspapers and radios and rock groups, and spend their leisure time like any Muggle, infatuated with earning money, worshipping sports heroes, and participating in masculine athletic competition. A case in point, the centerpiece of all books, is Quidditch. Though the game has "Chasers," "Bludgers," a "Quaffle," a "Keeper," a "Seeker," and a "Snitch," the game is, as Harry remarks, "sort of like basketball on broomsticks with six hoops, isn't it" ([Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone ] 167). Quidditch is also an amalgam of soccer, cricket, baseball, and hockey (real and virtual versions); the game is certainly not fabulous or inventive, signaling Rowling's inability to depart from consensus reality and change givens so she can fabricate an original fantasy world. Tolkien reminds us of the "connexions of fantasy with fantastic: with images of things that are not only 'not actually present,' but which are indeed not to be found in our primary world at all, or are generally believed not to be found there" ("On Fairy-Stories" 47).
Such a grounding in reality, however, does not necessarily exclude a work from being a successful fantasy. It does, though, when a work is not true to its genre or mode. Brian Attebery in Strategies of Fantasy argues that fantasy can be productively classified as a fuzzy set "defined not by boundaries but by a center" (12), The Lord of the Rings being that center by which we judge other fantasies. Attebery contends that we should evaluate a fantasy's success according to three fundamental principles: content, structure, and reader response. Content is, according to Attebery, defined by a "'violation of what the author clearly believes to be natural law'" (14), which parallels Hume's belief that fantasy is any "departure from consensus reality." In other words, fantasy must not simply replicate the real. In terms of structure, Attebery argues that fantasy is "comic": "it begins with a problem and ends with resolution" (15). Finally, and most important to our discussion, is the effect of fantasy on reader response. Attebery evokes Tolkien's notion of eucatastrophe, the good catastrophe that achieves the "effect [of] joy or consolation" (15), the primary human desire for "wonder," a magical estrangement from the ordinary. As Tolkien argues, eucatastrophe "does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies … universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief" (68). "The peculiar quality of the 'joy' in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth" ("On Fairy-Stories" 70-71). Another Inkling, C. S. Lewis, adds to Tolkien's vision: "If good novels are comments on life, good stories of this sort [the marvelous and fantastic] (which are much rarer) are actual additions to life; they give, like certain rare dreams, sensations we never had before, and enlarge our conception of the range of possible experience" (66).
The very British Rowling is absolutely indebted to Tolkien; he is that Harold Bloomian anxiety of influence for all fantasy writers.2 Like Tolkien's Middle-Earth books, and many classic fairy tales in general, the Potter books are clearly comic in their overall structure: Harry and his friends face various trials and tribulations in each book and restore order to their magical world, symbolized by the end of the school year, which finds the students returning home. Yet as Zipes reminds us, this conventional structure as evoked by Rowling does not provide for any thematic sophistication: "[Rowling] remains within the predictable happyend school of fairy-tale writers. You know from the beginning to end that Harry will triumph over evil, and this again may be one of the reasons that her novels have achieved so much popularity" (182). These conventional plots, one could argue, do not allow Rowling to achieve that wonder or joy that is essential to Tolkien's notion of fantasy. Certainly, the Potter books do not enlarge potentiality as Lewis suggests. Consequently, Rowling is not necessarily true to the Tolkien fuzzy set that seems to be at the heart of her books.
In addition, Rowling's fuzzy set of influence constantly shifts. More than with Tolkien, perhaps, Rowling follows in the tradition of C. S. Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia; once Harry and his friends enter the portal to an alternative world that is Platform Nine and Three-quarters, they are in the realm of Narnian influence, where children become self-sufficient and embark on perilous quests that help define their true character. Such a fuzzy set would also include Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea Books, Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain, and Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. But before exploring such a realm in much detail, Rowling's fuzzy set mutates: we can also be, at times, in the ironic and satiric realm of E. Nesbit's Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, or The Story of the Amulet. We do not stay too long in this realm, however. Soon we are not even in any fantasy fuzzy set—sprinkle a bit of Nancy Drew with the Hardy Boys, and add a dash of rugby-inspired competition from Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown's Schooldays. Furthermore, Rowling is most certainly indebted to film and television—The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Labyrinth, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, to name only a few, resonate in the fabric of Harry Potter's world. Some critics have even aligned Rowling with Roald Dahl and Lewis Carroll. As Yeats predicts, the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the Potter world. With no real center, the Potter books become adrift, often merely piling up conventional—and trite—fantasy clichés: various portals including railway terminals (Lewis's Narnia), chimney flues (Kingsley's Water Babies), broomsticks (Baum's Wizard of Oz), and magic cars (Fleming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). Yet there seems nothing particularly original about Rowling's borrowings.
Rowling also seems to purchase her marvelous assorted creatures from the Sears catalogue of fantasy clichés: poltergeists, longing ghosts, dragons, hippogriffs, giants, humongous spiders, vampires, werewolves, trolls, unicorns, centaurs, leprechauns, merpeople, elves, talking snakes, a phoenix, a sphinx, sirens, Pegasus horses (and I am certain that I have missed some). With such a menagerie, Rowling is unable to develop any of the fantastical creatures; in fact, she seems to expect the readers to bring that magic to her creations, a dubious technique at best. The Dementors are a prime example: they are, in fact, no more magical or mysterious or horrific than Rita Skeeter, the tabloid journalist who will write anything for a juicy story. Quite simply, Rowling does not have a firm footing in fantasy; her Potter creations are never certain about fantasy content, structure, theme, and how these components are essential to the reader's response to the fantastic.3
In the essay "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie," written in 1973, Ursula LeGuin concerns herself with writers who desire to transport readers to Elfland. LeGuin writes: "A great many people [readers] want to go there [to Elfland], without knowing what it is they're looking for, driven by a vague hunger for something real. With the intention or under the pretense of obliging them, certain writers of fantasy are building six-lane highways and trailer parks with drive-in movies, so that the tourists can feel at home just as if they were back in Poughkeepsie" (79). LeGuin's comments are an uncannily accurate prediction of the Harry Potter phenomenon.4 Her argument centers around the importance of style to create that wonder that is Elfland of the Secondary World. "The general assumption is that, if there are dragons or hippogriffs in a book," argues LeGuin, "or if it takes place in a vaguely Celtic or Near Eastern medieval setting, or if magic is done in it, then it's a fantasy. This is a mistake" (90). "Elfland is not Poughkeepsie; the voice of the transistor is not heard in that land" (92). Pick up any of the Harry Potter books and you will be hit with Poughkeepsie prose, not a style that generates the allure of Elfland.
Let us look at the style of a typical passage, this one from The Prisoner of Azkaban. And let us evoke those Dementors once again. Professor Lupin describes the odious and evil creatures to Harry:
Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can't see them. Get too near a dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself … soul-less evil. You'll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life. And the worst that happened to you, Harry, is enough to make anyone fall off their broom. You have nothing to feel ashamed of.
Except for the "foreign-sounding" nouns Dementors and Muggles, this passage could be about gang members in some dangerous inner city, their "sucking" of happy memories metaphoric rather than literal. Such a metaphoric reading, interestingly, would have more depth than Rowling's literal meaning: underprivileged teenagers are trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and violence. Rowling's Dementors, however, have no such power. She tells but does not show; she does not create that estrangement that evokes wonder in her description. The Dementors remain ordinary, a clever thought not artistically realized. Simply telling us that they are "soul-less evil" does not necessarily make them so. Even Rowling's names seems to be at odds with each other, for Dementors evokes the notion of something demented or someone cursed with dementia, while Muggles connotes something silly, someone mugging for a camera.
Let us compare a similar scene from LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea (1968). The teaching mage Gensher tells Ged about the dangers of the gebbeth, a prototype of a Dementor:
Nothing protects you but the power of the Masters here and the defenses laid upon this island that keep the creatures of evil away. If you left now, the thing you loosed would find you at once, and enter into you, and possess you. You would be no man but a gebbeth, a puppet doing the will of that evil shadow which you raised up into the sunlight. You must stay here, until you gain strength and wisdom enough to defend yourself from it—if ever you do. Even now it waits for you. Assuredly it waits for you. Have you seen it since that night?
Gensher's quiet alliterative "s's" create a cadence of concern—he speaks from Elfland, not from Poughkeepsie—and the style suggests a seriousness that is lacking in Rowling's example. There is a real danger in the LeGuin passage, the darkness of evil pitted against the sunlight of Ged, and Ged must undertake a horrible burden to defeat that evil, with much more serious potential than simply falling off a broomstick. As LeGuin writes of successful fantasy writers: "They know instinctively that what is wanted in fantasy is a distancing from the ordinary" (85), a distancing that is predicated on stylistic grace and integrity—and exactness. Rowling's passage contains 119 words, LeGuin's 106.
By choosing only one example to support my contention, some may argue that I am generalizing too much about Rowling's style. So let us look at another example, this one focusing on a stock fantasy creation that is, as Tolkien muses, at "the heart of desire of Faërie" ("On Fairy-Stories" 41)—dragons. In The Sorcerer's Stone, Rowling introduces "Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback" (228), an infant that Hagrid intends to raise: "The baby dragon flopped onto the table. It wasn't exactly pretty; Harry thought it looked like a crumpled black umbrella. Its spiny wings were huge compared to its skinny jet body, it had a long snout with wide nostrils, the stubs of horns and bulging, orange eyes" (235). Except for the simile of the black umbrella (too reminiscent of Lewis's Dufflepuds?), the description remains flat, "it wasn't exactly pretty" a compilation of "weasel words" that ultimately evokes nothing concrete. This description, in turn, reflects the fact that the dragon has no central thematic purpose in the narrative other than to give Harry and his gang something to do—to move Norbert from Hogwarts so Hagrid will not get into trouble for housing an illegal creature (and to allow the children to use the invisibility cloak once again).
However, Rowling returns to dragons in The Goblet of Fire ; they are the first test in the Triwizard Tournament. When Hagrid spies them for the first time, Rowling intends for the reader to have the same reaction as Hagrid—"his mouth fell open" (325):
Four fully grown, enormous, vicious-looking dragons were rearing onto their hind legs inside an enclosure fenced with thick planks of wood, roaring and snorting—torrents of fire were shooting into the dark sky from their open, fanged mouths, fifty feet above ground on their outstretched necks. There was a silvery-blue one with long, pointed horns snapping and snarling at the wizards on the ground; a smooth-scaled green one, which was writhing and stamping with all its might; a red one with an odd fringe of fine gold spikes around its face, which was shooting mushroom-shaped fire clouds into the air; and a gigantic black one, more lizard-like than the others, which was nearest to them.
Does this passage induce wonder? Does the reader's mouth fall open in awe over the magical description? Does Rowling's description add to the stock description of dragons?
Now let us return to LeGuin's Wizard of Earthsea for a description of a young dragon:
The young dragon made no answer. He was not large of his kind, maybe the length of a forty-oared ship, and was worm-thin from all the reach of his black membranous wings. He had not got his growth yet, nor his voice, nor any dragoncunning. Straight at Ged in the small rocking boat he came, opening his long, toothed jaws as he slid down arrowy from the air: so that all Ged had to do was bind his wings and limbs stiff with one sharp spell and send him thus hurtling aside into the sea like a stone falling. And the grey sea closed over him.
When the adult Dragon of Pendor confronts Ged, LeGuin describes the dragon as follows: "His scales were grey-black, catching the daylight like broken stone. Lean as a hound he was and huge as a hill. Ged stared in awe. There was no song or tale could prepare the mind for this sight" (89). Rowling dragons appear to have no central purpose in her books; they are mere props that move the plot along. In LeGuin's universe, however, dragons have an essentiality, an identity that is brought to a brilliant conclusion in Tehanu (1990), the final book of Earthsea.5 I cannot envision Rowling's dragons performing more sophisticated uses in her next three books. The tally for the above block quotations: Rowling, 122 words; LeGuin, 119.
This tally reflects the growing longwindedness of the Potter series. The Sorcerer's Stone is 309 pages; [Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, ] 341; The Prisoner of Azkaban inflates to 435 pages; and The Goblet of Fire comes in at a staggering 734 pages. With such exponential growth, we can expect the next Potter book to top 900 pages! Because Rowling's books become increasingly long, her style (as we have just seen) becomes prosaic from Poughkeepsie, her language often sloppy. A key example is Rowling's overuse of the awkward verb magicked, which is an attempt to create magic by simply transforming the noun into a verb. But even Humpty Dumpty cannot make a word do so much, no matter how much he pays it. Furthermore, Rowling has no discrimination in her description of the way characters talk—Harry does not sound unique; he speaks no differently from Ron or Hermione—or Voldemort, for that matter. A central case in point: Rowling's overuse of the verb hissed. In The Goblet of Fire, by far the longest and most tedious of the four books, Harry often "hisses" his commands (he also "growls" and "snarls"). Thus in Chapter 39—"The Death Eaters"—when Harry faces Wormtail and Voldemort, the two enemies are described as "hissing" (e.g. 644, 646). Does this suggest that Harry, Wormtail, and Voldemort are similar? Because Harry can speak Parseltongue (or snake), such a convention may be symbolic and justifiable, but no such sophistication seems conscious on Rowling's part, for Snape also hisses (e.g.Goblet 470, 472, 516), as does Ron (e.g.Goblet 513). In effect, Rowling is not sensitive to the integrity of style, for Harry, the developing hero of the series, should not particularly hiss, for that is a characteristic of snakes and other evil creatures (Milton has Satan hissing regularly in Paradise Lost, but the archangels never do). Harry Potter continues to reside in Poughkeepsie.
Maybe I am mistaken. Maybe Harry is supposed to be grounded in Poughkeepsie. Maybe the Harry Potter books are doing something other than aligning themselves with those so-called "high fantasy" worlds defined by Tolkien, Lewis, and LeGuin. For example, Acocella writes: "So Rowling's books are chock-ablock with archetypes, and she doesn't just use them; she glories in them, plays with them postmodernly" (74). Or as Brooke Allen writes: "Witty, ironic and self-referential, J. K. Rowling's books are the first postmodern school stories. But what makes them appealing is that they manage alongside this contemporary knowingness to maintain all the wholesome and innocent appeal of their predecessors. If the Harry Potter series amounts to almost a parody of the genre, it is one inspired by affection rather than the urge to mock" (14). It appears that that catchphrase postmodern is being bandied about much too loosely. "Postmodernism is a return to storytelling in the belief that we can be sure of nothing but story" (40), writes At-tebery about the turn in postmodern fantasy. More specifically, Brian McHale contends that postmodernism has an "ontological dominant" (10) that foregrounds the "problems of modes of being" (10). This ontological dominant is "'post-cognitive'": "'Which world is this? What is to be done in it? Which selves are to do it.' Other typical postmodernists' questions bear either on the ontology of the literary text itself or on the ontology of the world which it projects, for instance: What is a world?; What kinds of world are there, how are they constituted, and how do they differ?; What happens when different kinds of world are placed in confrontations, or when boundaries between worlds are violated?…" (10). In Postmodern Fairy Tales: Gender and Narrative Strategies, Cristina Bacchilega suggests that "postmodern fictions, then, hold mirrors to the magic mirror of the fairy tale, playing with its framed images out of a desire to multiply its refractions and to expose its artifices" (23).
A key component to this postmodernism turn is self-reflexivity and self-referentiality—that postcognitiveness or contemporary knowingness—that we label metafiction,
which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality. In providing a critique of their own methods of construction, such writings not only examine the fundamental structures of narrative fiction, they also explore the possible fictionality of the world outside the literary fictional text.
But where is this self-consciousness in the Harry Potter books? Where is that mirror that exposes the various literary artifices in the books? How do the books offer the reader any discussion of that ontological dominant of being? And how are the books a commentary on the relationship between fiction and reality?
On the level of self-reflexivity, Rowling seems unaware that there is a history of children's fantasy literature. LeGuin has a wizard school in A Wizard of Earthsea, but there seems to be no awareness of such a fact in the Potter books. Instead, Rowling seems oblivious to any influence and tradition, so she certainly is not postmodern—there is no real play of narrative at all. In The Prisoner of Azkaban, for example, chapter 7 is titled "The Boggart in the Wardrobe," and one would expect to find some self-conscious reference to Lewis's wardrobe. But we find nothing. In The Sorcerer's Stone a secret passage-way is guarded by a curious "monster": "They were looking straight into the eyes of a monstrous dog, a dog that filled the whole space between ceiling and floor. It had three heads. Three pairs of rolling, mad eyes; three noses, twitching and quivering in their direction; three drooling mouths, saliva hanging in slippery ropes from yellowish fangs" (160-61). Such writing finds Rowling, it appears, creating something new and original, yet we find a similar (and more oddly magical) dog in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, "The Tinder-Box." And what of the houseelf, Dobby, who refers to himself in the third person? Has Rowling never heard of Gollum? Or what about Rowling's indebtedness to Lewis Carroll's Alice books? Certainly Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are classic early metafictional fantasies—Alice is continually aware that she has fallen into a nonsensical world where language breaks down, where fictional creatures such as Humpty Dumpty and others from nursery tales become "real" in this topsy-turvy world. There is an imaginative play that makes the Alice books quite "writerly" (to use Roland Barthes's phrase), that allows the reader to participate in the game of metafiction, both author and reader aware of the self-conscious referents that are parodied, and so forth. Readers become active participants in Carroll's world, a dialogic world that defies Carroll's conservative and sentimental "frame poems" and his desire to explain away Alice's journeys as dreams. But Rowling's books are staggeringly "readerly": she manipulates the plot to guide the reader (especially in the long sections of background exposition where narrative loose ends are tied-up, the final chapters of The Goblet of Fire, for example). Readers of Potter are passive in such a monologic narrative. Rowling's manipulation of reader and fantasy conventions seem hermetically sealed from precursors. Take Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, those magical candies that contain every flavor—"you know, you get all the ordinary ones like chocolate and peppermint and marmalade, but then you can get spinach and liver and tripe. George reckons he had a booger-flavored one once" (The Sorcerer's Stone 103-04). Cute and clever, but nothing more. Compare to Carroll's description of Alice, who is aware that a young girl should never drink from a strange bottle because it might be poison: "However, this bottle was not marked 'poison,' so Alice ventured to taste it, and, finding it very nice (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffy, and hot buttered toast), she very soon finished it off" (Alice 11). The humor here is subtle, but it is also self-conscious, a parody of children's educational warnings on how to be safe; it is also quite nonsensical and achieves an estranging effect that is magical.
If the tone of the Potter books appears to be fundamentally comic and satiric, that tone is not sustained for very long as the books take on a more serious note. Rowling's Mirror of Erised most certainly alludes to Carroll's Looking-Glass, but a reader would be hard pressed to see such a reflection. In Carroll's fantasy, the mirror reflects an alternative, reversed reality from the staid world Alice resides in; it is also a portal to Looking-Glass Land where Alice's notions of the real are skewered, fragmented, and stretched beyond normal ways of knowing the self and the world, that ontological dominant. The mirror is literally one of desire, or potentiality, an estranging device that inserts Alice once again in an absurd wonderland experience. Rowling's Mirror of Erised is just another fantasy prop in her attempt to create wonder in her fantastical narrative world, but the mirror has no essential magic about it, though Harry is able to see his parents in the reflection. The mirror does not become a "bound motif" that is instrumental to the narrative theme; it is no real portal to another world, experience, or identity. Nor does the mirror become a "free motif," one that adds artistic depth to the narrative.6 In fact, the magic mirror is explained away quickly in Dumbledore's exposition to Harry: "It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. Ronald Weasely, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them. However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible" (The Sorcerer's Stone 213). So that explains the mirror. Rowling can now move on to more important concerns, following Harry as he practices for an upcoming Quidditch match.
The connection to the Carroll books is an important one, for it suggests how important consistency of tone can be in the creation of a fantasy world. We should be reminded of Tolkien's admonition in "On Fairy-Stories": "There is one proviso: if there is any satire present in the tale, one thing must not be made fun of, the magic itself. That must in that story be taken seriously, neither laughed at nor explained away" (10). The Alice books have a consistency of tone in their lunacy; Carroll is not writing about good versus evil in the classical fantasy sense, but he is parodying the whole concept of what we can know internally—Alice has an ontological slipperiness that is integral to the book's meaning. Furthermore, Carroll is parodying the whole didactic tradition of children's writing, creating in the Alice books an original fantasy world that ridicules past narratives and conventions, a literary play with a postmodern turn. Rowling's attempts at Carrollian humor, unfortunately, create a further disconnect in the tone and purpose of the Potter series. The wonder that leads to joy and consolation—to eucatastrophe—in the Tolkien and Lewis fuzzy sets cannot be easily sustained in an imitative Carrollian nonsense world of magical gimmicks and clichés. T. H. White tends to succeed in The Once and Future King, as does Peter S. Beagle in The Last Unicorn.
But the archetypal theme of good versus evil appears to be what the Potter books are about. Harry's education is cemented in this ultimate dichotomy that Tolkien, Lewis, and LeGuin privilege in their texts. So just what are the Harry Potter books about? We can see the narrative confusion clearly in her latest book, The Goblet of Fire. There is certainly evil in the novels, represented by Tom Riddle, Wormtail, and, of course, Voldemort. Harry's scar begins to pain him again at the outset of Goblet to remind us of this evil. Death Eaters, those minions of Voldemort, leave the Dark Mark in the sky at the World Cup Quidditch match. All is ripe for the good old-fashioned battle between good and evil. But that tone is quickly undercut—Harry is often more interested in being able to visit Hogsmeade and practice Quidditch than he is in fighting evil. Hermione takes center stage in her political quest to free the enslaved house-elves. Rita Skeeter, the tabloid journalist, publishes articles about Harry's parents and his attempt to get a date for the Yule Ball, a major dance. In fact, Rowling's concerns are no more sophisticated than what a teenager might encounter in middle and high school. Yet there is that nagging concern over good versus evil, and the Goblet plot attempts to combine this archetypal encounter with the Triwizard Tournament, which is nothing more than a variation of the Quidditch matches. Zipes astutely reminds us that the two kinds of evil in the novel—"the vicious sickness of Voldemort and the cruel vindictiveness of the Dursleys" (180)—tend to cancel each other out, for the Dursleys' evil is finally impotent, nonthreatening, while Voldemort's darker, universal threat becomes, ironically, no more dangerous than that found in the Dursley household.
Acocella contends that the great theme of "the Harry Potter series is power, an important matter for children, since they have so little of it" (77). The books' "main virtue," she continues, is "their philosophical seriousness" (78). One wonders if Acocella is grafting wish-fulfillment onto the books—she wants to find some great theme that makes the Potter books have that philosophical seriousness. But how is power used in the novel? Harry and his friends have virtually no power; they are controlled and guided by the Hogwarts instructors at virtually every stage of their quests. Many times Harry succeeds simply because he is lucky, or someone tips him to the proper action (think of the help Harry has in the Triwizard Tournament). Or Harry learns a new spell that conveniently comes in handy to get him out of his next escapade. The children do seem active to some degree: they free Norbert, Buckbeak, and the houseelves, but when they are truly tested by the great forces of darkness, they remain passive, with Dumbledore, that noble knight, coming to the rescue. When Harry has the climatic battle with Voldemort in The Goblet of Fire, he is saved not necessarily by his acumen with his magic wand, coincidentally made from the same phoenix feather as Voldemort's, but by the fact that his wand unleashes the spirits of Cedric Diggory, James Potter, and others. Harry does not win on his skill or goodness alone. In effect, all the children in the series are passive, merely reactive to major challenges. They certainly are not like Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—or Alice, or Ged, or Bilbo.
In addition, the power that is magic is never analyzed. Tolkien takes pains to show his readers that the invisibility ring can corrupt: Gollum's "precious" ring in The Hobbit corrupts him because power can corrupt absolutely. The Ring of Power, which magically makes invisible whomever wears the ring, is dangerous, a temptation to the corrupting power of magic. Wear the ring too long and your Self will be in danger, thus the ontological concerns of being. Gollum's use of "we" to talk of himself symbolizes this identity concern. Compare this ring to the invisibility cloak that Harry has. The cloak is nothing more than a convenient magical prop. Harry can become invisible without any impact; there appears no larger theme about notions of being and individuality. Thus the entire realm of magic has no real power or centrality in terms of the larger thematic structure of the series. Voldemort's corrupted power does not appear to be a result of magic misused. In effect, if Rowling would take the magic out of the Potter series with some fine-tuning revision, her books would remain fundamentally the same, the children attending a boarding school, getting into mischief, playing practical jokes, and competing in various classroom and sporting events. Furthermore, there is no danger in any of the magic—spells gone wrong can always be righted, bones can be regrown with another potion, those turned into stone can be made human again. Rowling's magical world becomes a kiddie chemistry lab where the most dangerous substance seems to be baking soda.
Finally, what ultimately is the role of the archetypal good versus evil dichotomy in the series? Voldemort represents the darkest of evil. But what of the good? Is there an overarching figure of good—a supreme being, for example, not necessarily God—whom Harry and his friends follow? They certainly are in a Christian universe, for they celebrate the Christmas season.7 If there are the Dark Arts, are there the Light or White Arts? Dumbledore is a Merlin and Gandalf figure, but Dumbledore does not achieve any grandeur; his name evokes bumble and bumbling, reminiscent of Tweedledee and Tweedledum, those foolish characters. There seems to be a good in the novel, but that goodness seems individual rather than archetypal. Thus the archetypal evilness in the Potter universe has no real antidote other than Harry and his friends (who do not seem to take that evil too seriously). And what of death? Does death exist? Is there an afterlife? The poltergeist Peeves, Nearly Headless Nick, and Moaning Myrtle suggest that there is no final resting place, and the Mirror of Erised suggests that the good—Harry's parents particularly—are somehow stuck in limbo, or a kind of purgatory. So where does that leave Cedric Diggory? Is he truly dead? Is there an afterlife? Or does existence just end with death? These larger concerns are left unexplored, not because Rowling wants readers to contemplate such concerns; rather, she does not seem interested in serious speculation, which is a hallmark of the Tolkien, Lewis, and LeGuin fuzzy sets. My point is that Rowling's fantasy universe is not consistent, thus failing to evoke the estrangement and wonder that can lead to any good catastrophe. Rowling is not true to her fantasy creation.
So what are the Potter books really about, then? Well, monetary success primarily. A sampling from the 2001 Harry Potter calendar asks the following:
Sat./Sun. March 24/25: Harry has a scar shaped like a lightning bolt; what is your most interesting feature?
Sat./Sun. September 8/9: The curses found in the Vindictus Viridian classic, Curses and Counter Curses, include hair loss, jelly-legs, and tonguetying. What other kinds of curses might you come up with to befuddle your enemies?
Sat./Sun. October 20/21: What would be your least favorite flavor of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans™?
There seems to be no larger thematic import than these childish concerns.8 And notice how Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans is trademarked. If Rowling is out simply to make a buck, then she has succeeded spectacularly. And more power to her. That she is donating the profits to Comic Relief U.K. from spinoff books, Quidditch through the Ages (by Kennilworthy Whisp) and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (by Newt Scamander)—which have already become number-one best sellers—may take some of the sting out of my critique of the Harry Potter series. But as Jack Zipes reminds us,
I am certain that the phenomenal aspect of the reception of the Harry Potter books has blurred the focus for anyone who wants to take literature for young people seriously and who may be concerned about standards and taste that adults create for youth culture in the West. How is it possible to evaluate a work of literature like a Harry Potter novel when it is so dependent on the market conditions of the culture industry?
"Phenomena such as the Harry Potter books are driven by commodity consumption that at the same time sets the parameters of reading and aesthetic taste," continues Zipes (172). I am afraid that Rowling will begin to define the aesthetics of successful contemporary fantasy literature—works, I am sad to state, that will remain derivative, thematically inconsistent, and stylistically flawed.
Finally, a caveat about such aesthetic taste. I am always reminded of a statement Kurt Vonnegut once made about book reviewers: "I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has just put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or banana split" (qtd. in Hendersen). I would like to report that the Harry Potter series is nothing more significant than a confectious banana split. However, Rowling's engagement of that archetypal fantasy theme of good versus evil suggests a seriousness that merits a full meal, rather than just dessert. One famous adventurer once said something to the effect that reading fantasy adventures can be a nasty undertaking because they can make one late for dinner. While I expect Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans to evoke the magical gourmet delicacies of, say, Mario Batali, when I actually bite into those beans my tastebuds are assaulted by the cartoonish cuisine of the Mario Brothers. Magic, we realize, must be nourishing food. Give me some Roast Mutton! Or some Turkish Delight! Or just some soup, some "Beau-ootiful Soo-oop!"
1. The Potter phenomenon is spawning its own culture industry, which includes calendars, games, and scholarly studies. Beacham's Sourcebook for Teaching Young Adult Fiction: Exploring Harry Potter by Elizabeth D. Schafer is a case in point: Schafer's book is intended for the general reader, teachers, and parents. The amazon.com Book Description describes the work as follows:
If you are reading, teaching, or parenting Harry Potter fans, this is the indispensable guidebook to take you behind the Potter legend, into the life of its author, and to give young readers many more hours of enjoyment beyond reading the novels themselves. Explore the origins and mysteries of Harry's world, its history, science, magic, mythology, setting, characters, themes, food, and sports. The sourcebook includes projects and activities for young readers, questions that generate lively discussion between parents and children, websites for internet research by young surfers, lesson plans for teachers, and resources for librarians.
It is interesting to note that Beacham's next sourcebook published is Beacham's Sourcebooks: Exploring C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. In addition, Scholastic Paperbacks is publishing its Harry Potter Literature Guide for each book, thus further legitimizing the Potter series as classic fantasy in the Narnia tradition. At my college, the Adolescent Literature course now includes The Sorcerer's Stone on its syllabus, but not any works by Tolkien or Lewis.
To respond to Pottermania, which includes a marketing bonanza of all things Potter, Harper-Collins wants to remake Narnia in Hogwarts's image, creating various Narnia toys and games. In a more unsettling turn of events, HarperCollins, with apparent blessing from the Lewis estate, intends to downplay the Christian foundation of the Narnia books. As Gregg Easterbrook states: "What's in progress is a struggle of sorts for the soul of children's fantasy literature" (46).
2. In an AOL Live chat, Rowling admits her admiration of Tolkien but suggests that she is doing something different: "Well, I love The Hob-bit, but I think, if you set aside the fact that the books overlap in terms of dragons & wands & wizards, the Harry Potter books are very different, especially in tone. Tolkien created a whole mythology, I don't think anyone could claim that I have done that. On the other hand … he didn't have Dudley)." I will argue in the essay that Rowling's tone is problematic, especially with her reliance on the fantasy mode.
3. In the same live chat, Rowling also admits to a very unsettling fact. When asked why she focused on magic for the Potter books, Rowling responds: "It chose me. I never really sat down & thought 'What shall I focus on?' and in fact, I don't really read fantasy—it's not my favourite genre."
4. LeGuin has been curiously silent about Harry Potter. In an interview for Book she says:
I'm glad kids are reading. But when grownups sit around saying that there's never been anything like Harry Potter, well, gee, I had a wizard school in 1968 (in A Wizard of Earthsea). These people simply haven't been reading this stuff. They've been sneering at fantasy until the huge success of a fantasy made them read it. And then they say there's nothing like this, and it breaks my heart. When I think of all the great fantasies around. And Rowling has certainly read me; it's obvious she's read me.
When asked about Tolkien, LeGuin states emphatically: "The top. Anyone who wants to write fantasy has to have read him."
5. LeGuin does not have a monopoly on original dragon descriptions. In The Hobbit, Tolkien describes Smaug as follows:
Smaug lay, with wings folded like an immeasurable bat, turned partly on one side, so that the hobbit could see his underparts and his long pale belly crusted with gems and fragments of gold from his long lying on his costly bed…. To say that Bilbo's breath was taken away is no description at all. There are no words left to express his staggerment, since Men changed the language that they learned of elves in the days when all the world was wonderful. Bilbo had heard tell and sing of dragon-hoards before, but the splendour, the lust, the glory of such treasure had never yet come home to him. His heart was filled and pierced with enchantment and with the desire of dwarves; and he gazed motionless, almost forgetting the frightful guardian, at the gold beyond price and count.
And we could compare Rowling's dragons to a more contemporary work, The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley:
Damar had dragons still; little ones, dog-sized, nasty, mean-tempered creatures who would fry a baby for supper and swallow it in two gulps if they could; but they had been beaten back into the heavy forest and the wilder Hills by Aerin's day. They still killed an occasional unwary hunter, for they had no fear, and they had teeth and claws as well as fire to subdue their prey, but they were no longer a serious threat. Arlbeth heard occasionally of one—or of a family, for they most often hunted in families—that was harassing a village or an outlying farm, and when that happened a party of men with spears and arrows—swords were of little use, for it one were close enough to use a sword, one was close enough to be badly burned—went out from the City to deal with them. Always they came back with a few more unpleasant stories of the cunning treachery of dragons; always they came back nursing a few scorched limbs; occasionally they came back a horse or a hound the less.
LeGuin, Tolkien, and McKinley create dragons of mystery that have a mythology in their works—dragons are central to the fantasy world, both for plot and for theme.
6. For more detailed information on "bound" and "free" motifs, see Tomashevsky 61-95.
7. Controversy has arisen because of Rowling's magical world of witches and magic spells. In fact, books such as Richard Abanes's Harry Potter and the Bible and Connie Neal's What's a Christian to Do with Harry Potter? discuss these concerns. Rowling seems genuinely puzzled, for she admits in the AOL Live interview that she cannot understand conservative Christian complaints: "Well, as it happens, I believe in God, but there's no pleasing some people!"
8. My overall argument is one of aesthetics; I have tried to persuade the reader that the Harry Potter series violates the fundamental ground rules that define the fantasy tradition. Other critics, specifically Zipes, have pointed out some troubling thematic implications in the series: sexism, for example.
Abanes, Richard. Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace behind the Magick. Fremont, CA: Horizon, 2001.
Acocella, Joan. "Under the Spell: Harry Potter Explained." The New Yorker 31 Jul. 2000: 74-78.
Allen, Brooke. "A World of Wizards." The New Leader 1-15 Nov. 1999: 13-14.
Attebery, Brian. Strategies of Fantasy. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1992.
Bacchilega, Cristina. Postmodern Fairy Tales: Gender and Narrative Strategies. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1997.
Beetz, Kirk H. Beacham's Sourcebooks: Exploring C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. Osprey, FL: Beacham, 2001.
Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland. Ed. Donald J. Gray. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1992.
Easterbrook, Gregg. "In Defense of C. S. Lewis." The Atlantic Monthly Oct. 2001: 46-49.
Henderson, Bill, ed. Rotten Reviews: A Literary Companion. New York: Penguin, 1987.
Heltzel, Ellen Emry. "Ursula K. LeGuin: Portland Trailblazer." Book: The Magazine for the Reading Life Jul.-Aug. 2000 〈http://www.bookmagazine.com/issue12/trailblazer.shtml〉.
Hume, Kathryn. Fantasy and Mimesis: Responses to Reality in Western Literature. New York: Methuen, 1984.
LeGuin, Ursula. A Wizard of Earthsea. New York: Bantam, 1968.
――――――. "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie." The Language of the Night. New York: HarperCollins, 1989.
Lewis, C. S. "On Science Fiction." On Stories and Other Essays on Literature. Ed. Walter Hooper. New York: Harcourt, 1982. 55-68.
Maslin, Janet. "At Last, the Wizard Gets Back to School." The New York Times 10 Jul. 2000: B1-6.
McKinley, Robin. The Hero and the Crown. New York: Berkley, 1984.
McHale, Brian. Postmodernist Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1987.
Neal, Connie. What's a Christian to Do with Harry Potter? New York: Waterbrook Press, 2001.
Rowling, J. K. Interview on AOL Live. 〈http://www.aol.co.uk/aollive/transcripts/jkrowling.html〉
――――――. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic, 1999.
――――――. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, 2000.
――――――. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic, 1999.
――――――. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1997.
Scamander, Newt [J. K. Rowling]. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. New York: Scholastic, 2001.
Schafer, Elizabeth D. Beacham's Sourcebooks for Teaching Young Adult Fiction: Exploring Harry Potter. Osprey, FL: Beacham, 2000.
The Sharper Image. The Gift Catalogue 2001. San Francisco: The Sharper Image, 2001.
Tolkien, J. R. R. "On Fairy-Stories." The Tolkien Reader. New York: Ballantine, 1966. 3-73.
――――――. The Hobbit. New York: Ballantine, 1966.
Tomashevsky, Boris. "Thematics." Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays. Trans. Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1965. 61-95.
Waugh, Patricia. Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1984.
Whisp, Kennilworthy [J. K. Rowling]. Quidditch through the Ages. New York: Scholastic, 2001.
Zipes, Jack. Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children's Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter. New York: Routledge, 2001.
Sara Ann Beach and Elizabeth Harden Willner (essay date winter 2002)
SOURCE: Beach, Sara Ann, and Elizabeth Harden Willner. "The Power of Harry: The Impact of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter Books on Young Readers." World Literature Today 76, no. 1 (winter 2002): 102-06.
[In the following essay, Beach and Willner describe some of the thematic elements that make Rowling's Harry Potter series so popular with children, based on their informal survey of fifth-, sixth-, and eighth-grade readers.]
I don't usually like to read, matter of fact I don't like to read. I thought Harry Potter was going to be an ordinary book, but it isn't…. When my teacher says that it [is] time to stop reading, me and my classmates would groan.
—Jennifer, age 10
Jennifer's words characterize the response of many children to the phenomenon of Harry Potter, boy wizard, and his adventures with his friends Ron and Hermione at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Beginning with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (known in the U.K. as The Philosopher's Stone ), J. K. Rowling's tale about an adolescent boy's life in a parallel world of magic spells and fantastic creatures has captivated young and old alike. Children like Jennifer who had previously not read for pleasure are standing in line at bookstores and libraries to get the next book in the series. Adults are placing advance orders on the Internet to obtain the books as soon as possible. To find out how the Harry Potter books have turned nonreaders into readers and why children and adolescents are enthralled by the series, we asked fifth-, sixth-, and eighth-graders to tell us what they thought. Based upon their writings and our own reading (and rereading) of the four books published to date, we believe that the answer is rooted in the magical world and story created by Rowling, the richness of her characters, and the respect she exhibits for her readers.
A Parallel World of Magic
Rowling's world takes the natural and the supernatural, the real and the mythical, and juxtaposes them. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone begins in a manner reminiscent of stories by British children's author Roald Dahl. Harry Potter, an orphan with a distinctive lightning-shaped scar, living in a suburb of London, is downtrodden and marginalized by the cruel Muggle (nonmagical) aunt and uncle who have taken him in after his parents' untimely deaths. Harry's life changes on his eleventh birthday, when he is notified that he has been accepted into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. What follows are adventures in which Harry explores his past and his affinity for the world of magic, finds friendship for the first time, and connects his past with his possible future.
Rowling has planned seven volumes, one for each of Harry's years at Hogwarts. In the first book of the series, Harry, his best friend Ron Weasley, and the brainy but slightly priggish Hermione Granger succeed in capturing the sorcerer's stone from the evil Lord Voldemort (He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named), Harry's archnemesis, the murderer of his parents, and the one responsible for the scar on his forehead. Harry returns to Hogwarts for his second year in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. As the year commences, a pall of suspicion cloaks the school as students are turned to stone under bizarre circumstances, and Harry and friends must discover the culprit. As the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, begins, the vile criminal Sirius Black has escaped from the wizard prison of Azkaban and is feared to be headed toward Hogwarts and Harry. However, things are not as they appear. In a strange turn of circumstances, Harry and his friends discover the truth about his father, his godfather, and Lord Voldemort. Harry's fourth year at Hogwarts is chronicled in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by far the darkest and most complex novel in the series so far. The reader is introduced to two more schools of witchcraft and wizardry whose students journey to Hogwarts for the ancient Triwizard Tournament. Lord Voldemort's return, foreshadowed during the Quidditch World Cup, unexpectedly thrusts the unprepared Harry into a perilous fight for survival.
The magical world created by Rowling draws young readers into the books by connecting aspects of the world in which they live with a world that transcends reality. Harry and his friends participate in such everyday activities as buying school supplies, sending and receiving letters, going to classes, and playing sports. However, school supplies are not pencils and notebooks, classes do not include science and mathematics, letters are not delivered by a mail carrier, and the main sport is Quidditch, a cross between rugby and basketball played on broomsticks. For school supplies, Harry and friends head to Diagon Alley, the equivalent of a wizard mall, to purchase wands.
The nonhuman characters that inhabit both Hogwarts and the wizard world are the creatures of myth and fantasy, creatures that fascinate young readers. Familiar and unfamiliar beings appear that either thwart Harry and his friends or help keep him safe from harm. As the young reader Kirk states, "You don't know what creatures are next." A huge three-headed dog incongruously named Fluffy guards the entrance to the chamber where the sorcerer's stone is kept. Unicorns and centaurs inhabit the Enchanted Forest on the edge of the school grounds. Goblins run Gringotts Bank, which holds the wealth of the wizarding world. The school headmaster Dumbledore's pet is Phoenix, who regularly bursts into flames and then rises from the ashes.
Perhaps the most powerful hold on readers young and old, however, is not just in the magical world created by Rowling, but in the story that she weaves and the language she uses to craft the compelling saga. While each book in the series can be read and enjoyed independently, as Harry learns more about his past and his parents, his life becomes increasingly complicated and the plots grow more elaborate. What begins as a seemingly simple story of a boy's entry into an unknown world of magic turns into a search for identity, a battle between good and evil, a maze of moral decision-making, and a quest for the meaning of human relationships. While it may be predictable that Harry will always triumph in the end, it is not predictable how he will do so or how very close he may come to failing. Just as in real life, relationships change and may follow a bumpy path, events don't always turn out the way we like, and the characters make choices that may not turn out to be the best.
One essential element of the story is the adventures of Harry and his friends. Interspersed in the day-to-day routine of classes, weekends filled with homework, and occasional outings to visit the huge but gentle gamekeeper Hagrid or the wizard village of Hogsmeade are encounters with flying keys and life-size moving chess pieces, forays into the forbidden Enchanted Forest, meetings with trolls and dragons, and escapes from detection by the dreaded Professor Snape. As another young reader, Lauren, writes, "The best things about the Harry Potter books are that they are exciting, full of adventure, magic, and breathtaking moments."
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Rowling's books, for children, is the supernatural power the characters possess. The website of Rowling's U.S. publisher, Scholastic Books (http://www.scholastic.com/harrypotter/author/index.htm), quotes her as saying, "The idea that we could have a child who escapes from the confines of the adult world and goes somewhere where he has power, both literally and metaphorically, really appealed to me." As witches and wizards, Harry and the rest of the children slowly acquire power over their world as they learn about different spells and potions. In contrast to the lack of power most children have in their own lives, Harry and his friends master the natural world and make it behave in ways that are most unnatural. In addition, they are able to use their power to frustrate those adults who do not have children's best interests at heart. Rowling opens the door for adolescent readers to share the characters' power while experiencing a connection to literature that has the potential to enrich their lives.
A Host of Bewitching Characters
Characters jolt, slither, and poof to life under Rowling's pen. Because she has complete personal histories developed before they become a part of the tale, even minor characters such as Sirius Black, Neville Longbottom, and Gilderoy Lockhart have a richness not always seen in fantasy writing. Their unusual names elicit such responses from young readers as this from Zach: "I like the people's names because they are communicating with what they do, and I have never read a book when the author does that."
Of course, Harry Potter himself merits the most comment from young readers. He is likable and self-effacing, in some ways similar to Marc Brown's Arthur. Harry's moments of uncertainty make him attractive to adolescents who themselves are continually facing crises of self-confidence. The fact that Harry continues to develop and change throughout the series helps young readers identify with him, as Morgan notes: "If I were in Harry's place, I would have felt like I could do anything that I wanted to do because I had powers but I wouldn't know how to use them, so I would be very eager to get to Hogwarts to learn how to use them."
Readers strongly identify with other characters as well. Young Kelsey, for example, writes: "I think Hermione has a great personality. She seems like a great girl to be around," and we are reminded that an abundance of lively and worthy supporting personalities mirror Harry's development. Ron Weasley proves to be both loyal friend and brave partner, not only following Harry but also questioning his decisions. Neville Longbottom, the inept misfit befriended by Harry, draws some interesting suggestions from young readers. Robert considers the nervous Neville as "actually brave. And what if he serves some main part in some brave deed in a later book?" Morgan sees Neville's past as an explanation for his present behavior: "Maybe when Neville was a kid he was brave, but kids made fun of his name so he lost his bravery because he was put down so many times."
Adults as well as young readers respond to the characters in the Harry Potter books. Sally feels a kinship with Hermione, saying, "I was Hermione when I was a child. I was the one who read all the books before class even started and who desperately wanted to give every answer." Liz, on the other hand, has a soft spot in her heart for Ron, who is a full partner in so many adventures, yet always gets second billing: "In the fourth book, I think Ron is justified in his feelings of resentment toward Harry's fame, yet I do admire the compromises each must make to maintain their stead-fast friendship."
Rowling's characters have fully rounded personalities that are unique yet universal enough to transcend the boundaries of fantasy. They possess the qualities of heroes, but also have their faults and make very human errors in judgment. They are not just brave and beautiful; they are our friends and family members personified. Adolescents and adults across the globe (an estimated 120 million people have read at least one Harry Potter book) take firm hold of their power as readers to appreciate the author's attention to detail in creating these intriguing characters.
Rowling's respect for her readers is evident in the intricate world of magic and the strong characterizations in her writing. Despite the fact that even the first volume in the series, The Sorcerer's Stone, was unusually long for a children's book, she has increased the length and density with each new installment. Young readers such as Nathan have risen to the challenge: "I was glad to get to read that big a book. It made me feel important." Nick and Brent appreciate the work that is left for the reader to accomplish, noting that the books are like puzzles, and "you never know what's going to happen next." Ian recognizes that "you have to pay attention or you don't know what's going on." Paying attention, a skill that many view as drudgery and which is often "taught" in schools, is relished by the fifth-, sixth-, and eighth-graders who wrote for us.
Young readers also see the books as invitations to be creative. Robert imagines a spell he would use to "make a giant wave of lava shoot out of my wand." Morgan contrives an elaborate explanation of the password she would devise for the fat lady in the picture that guards the entrance to one of the houses or dormitories, explaining it would be chimney-soot, because "her best friend's cousin's mother-in-law's dog's favorite brand of dog treats are manufactured by a man who has a part-time job as a chimney cleaner and is often covered from head to toe in soot after he cleans his local diner's large chimney." Morgan here is delightfully mirroring the humor modeled by Rowling, who, after all, conjured up Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans as a favorite snack of magic youth (in chocolate, peppermint, and marmalade, but also liver, tripe, and booger).
Humor is woven into the four volumes, but so are serious considerations of universal human concern. Some young readers choose to take a particular "lesson" from their reading, but seem to recognize that the reader is the one who decides if there is something to be learned. Literacy-related learning does in fact take place for the many young readers who are impressed with Rowling's writing. Other readers choose to focus on moral and ethical considerations inherent in the Harry Potter series. "The thing that I like about the story," writes Nathan, "is that it teaches you that if you need something you have to work for it." Amber's concern for Harry, Ron, and Hermione's being caught by the castle caretaker as they are attempting to do something good shows her understanding of the sometimes blurred lines between good and evil. Robert delves into the dilemmas presented when Hermione takes up the cause of the enslaved house elves: "You know, I myself think that house elves deserve to be paid. I mean, how would you feel?" He also draws parallels between the situation at Hogwarts and the U.S. Civil War. It is doubtless a pleasure for adolescents to escape the feeling of being pandered to, while being allowed the freedom to make literary and moral decisions.
What Next, Harry?
Now that the Harry Potter series has been translated into more than twenty-five languages and the movie version of the first book is currently in theaters, Rowling wields considerable economic as well as literary power. Despite readers' captivation with the books, there is a danger of overexposure that could potentially diminish the powerful effect Rowling's writing has had on adolescent literature. One can visit the Harry Potter website, buy Harry Potter dolls, and play the Harry Potter game. Another potential danger is that younger and younger readers are devouring these books, which are aimed at adolescents, and this makes them "uncool" for their intended audience. In addition, as Harry ages, the content becomes more mature. Later volumes touch on dilemmas that resonate with readers going through puberty, who are able to make reasoned judgments about controversial issues, but these same issues may render the books inappropriate for the very young and the prepubescent.
Adolescents have responded with enthusiasm to Rowling's writing. Participants in a poll conducted on the Scholastic Books website, when asked what books they were planning to read other than the Potter series, produced a list that was encouragingly varied. Many of the books mentioned are of the same genre, such as The Hobbit, the Red Wall series, and The Chronicles of Narnia; but others represent a very different type of reading, such as Mr. Popper's Pen-guin, Anne of Avonlea, and To Kill a Mockingbird. It may be that Rowling's work is shaping the choices her young readers make about other literature. Adults ask children to read a well-balanced array of books, but seldom do so themselves; so it will be understandable if young people abandon other books in midparagraph in order to queue up again overnight when the next Potter installment arrives. Like young Nicole, we ourselves can't wait to read the three remaining books, although we have not gone to the lengths that Nathan has: "I called the public library in June and got myself put on the waiting list. If I'm not the first one to get that book, then the person before me had better hurry up!"
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Ximena Gallardo-C. and C. Jason Smith (essay date 2003)
SOURCE: Gallardo-C., Ximena, and C. Jason Smith. "Cinderfella: J. K. Rowling's Wily Web of Gender." In Reading Harry Potter: Critical Essays, edited by Giselle Liza Anatol, pp. 191-205. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003.
[In the following essay, Gallardo-C. and Smith explore how gender identity and social roles are portrayed in the Harry Potter series, noting that Rowling's "tendency to question the status quo extends throughout the series and invites readers to cultivate a more critical approach to societal norms."]
J. K. Rowling's imaginary world abounds in glittering mystery, nail-biting suspense, and colorful images peppered by cute neologisms such as "Muggles," "Quidditch," and "Parseltongue." At the same time, the series is hardly groundbreaking: its basic premise comes right out of "Cinderella," key scenes allude to an array of children's literature from C. S. Lewis to Enid Blyton, and its clever language echoes Roald Dahl's. Most importantly, the Harry Potter books resonate with gender stereotypes of the worst sort; as Christine Schoefer argues in her review of the first three books in the series, "From the beginning …, it is boys and men, wizards and sorcerers, who catch our attention by dominating the scenes and determining the action…. Girls, when they are not down-right silly or unlikable, are helpers, enablers and instruments."1 Any thinking parent, argues Schoefer, cannot and should not "ignore the sexism" of the series.
Schoefer has a point, but by offering a proactive feminist interpretation of Rowling's fiction, we argue that there are alternative, radical readings of the series for both children and adults. While the novels do not actively critique gender stereotyping, the narrative does challenge standard constructions of gender and gender roles in several ways. First, cyclical moves from passive subject at home (Cinderella as servant) to active subject at Hogwarts (Cinderella at the ball) drive the series and inevitably lead to the hero's "blooming." This tie to a traditionally "girl tale" feminizes Harry in ways that allow female readers to identify strongly with a male protagonist. Second, feminine symbols (e.g., caves) accompany the usual phallic representations (e.g., swords) in the series, and Harry's symbolic actions evidence a preference for the feminine. Third, the series' growing obsession with understanding "otherness" (represented by witches, giants, Muggles, house-elves, and so on) opens the narrative to gender critique, albeit in displaced form. Fourth and finally, though the Harry Potter series does not support radical feminism, it is radical as children's literature and therefore has ample material to support feminist readings.
Girls Just Aren't Any Fun
Simply stated, the world of the Harry Potter books, even the magical part of that world, does not offer particularly progressive gender roles: white men and boys tend to get into trouble and share knowing winks, women mostly putter around the kitchen and scold boys for stepping out of line. Still, the majority of conflicts do not arise—as adults might read—between male and female, the mundane and the magical, or even good and evil; instead, they arise from tensions between children and adults, as suits a story intended for children. Thus, a look at gender in Harry Potter's world must take into account the way children read fiction and the world. Most psychologists, for instance, agree that children develop primary gender identification very early (usually by age three) and that their perception of the gendered world predictably tends towards the stereotypical as they are operating on a more essential level than adults.2 While authors can (and do) construct stories for children that normalize alternative gender roles and sexual orientations, they typically resort to displacement and metaphor to make these ideas more palatable to children. Stories for children and adolescents that most effectively address issues of gender do so not by creating adult-inspired utopias or dystopias, but by mirroring the child's real world experiences in a slightly altered form. For example, Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, and Outside over There each explore issues of gender identification and embodiment—often read as stages in the Oedipal drama—by displacing these issues into fantasy worlds.3 In the most widely read of this trilogy, Where the Wild Things Are, Max—and by proxy the child reader—faces his fear of the punishing mother by adventuring to a faraway island where he learns to control his anxiety and thereby to better understand his own aggressive, "animal" nature.
Readers of all ages and genders can identify with the Harry Potter stories, not in spite of the gender inequality but because they see in the stories a reflection of their own experiences of gender disparity. (Adult readers, of course, are more conscious of this identification.) We will argue that the Potter series contains ample material to justify a reading against the apparently misogynist portrayal of gender, but first we must explore its gender trouble.
Rowling's narrative reinforces traditional categories of labor, as it presents women primarily as wives and mothers. Petunia Dursley, true to the wicked old stepmother stereotype, dotes on her selfish, spoiled, malicious son, Dudley, and mistreats her orphaned nephew Harry. On the other hand, there are the good mothers, such as the hardworking Molly Weasley, who keeps house for five children (out of seven) and a forgetful if easygoing husband, who makes at least as much trouble as the teenage boys. A formidable woman feared by all the males in her family, she strives to keep them on the good path, reinforcing the image of women as the civilizers of men. The most important mother—though absent—is Lily Potter, who sacrificed herself to save her son, Harry, from Lord Voldemort and whose love envelopes Harry in an ever-present protection from evil. The maternal ideal extends to other female characters as well. Winky, the female house-elf, nurtures the evil Barty Crouch Jr. back to life in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Even Harry's friend Hermione, like Professor Minerva McGonagall, eventually becomes a mother figure for Ron and Harry. Clearly, the text implies that the primary role of women in society is the care, socialization, and education of men at any cost.
For the most part, the working women in the series teach at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Although this handful of witches specializes in non-stereotypical magical arts that range from the "complex and dangerous" Transfiguration to the apparently inexact Divination, Rowling's choice of teaching as the main form of public labor for women certainly is conventional. In comparison, men work outside the house, filling most of the highly ranked jobs in the Ministry of Magic. They also have the glamorous, exciting, and classified jobs: Charlie Weasley studies dragons in Romania, and his brother Bill goes on secret missions for Gringotts, the central bank of the magical world.
The series also stereotypes females as emotional or sensitive to the point of irrationality. As Schoefer notes, "again and again, we see girls so caught up in their emotions that they lose sight of the bigger picture. We watch them 'shriek,' 'scream,' 'gasp' and 'giggle' in situations where the boys retain their composure."4 Even Professor McGonagall, the authoritarian deputy headmistress of Hogwarts and Head of Gryffindor House, constantly struggles to refrain from emotional outbursts. Schoefer observes, for example, that at the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 5 when Harry returns from defeating the basilisk, Professor McGonagall "clutches her chest, gasps and speaks weakly while the all-knowing Dumbledore beams."6 Likewise, in Goblet of Fire, McGonagall loses control and falls into a furious, though ineffective, rage when Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, brings a dementor into Hogwarts; alarmed, Harry notices that her face turns red with "angry blotches" and she balls her hands into fists.7 Even more telling is the cause of her anger: the immorality of Barty Crouch's death at the hands of the soul-sucking dementors. Dumbledore, in comparison, concerns himself with the long-term effects: Crouch, even if guilty, would have been useful in the battle against Voldemort.
Professor Sibyll Trelawney, Hogwarts's Divination teacher, exemplifies another side of the "sensitive" female stereotype. As a bumbling psychic considered ridiculous and irrational by almost everyone except a few girls, Professor Trelawney does get to reflect "the big picture" (the imminent rise of Lord Voldemort), but only under a trance so that she is never aware of what she has revealed to Harry. Such "real" predictions rarely come from her and, as the "mildly impressed" and half-joking Dumbledore explains in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, now that her real predictions total two, perhaps he should give her a raise in salary.8 Trelawney may have power, but in contrast to the headmaster, her power becomes useless as the true predictions go unheard in the mass of humbug she usually produces.
Other female stereotypes in the series include the chatterbox (in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, 9 Hermione irritates the boys with her constant talk and, most importantly, her extensive bookish knowledge); the groupie (in Chamber of Secrets, both Hermione and Mrs. Weasley fall head over heels for the vain and fraudulent Gilderoy Lockhart, while Ginny Weasley has a wild crush on Harry); and the nosy gossip (Petunia Dursley spends her spare time spying on her neighbors, and Daily Prophet reporter Rita Skeeter writes sensational, untrue stories for her paper, causing unnecessary trouble in Goblet of Fire ). Woman as sex object is represented by the hyperfemale veela, irresistible femme fatales, and the trophy wife comes in the form of Draco Malfoy's mother, Narcissa, whose name suggests that she is vain and self-absorbed.
In contrast to the women, the men in the series seem more fun, mostly because they are curious, if not downright adventurous. Mr. Weasley displays a childlike fascination for Muggle technology that repeatedly lands him in trouble with Mrs. Weasley and the Ministry of Magic. The creative and boisterous Weasley twins, George and Fred, devise "Weasley's Wizard Wheezes," a set of wonderful magic toys with a tendency to smoke, explode, and balloon tongues to massive size. Even the sensible Dumbledore exercises wonder as well as wisdom. Most interestingly, in the numerous adventures and trials of the series, Harry, Ron, James Potter, and Sirius Black exemplify the motto of Gryffindor House: "brave and daring," whereas the female Gryffindors (Hermione, Professor McGonagall, and Mrs. Weasley) profess responsible rule-enforcement. This last division illustrates the general message of the series—"Men are interesting, women are good"—and would explain why no female characters actively work for Lord Voldemort … yet.
In his review of Sorcerer's Stone, Michael Dirda elaborates on the familiar nature of the Harry Potter story: "We have all been here before—in Roald Dahl, Ursula Le Guin, 'Star Wars,' Dune. But in the right hands we're always happy to make the trip again."10 In truth, most aspects of Harry's childhood, such as the identifying mark, the evil stepparents and the competition with favored stepsiblings, the virtual enslavement and emotional abuse, the recognition from without and magical assistance, all point to a long tradition of myths and fairy tales. Of these, Potter critics most often cite the King Arthur myths.11 And though it may seem natural to compare Harry's story to the other "lost boy tale" of King Arthur, Rowling's protagonist really has little more than superficial similarity to the Arthurian legends. Rather, if we look closely at Harry's background and experiences we may locate a more revealing model for the series. Harry Potter—the hidden and abused child, hunted by evil and often afraid of failure, never fully escapes the loathsome conditions of his upbringing, reminding us not so much of King Arthur but of Cinderella, caught in a perpetual loop of slavery and liberty, abuse and triumph, inadequacy and power.
Of the nearly 700 extant versions of the Cinderella story,12 we have chosen the Grimm Brothers' "Aschenputtel" as our primary reference because its thematic content remains uncensored; the elements we discuss, however, can be found in virtually all renditions of the narrative. Like the Harry Potter story, "Aschenputtel" is a dark little tale of parental abuse. The wicked stepmother and stepsisters subject Aschenputtel to numerous indignities including forcing her to pick peas from the ash bin and making her sleep on a filthy hearth. When her ineffectual father leaves for the fair, he asks each daughter what she would like. The vain and beautiful stepdaughters ask for jewels and finery, but Aschenputtel requests "The first twig, father, that strikes against your hat on the way home; that is what I should like you to bring me."13 He returns with her humble gift, a branch from a hazel tree, and she promptly plants it on her mother's grave. The branch grows rapidly into a tree that grants her wishes. Attired in clothing provided by the tree, Aschenputtel repeatedly attends the royal ball, where she dances with the prince, who predictably falls in love with her. When the prince visits the family estate with her lost shoe, at their mother's bidding, one stepsister cuts off her big toe to fit the slipper, while the other cuts off her heel. Unfortunately for them, seeping blood gives each away. As punishment, the magic tree sends forth birds to pluck out the stepsisters' eyes after the prince recognizes Aschenputtel.
Connections between "Aschenputtel" and the Harry Potter story abound: for instance, both Aschenputtel's and Harry's mothers are dead, and yet their love, represented as "magic," continues to protect and guide the children. Both characters have an identifying physical characteristic associated with the power of the mother: Harry's scar is analogous to Aschenputtel's foot not only as a method of identification, but also in the association of the tiny glass slipper to the mother's magic that provided it. A bird in Aschenputtel's tree warns of deceit just as Harry's scar warns of the proximity of Voldemort. Further, "Aschenputtel" is one of few fairy tales that features a protagonist who actually casts spells herself. Though she is not called a witch in the story, the implication is clear, and thus later sanitized versions have displaced her spell-casting with that of a fairy godmother or the help of friendly, intelligent animals.
Most importantly, Harry's story, like Aschenputtel's, operates in a cyclical pattern: from the drudgery and abuse at home, Harry progresses to the glamour of the magical world where one and all recognize him as a miracle, and then back to home again. Cyclical "boy tales" do exist ("Jack and the Beanstalk," for example), but this type of spatially recursive narrative centered in the home appears most often in tales about women. Though Arthur finds fame only to become embroiled in domestic drama, no one would suggest that he return home for the summer to virtual slavery with nasty Muggle relatives. Thus Harry reminds us more of a woman warrior like Spenser's Britomart, who sallies forth to fight evil but sooner or later must return the armor to the closet.
This rooting of Harry Potter in a cyclical, domestic "girl tale" rather than a linear "boy tale" has several interesting effects. Appearing within a traditionally feminine narrative structure, Harry, in essence, is a boy caught in a girl's story. As these stories normally involve feminine themes—abandonment, rape, loss of the protecting mother or father, menses, and pregnancy, to name a few—and feminine, often magical, power, Harry's inclusion within this tale-type not only modifies the themes to include a boy, but also tells us something about Harry himself and the world in which he lives. Harry may be sexed male, but he is passing through a world where many females have walked before him and triumphed.
Sexed Symbols, Gendered Choices
An intricate contextual framework of sexed objects, sexed spaces, and gendered actions further destabilizes sex and gender in the Harry Potter novels. In order to differentiate between the passive reception of symbolic meaning and active interaction in the sex-gender system, we use the term "sex" to refer to both the physical and symbolic characteristics of objects (a phallic sword or vaginal cave, for instance) and "gender" to indicate the more fluid interaction between subjects and society. At its most general, the sex-gender web of the series reveals a gender-transgressive narrative: Rowling takes a boy, places him into a Cinderella story set in the mundane, logical, masculine world, and then, toting a magic wand and wearing dresslike robes, sends him off to a witch and wizarding school where his greatest joy will be riding a flying broom! Interestingly, while the broom is the wizarding equivalent of a sports car, it is still, as Xavière Gauthier states in her essay on feminism and witchcraft, "A slight modification of the housewife's tool."14 Therefore, even if Harry's use of the broom to play a dangerous sport recodes the broom as active/masculine, this appropriation still operates in connection with the transgressive magic world of (female) witches. Whatever Harry's (fictional) sex, his association with the magical world makes him a feminized "other."
Rowling's first book implicates Harry in a search for the Philosopher's Stone,15 the lapis or philosophorum that symbolizes wealth and eternal life and joins the masculine principles of the sun and purification with the feminine principles of the moon and reproduction.16 Harry's first quest, then, prefigures his growth arc towards a well-rounded, thinking individual with a flexible understanding of gender that transcends biological sex: the Philosopher's Stone embodies masculine and feminine principles in a duality that is one, "the crowned hermaphrodite" (aenigma regis).17
This initial symbolic connection with ambivalent gender sets the stage for Harry's exploration of the feminine. The young wizard's pewter cauldron, long robes and pointed hat, his pet owl, and even the Potions and Herbology classes all serve as reminders of the "soft," nontechnological nature of Harry's experiences and operate in metaphorical association with the world of women and women's work. The cauldron, black robes, and pointed hats are classical and often parodied representations of the powerful female witch. The feminine symbolism continues with Harry's familiar, Hedwig, who is not only female but also a white owl in the classical tradition of Bubo, the owl of the warrior goddess Athena—also worshipped as the goddess of wisdom—who served as the protector of the ancient Greek heroes Heracles, Perseus, and Odysseus. Even the majority of the courses Harry takes are associated with woman's work: Herbology brings to mind the "kitchen garden" of traditional homemakers, and Potions—the "misuse" of the same herbs to brew magical concoctions—has long been associated with witchcraft in contrast to the traditionally "masculine" art of alchemy, which is not as yet a class at Hogwarts. To further the point, the male Potions master, the malevolent Professor Snape, clearly hates teaching the class even though he excels at it. He covets the more dangerous—and therefore "manly"—Defense Against the Dark Arts position.
The most important symbol in the series, Harry's lightning-shaped scar, serves as his magical third eye. The scar functions not only as an outward symbol of the protagonist's supposed power against evil, but also operates as a reminder, like the mark of Cain, of the very evil it protects against. The symbolism runs even deeper when considering the Hindu god Shiva—the destroyer of all material forms—whose vertical third eye, centered in his forehead, "blazes with the fire of ten million suns, and can consume any creature with flame."18 Shiva's power, sometimes indicated by the thunderbolt, bears a striking resemblance to Harry's destructive effect on Voldemort.19
As Lee Siegal notes, "Harry's scar is not only evidence of a deep emotional injury but, more consequentially, it is also the sign by which everyone in the wizard world recognizes him as the famous Harry Potter, the boy who defeated the villain Voldemort."20 Indeed, for Harry, "the body is its scars," as feminist theorist Elaine Scarry suggests.21 Harry's visible, outward sign of difference operates both as an indicator of the phallic, aggressive power of Voldemort and the passive protection of his mother. Further, the scar as a sign of a previously opened "feminine" body, a wound or gash healed, indicates the vulnerability of the supposedly solid, masculine body. Because the text posits the nature of Harry's defining mark as both masculine and feminine, weapon and wound, phallus and vagina, the closed and open body, we sense no transgression when we see a young girl at a book signing wearing a lightning bolt tattoo on her forehead—a transgression we might sense if she were carrying a sword.
Harry also inhabits "feminine" spaces. He starts buried in a cupboard under the stairs and then moves to the "other" world of magic, where he will reside at Gryffindor Tower in Hogwarts castle. Though phallic in appearance, the tower is identified with the feminine because of its defensive, protecting role. Unlike the sword, the tower does not penetrate but rather defends against penetration. For this reason, the tower is a common symbol of virginity and the Virgin Mary; alchemists thus often built their athanors (alchemical furnaces) in tower shape.22 The feminine nature of the symbol is reinforced by the fact that Professor Minerva McGonagall leads Gryffindor House, and that the Fat Lady guards the "round opening" to the Gryffindor dormitories.
Interestingly, Gryffindor's rival, Slytherin House, is most often associated with Hogwarts' dungeons. This apparent contrast between the visible and virginal power of the tower and the hidden dark femininity of the dungeon or cave actually completes the traditional feminine dyad of virgin and crone (Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw are rarely part of the equation). Thus, Hogwarts castle itself constitutes a feminine space, full of secret passages and secret chambers, all of which Harry must explore; indeed his father would be disappointed, Professor Lupin tells us, if he didn't.
In brief, from the series of rooms housing the Philosopher's Stone through the Chamber of Secrets and hidden tunnels leading to the Shrieking Shack, dragon's nest, lake, and maze of Goblet of Fire, Harry must discover and explore feminine spaces. As Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes:
The cellar, dungeon, and cave symbols are all related to one another. They are ancient initiatory environs; places to or through which a woman descends to the murdered one(s), breaks taboos to find the truth, and through wit and/or travail triumphs by banishing, transforming, or exterminating the assassin of the psyche.23
In these places Harry does indeed find truth—not only about the camouflaged enemies within Hogwarts's midst, such as Scabbers/Peter Pettigrew, Professors Quirrell, Moody (Barty Crouch in disguise), and, to some extent, Lockhart, but also about his friendships and his own true identity. He is initiated into his role as a worthy opponent of Lord Voldemort and the future savior of the wizarding world. In these feminine spaces, Harry plays a restorative role and corrects the damage done by those (males) before him.
As a whole, the network of sexed symbols and spaces provides a framework for Harry's tests and decisions. In Sorcerer's Stone, for example, we learn early that the wand that "chooses" Harry is the "brother" wand to Voldemort's, connecting Harry with the Dark Lord and preparing him for the first of many important choices: whether to go to Slytherin House or Gryffindor House. In this case, we learn that the decision is up to the magical Sorting Hat, which understands each candidate's "true essence" and sends her to the house where she will fit best. "Difficult. Very difficult," says the hat, as it not only identifies Harry's courage and magical talent, but also his desire to prove himself and his potential for greatness. "Not Slytherin, not Slytherin," thinks Harry, and the Sorting Hat places him in Gryffindor.24 The young wizard's wand may have chosen him, but Harry rejects the ambition of Slytherin for the friendship and brav-ery exemplified by the Gryffindor lion. Thus, Harry not only distances himself from the nasty Draco Malfoy and the evil Voldemort but also from the phallic power and ambition that they represent.
Harry is "rewarded" for his choice with two loyal friends, Ron and Hermione (the masculine principle and the feminine principle, respectively). Of these two, however, the boys-will-be-boys Ron almost always points Harry in the wrong direction while Hermione typically suggests the action leading to Harry's personal growth and success. In Sorcerer's Stone, for example, when Harry ignores Hermione and chooses, as Ron wants, to meet Draco Malfoy for an all-male showdown in the Hogwarts trophy room, he is nearly caught breaking curfew (a serious offense at Hogwarts) and then nearly killed by Fluffy, the vicious three-headed dog that guards the forbidden corridor leading to the Philosopher's Stone.
The residential houses at Hogwarts play another important role in displacing the usual gender-specific groups that children devise; no one at Hogwarts says "No Girls Allowed," except perhaps the Slytherins, who do not have girls on their Quidditch team—and they certainly are not role models. The series acknowledges gender difference (real boys and girls often play differently) but does not advocate gender cleavage (same-sex groups). The Sorting Hat, for example, makes its judgments based on inner characteristics—talent, personality, and disposition—and not on biological sex.
In Chamber of Secrets, the Sorting Hat appears again, this time as the delivery device for the sword of Godric Gryffindor, which Harry chooses to pull from it. Harry's use of the sword and hat (or crown)—traditional symbols of masculine and feminine power as well as creation when conjoined—again proves his mastery in negotiating gender roles. Though Harry does not at first know "what to do with" the hat, he does draw what "he needs" from it—namely the phallic power of the sword—and he slays the Slytherin basilisk sent to kill him by Voldemort.
In fact, most of Harry's major choices in the first four books belie a preference for the feminine. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry must decide between revenge and mercy. Haunted by his mother's dying screams, the angry Harry confronts the two men implicated in his parents' murder at the Shrieking Shack. He cannot, however, bring himself to kill Sirius Black even though he believes Black betrayed his parents, and he is rewarded with the truth that Black is not only innocent, but his godfather as well. This act of clemency foreshadows his later sparing of the two-timing Peter Pettigrew, the real servant of Voldemort. If Harry had opted for the masculine act of revenge, he would never have established a relationship with his godfather or learned what really happened to his parents. Even worse, he would be acting in the same vein as Voldemort.
Focusing on competition in the form of the Triwizard Tournament, Goblet of Fire betrays an obsession with tests and the consequences of right and wrong actions. Again, Harry responds to such a masculine enterprise by acting fairly, working within his limitations, accepting help, and sharing the triumph at the end of the maze. In the end, though, Harry's choice to share the victory with Cedric Diggory—only to be magically transported into the hands of Voldemort and almost certain death—warns that winning and the ambition it represents are not necessarily good or healthy.
Most importantly, the narrative of the Triwizard Tournament contrasts with the subject of courtship and attraction surrounding the Yule Ball. While Harry's age makes his participation in the tournament unautho rized and transgressive, he and others of his Hogwarts class are required to participate in the ball. A formal introduction into heterosexuality, the ball illustrates the necessity of dating rituals to gender construction—both of which cause sheer panic. The ball also highlights the subjectivity of gender performance: all the boys wear long flowing "dress robes," and yet Ron frets over the lace trim on his hand-me-down costume. Similarly, Harry and his friends understand that failing to "win" a date and attend the dance will make them "losers." Predictably, the Yule Ball proves an unsettling affair as both Hagrid and Ron try foolishly to impress the "wrong" girls and Harry himself battles Ginny Weasley's crush on him and his own crush on Cho Chang. Hermione, on the other hand, successfully negotiates her transformation from an insecure, overachieving bookworm into a "real girl": as she enters the Great Hall, she looks so elegant in her blue robes, with sleek, shiny hair and magically improved teeth, that Harry does not recognize her at first. The contrast between all of these narratives serves as a warning against the dangers of premature experiences. For while social pressure forces the unprepared Harry into the dangers of the adult world and the awkwardness of the dating world as well, the Yule Ball allows Hermione to choose an authorized entrance into gender and sexuality. Interestingly, we see that Harry's failure to date Cho Chang becomes mirrored and amplified in the disastrous capture of the Triwizard Cup: the "winner" of the date with Cho, Cedric Diggory, loses his life at Voldemort's hands.
In all cases, Rowling's world conjoins realities: there is no technology without magic, no good without evil, no pleasure without pain and suffering, and no triumph without failure. At every turn the text reminds us of the gendered duality of Harry's existence, and the hero is consistently associated with the feminine side of this dyad. From the beginning of the series, for instance, we have a somewhat generic division between the "hard," technological, masculine world of the Muggles—symbolized in Dudley's TV, VCR, and computer and Uncle Vernon's drill factory—and the "soft," magical, feminine "other" world of the witches and wizards. Later, the reader becomes aware of a second generic division in the magical world: that of the "good" magic people associated with Hogwarts and the "evil" magic people allied with Lord Voldemort. Tellingly, the Hogwarts opponents of the aggressive and power-hungry Voldemort resist his ability to penetrate, wound, and kill by exhibiting kindness, selflessness, a desire for intimacy with others, and responsibility. Thus, whereas the series apparently favors characters of the male sex, this preference continually conflicts with a context of symbols and actions that are gendered feminine. Female readers can identify with Harry in spite of his fictional sex because they have a similar experience of the world: the world is masculine, aggressive, oppressive, and only collectively can the wolf be kept from the door. In the end, all of Harry's choices throughout the texts tend towards feminine values, and he is often punished or put into peril for making masculine decisions. Male honor of the traditional sort supported by Ron Weasley just doesn't work for Harry. Rather, the protagonist succeeds by recognizing the less obvious "other choice." Somewhere in that "other" land, between the advice of his best friends Ron and Hermione, between the masculine and the feminine, Harry stands as a true symbol of the possibility of the Philosopher's Stone.
Exploring the Other
Every trip to platform nine and three-quarters reminds us that the magical world of Harry Potter exists somewhere in-between. To get to the Hogwarts Express, a person must walk through the barriers dividing platforms nine and ten at King's Cross station in the real London. The liminal magical world, then, exists parallel to the Muggle world and inside of it, so that like most fantasy and science fiction it both mirrors reality and offers alternatives to it by displacing controversial issues onto other Others.
Kylene Beers, creator of an online discussion guide, identifies the separation of Self and Other in the series as a division in terms of race and class: "A caste system is well established: wizards and witches are better than Muggles and Mudbloods; giants are outcasts; and house-elves are considered as subhuman."25 Hermione, not Harry, becomes the outspoken champion of the marginal in this caste system, partly because she herself is marginal, as pointed out in Chamber of Secrets when Draco Malfoy dubs her a "Mudblood" (born of nonmagical parents). As the "other" hero, however, she resists clear-cut definitions of who can or cannot be a wizard or witch, since she is the most accomplished student in Hogwarts. Her "Mudblood" state never shows but in Malfoy's name-calling.
Throughout the series, Hermione befriends the underdogs at all costs. From the beginning she helps the clumsy Neville Longbottom, a borderline "Squib," or wizard who lacks natural magical abilities. In Prisoner of Azkaban, she covers up Professor Lupin's werewolf identity because she knows he will be ejected from Hogwarts if discovered; she also helps the half-giant Hagrid to defend one of his pet hippogriffs in front of the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures; and finally, along with Harry, she saves both the hippogriff and Sirius Black from being executed. Hermione's boldest initiative is to start an organization to help the enslaved house-elves in Goblet of Fire. Hermione as newly discovered unionist brings forward issues of slavery and oppression that had been passed over in the previous books. While the acronym for her Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (S.P.E.W.) sounds like an in-joke, her actions to help the house-elves parallel those of the wise Dumbledore, who has started paying Dobby the house-elf to work in the Hogwarts kitchen, and make Harry wonder if the elves like to be enslaved, as Ron argues. Hermione appropriately recognizes the injustice of the house-elves' servitude because as a "Mudblood" and political minority, but also as a woman, she can see discrimination where others see tradition. The house-elves are the "women" of Hogwarts, regardless of their sex.
By far the most transgressive acceptance of the female other is Rowling's de facto redemption of the slanderous term "witch."26 Witchcraft is not the "dark art" in Rowling's magical world; rather, it exists as an art that can be used for good or evil and symbolically represents our inner power: the "magic and wonder" within all of us. In the spirit of tolerance, the series neither advocates nor denies any god or religion, thus thankfully liberating the term "witch" from its paranoid and misogynistic overtones, which have resulted in the ostracism and deaths of millions of men and women around the world. As in the Oz books, witches and wizards can be either good or evil, but Rowling's witches and wizards are not Baum's bubbleheads or humbugs. Instead, they represent the possibility of real power. Separated from all direct associations with Satanism, and even poking fun at those who would make the connection, witchcraft in the Harry Potter series becomes a technique rather than an evil.
The secularization and normalization of witchcraft ties Rowling's narrative closely to the feminist project of interrogating and reclaiming women's spaces, as expressed by the title of the French feminist journal Sorcières (Witches) edited by Xavière Gauthier. In the introduction to the first issue, Gauthier explains the connection: "If the figure of the witch appears wicked, it is because she poses a real danger to phallocratic society. We do constitute a danger for this society which is built on the exclusion—worse, on the repression—of female strength."27
Conclusion: Is Harry Potter Radical?
In his book Should We Burn Babar?, Herbert Kohl devises requisites for a radical children's literature. His framework addresses feminist concerns for critiquing traditional, patriarchal culture. A radical children's literature should (1) not focus on the individual hero, but depict a community or "natural social group larger than the family" as a central element; (2) organize conflicts around a group larger than the nuclear family: a "community, class, ethnic group, nation, or even the world"; (3) focus on collective rather than individual action; (4) portray a three-dimensional antagonist or enemy who is not inherently evil, nor evil in all situations; (5) highlight comradeship, friendship, and different types of love; and (6) not force a happy ending or resolution to the problem. As Kohl summarizes, "Radical tales should nurture the social imagination and at the same time not be dogmatic or preachy. They have to be personal, intimate, and funny as well as honest about pain and defeat."28 Tales such as these are radical, not simply because they address issues of racism, sexism, or poverty, but because their narratives give children ways of seeing that differ from the great majority of didactic texts they encounter in school, at home, and especially on television.
Although Rowling draws long and deep from a fairytale and fantasy tradition steeped in misogyny and gender stereotyping, she is seldom at its mercy. The great majority of fantasy narratives recycle stereo-typical gender roles; Rowling's Potter series, however, engages in self-reflective critique on many levels and therefore belongs to a "new" type of children's literature that interrogates and deconstructs traditional expectations of gender roles. While the Harry Potter books may not be as ironic and revisionist of fairy-tale narratives as Dreamworks's animated fantasy film Shrek (2001), Harry's story does operate on many subtle levels to the same effect. Based on the original "girl tales," starring a cross-dressing orphan, set in a coeducational school, and highlighting defensive rather than offensive action, the series speaks to modern families who, while still craving familiarity, are aware that the same old stories will no longer do. Because nothing in Rowling's series is quite as familiar as it first seems, readers of all ages can actively rethink the old tales in new nonmisogynistic ways that liberate the text and reader from conventional, phallogocentric narratives.
Readers see that Harry is never the self-centered, independent hero, but instead relies on his inclusion in a larger group: his friends, Gryffindor House, Hogwarts, and the entire non-Muggle world. Further, the series valorizes collective action, as the conflicts always require action by cohesive communities (children, adults, good wizards, bad wizards, Muggles, and house-elves). Though the magical world, like the Muggle world, suffers from gender stereotyping and sexism, it is a world in the process of change: Hogwarts is not only coeducational, but mixed-sex groups have the advantage over same-sex groups in classes, sports, and friendships. This tendency to question the status quo extends throughout the series and invites readers to cultivate a more critical approach to societal norms. Finally, rather than the linear, closed "happy-ending," the series to date highlights openness and continuing growth. All of these elements in sum work to interrogate simplistic dichotomous propositions such as masculine and feminine, good and evil, friend and enemy, self and other. On these grounds, then, the Harry Potter series is radical. Based in the "opposing social forces involved in social struggle" which Kohl advocates,29 Rowling has created the context for an active discussion of social issues including, as we have shown, sex and gender.
1. Christine Schoefer, "Harry Potter's Girl Trouble," 13 January 2000, http://www.salon.com, 1 (accessed 25 January 2000).
2. See, for example, E. E. Maccoby and C. N. Jacklin, The Psychology of Sex Differences (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1974).
3. Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are (New York: HarperCollins, 1963); In the Night Kitchen (New York: Harper and Row, 1970); Outside over There (New York: Harper and Row, 1981).
4. Schoefer, "Girl Trouble," 5.
5. J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (New York: Scholastic Press, 1999).
6. Schoefer, "Girl Trouble," 5.
7. J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (New York: Scholastic Press, 2000), 702.
8. J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (New York: Scholastic Press, 1999), 426.
9. J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (New York: Scholastic Press, 1997).
10. Michael Dirda, "The Orphan and the Ogres," Washington Post, 3 January 1999, xii.
11. For an extended comparison, see "Potter as Legend" in Elizabeth D. Schafer's Exploring Harry Potter (Osprey, FL: Beacham Publishing Corp., 2000), 148-49.
12. Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook (New York: Penguin Books, 1995), 77.
13. The Brothers Grimm, "Aschenputtel," in Household Stories (1886), Lucy Crane, trans. (Dover: New York, 1963), 119.
14. Xavière Gauthier, "Why Witches," Erica M. Eisinger, trans., in New French Feminisms, Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron, eds. (New York: Schocken Books, 1981), 199.
15. The original English title, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, was changed to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for publication in the United States. The title substitution was perhaps motivated by fears that the American audience would either not understand the alchemical reference or react in a puritanical way, associating alchemy with witchcraft. The substitution in the title has the additional effect of occluding the hermaphroditic symbolism of the philosopher's stone as "sorcerer's stone" does not have a clear (cultural, mythological, or psychological) referent.
16. See, for example, J. E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, 2d ed., Jack Sage, trans. (New York: Philosophical Library, 1971), 119, 145-46.
17. Carl Gustav Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, 2d ed., R. F. C. Hull, trans. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), 112. See also Jung's Mysterium Coniunctionis, R. F. C. Hull, trans. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989) and Alchemical Studies, R. F. C. Hull, trans. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983).
18. Neil Philip, Myths and Legends (New York: DK Publishing, 1999), 112-13. See also Carl Gustav Jung, Symbols of Transformation, 2d ed., R. F. C. Hull, trans. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990), 209, pl. XXIII; and J. E. Cirlot, Dictionary of Symbols, 342.
19. Furthermore, Shiva is often depicted in hermaphroditic form, physically combined in one body with his wife Parvati. See Jung, Symbols of Transformation, 209, pl. XXIII.
20. Lee Siegal, "Harry Potter and the Spirit of the Age: Fear of Not Flying," Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol. 137, C. Riley, ed. (Detroit: Gale Research Co., 2000), 322, and New Republic, 22 November 1999, 40.
21. Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 31.
22. Cirlot, Dictionary of Symbols, 345.
23. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype (New York: Ballentine Books, 1992), 59.
24. Rowling, Sorcerer's Stone, 121.
25. Kylene Beers, "Harry Potter: Discussion Guide for Books I-IV," 4 May 2001, http://www.scholastic.com/harrypotter/books/guides/index.htm (accessed 26 March 2001). For a brief explanation of the origins of the class system for witches and wizards with a connection to the Harry Potter series, see Schafer, Exploring Harry Potter, 57. For a more extensive discussion of the racial allegories at work in Rowling's fiction, see the chapters by Elaine Ostry and Brycchan Carey in this collection.
26. For a summary of witchcraft and the Harry Potter series, see Schafer, Exploring Harry Potter, 191-209.
27. Gauthier, "Why Witches," 203.
28. Herbert Kohl, Should We Burn Babar?: Essays on Children's Literature and the Power of Stories (New York: The New Press, 1995), 66-68.
29. Kohl, Burn Babar, 67.
Amy Billone (essay date 2004)
SOURCE: Billone, Amy. "The Boy Who Lived: From Carroll's Alice and Barrie's Peter Pan to Rowling's Harry Potter." Children's Literature 32 (2004): 178-202.
[In the following essay, Billone asserts that the character of Harry Potter acts as an amalgam of the superhuman qualities of the protagonist of J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan and the reality-questioning curiosity of Alice from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.]
Who is today's most beloved child character? In the midst of J. K. Rowling's triumphs on the literary market, we would have difficulty giving any answer other than Harry Potter. Rowling's fifth novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, broke records with its first print run of 6.8 million copies and a second print run of 1.7 million copies. Rowling has become an international celebrity; she is now the richest woman in England, wealthier than the Queen herself, and she has even been named an Officer of the British Empire. However, five years before the publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, James Kincaid boldly declared that "no children have ever been more desirable" than Lewis Carroll's Alice and J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan (275).
In this essay I will argue that Harry Potter competes with Alice and Peter Pan by combining both of them inside himself. He experiences Peter's ecstasy when he gracefully flies, Peter's superhuman aptness when he battles deadly foes, and Peter's effortless capacity to make dreams come alive. At the same time, like Alice, Harry struggles to understand the difference between what appears to be true and what is true. In Book 1, he must work his way along a chessboard by playing with and against violently destructive chess pieces; by the end of Book 5 he has suffered betrayal by nearly everyone he knows.1 Moreover, as Harry matures, he becomes angrier and angrier at the chaos surrounding him. In the fourth and fifth books, he longs to leave Hogwarts forever. Just as Alice, who is about to be decapitated by the Queen of Hearts, finally shouts out, "'Who cares for you?… You're nothing but a pack of cards!'" (97), Harry discovers that his dreams have deceived him—consequently, he has led all of his friends to their probable deaths and allowed his godfather to be murdered.
For Alice and Harry, the knowledge that dreams and reality do not coincide accompanies their growth out of childhood. In Alice's case, childhood may have evaporated before her discovery of Wonderland (when she is only seven years old); the lovely Edenic garden that she glimpses after she tumbles down the rabbit hole turns out to be an illusion. Her resulting rage, which augments throughout the book, causes her physically to grow out of her nightmare. Harry Potter experiences a similar kind of fury throughout Book 5 (when he is nearly sixteen years old); this anger interferes with the truthfulness of his dreamscape and finally forces him to realize the discrepancy between fantasy and reality. In the first parts of this paper I will investigate why Peter Pan's gender allows him to remain in Neverland (to control it, in fact) while Alice's gender causes her fantasy universe to distort into a nightmarish mirror reflection. If we take Kincaid's words seriously (and I do), that as of 1992 no two children had ever been more desirable to us than Alice and Peter Pan, we must arrive at the conclusion that until very recently childhood has been an unsettlingly masculine space.
By comparing Harry Potter to Alice and Peter Pan, I want to question whether now, in the twenty-first century, we have expanded our conception of childhood so that girls participate as comfortably in fantasylands as boys do. In particular, I am interested in the notion of the dreamchild. While many people (including J. K. Rowling herself) may prefer Hermione to Harry, it is Harry and not Hermione who experiences an intense and increasingly unstable relationship with dreams and nightmares. Hermione surprisingly seems to have no dreams at all.
As I will demonstrate in this paper, gender may still prohibit girls from traveling to childhood dreamscapes, where fantasy and reality completely reverse roles, and from feeling at home there. True, although Harry is a boy, he does have some conventionally feminine traits (he is definitely more compassionate than Alice is). He has his mother's eyes, her gentleness, her sensitivity, her carefulness not to hurt other people's feelings. Significantly, however, Harry Potter is a boy, and in every respect (with the exception of his eyes) he remarkably resembles his father. Therefore, even though Harry's personality contains both traditionally masculine and feminine qualities, masculinity still surpasses femininity in his makeup, forcing him not only to take on the literal shape of a boy, but also grounding him in a universe dominated by men. There might be as many girls as boys at Hogwarts, but women have little power in Harry's world, and the two most frightening, nearly omnipotent wizards—the evil Voldemort and the benevolent Dumbledore—give us the impression (especially when we compare them to female characters in the series) that they could be nothing other than men. Even after we recognize this gender imbalance, it may be impossible for us to imagine any alternative narrative structure because J. K. Rowling plainly has given the majority of contemporary readers the object of their dreams.
Dreamchildren are not only imaginary child characters who dream; they also tend to be fantasized about by the authors of the stories in which they appear. Lewis Carroll opens and closes the Alice books with melancholy poems about his beloved Alice Liddell; Barrie prefaces his first publication of the play Peter Pan (1928) with a long mournful dedication "To the Five," addressing the five Llewelyn Davies boys whom he passionately adored and eventually adopted. Within their texts, Carroll and Barrie make us aware that the characters who haunt them "phantomwise" correspond to real children. They inscribe the tragedy of these children's departures so intimately and so painfully into their narratives (in spite of or perhaps because of the tonal levity with which the stories are written) that we as readers long for the children, too, grieve for their dissolution, too, even though we never are sure who the real children were or how and why they disappeared.
Karoline Leach has asserted that the entire Carroll phenomenon "manifests the psychology of iconicism in its most bizarre and subliminal form" (10). According to Leach, Lewis Carroll "never confused Alice [Liddell] with 'Alice' as we do. She was never his 'dreamchild', and he never pretended that she was" (174). Leach persuasively argues that if Carroll had been in love with anyone in the Liddell family it was not with the child Alice but with her mother, Lorina. How do we make sense, then, of the closing poem in Through the Looking-Glass which contains at its center the lines, "Still she haunts me, phantom-wise / Alice moving under skies / Never seen by waking eyes," considering that the initial letters of each line in the poem, read downward, spell "Alice Pleasance Liddell"? (Carroll 209). Who is the real Alice if not Alice Liddell?
Carroll's obsessive references to the elusive "Alice" might remind us of the glare of letters that spell "nothing but a name repeated in all kinds of characters, large and small" and which start from the dark "as vivid as spectres" until "the air swarm[s] with Catherines," producing Lockwood's terrifying (and uncannily truthful) nightmare in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (15). In Lockwood's dream he hears persistent knocking against his window pane; when he opens it up, he discovers a ghost child (named Catherine), who grabs hold of him and will not let go, begging him to let her inside.2 Heathcliff has kept Catherine's spirit alive, and if Alice and Peter survive as dream-children they may do so because, as Jacqueline Rose says of Peter Pan, their stories fit within "a realm of literature which stares unblinkingly at the truth, which strides over flaws and inconsistencies, over the intellectual and social forces of our time, straight into the collective mind of its audience" (111-12).
Whatever love Carroll and Barrie may have felt for real children, these writers ultimately confront the distressing evaporation of innocence brought about by temporality itself.3 Karoline Leach contends that if Charles Dodgson was having an affair with a married adult woman (perhaps with Mrs. Liddell), then he turned his attention to children not because he was sexually attracted to them, but because he wanted to regain his own sense of lost spiritual purity. I would suggest that Carroll/Dodgson chose a girl instead of a boy as his protagonist because, like him, Alice unsuccessfully struggles to enter an idyllic landscape where sin is left behind. In Barrie's Dedication to the published play version of Peter Pan he explains to the Llewelyn Davies brothers (whom he refers to not by name but by code numbers) why he has "no recollection" of having written the story (75).4 He supposes that if he made Peter he must have done so "by rubbing the five of you violently together, as savages with two sticks produce a flame. That is all he is, the spark I got from you" (76, 75). But Barrie wrote this Dedication at the earliest in 1920; George Llewelyn Davies (No. 1) was killed in the First World War in 1915, and Michael (No. 4) was drowned (a possible suicide) in 1921, so that at least one and probably two of Barrie's real-life addressees were already dead at the time he composed it.
Barrie seems aware in his Dedication that he is, and always has been, talking to and about dead or nonexistent children. "There is Peter still," he writes, "but to me he lies sunk in the gay Black Lake" (Peter Pan 77). He goes on to explain his belief that people remain the same throughout their lives, "merely passing, as it were, in these lapses of time from one room to another, but all in the same house" (78). He speaks as though his childhood self is alive now, and he will not let go of his conviction that "a little something in us which is no larger than a mote in the eye … dances in front of us beguiling us all our days. I cannot cut the hair by which it hangs" (79). Rather than corresponding to the real-life object of Carroll's sexual desire, the little girl Alice (simply because she is a girl and not a boy) may at once represent Carroll's lost innocence and his inability to possess that innocence again. Likewise, rather than taking the place of any of the Llewelyn Davies boys or serving as a reincarnation of Barrie's brother who died as a child, Peter Pan may embody the storyteller's own childhood self—lost because Barrie has grown up, but also alive, still, playfully (albeit tragically) hidden inside a distant room.
Of all child characters, Neverland's Peter Pan and Wonderland's Alice may have been for so long the most desirable to us because as dreamchildren they do not materialize quite the way we want them to. In Kincaid's opinion, these two children are so tremendously appealing because no "figures are more insistently Other, more adept at resisting satisfaction, blocking fulfillment, keeping the chase and desire alive" (276). However, in spite of their common unavailability to us, Peter and Alice could not be more dissimilar. According to Kincaid, "Peter, the child, is lodged in the world of play and the adult is stuck in the world of power; Alice, the apparent child (actually the adult) is firmly in the world of power and the apparent adult (actually the child) is in the world of play" (276). In other words, even in the dreamworld of Neverland, Peter is a child; but Alice is what Kincaid calls a "false child" who wants only to resist the nonsensical world of Wonderland into which she accidentally falls (289).
On one level, Kincaid's analysis of these tales rings regrettably true. In Alice in Wonderland, we find ourselves hurled into what Knoepflmacher calls a "childland," yet sadly we find no child there. Kincaid observes, "We find only Alice, the false child, resisting the play, telling us coldly at every turn in the game that we are being silly, that we must wake up, grow up" (289). What is maddeningly desirable to us about Alice is that she has vacated the position of the true child, betrayed us by growing up almost as soon as her life begins.
If Peter's inability to age and to return Wendy's romantic love gives her anguish (while her ability to mature does not), we might ask what Alice's emotions are (the real Alice, the fictional Alice, the dream Alice) about her own eroticized nonexistent childhood. Kincaid insists:
But Alice is not at home with play. She is at home with the bees—with logic, accounts, work, death, and sentimentality: the rewards that come to those willing to grow up. The Otherness represented by Alice is even more elusive than Peter's, more subtle and indistinct, more a photograph we can set in the past and tell stories about, more a memory her sister can dream when Alice runs off, more a child who never was.
Where I differ from Kincaid is in my sympathy for Alice the "false child" who appears to be "not at home with play." On the boat trip to Godstow when Dodgson first narrated the fictional Alice's dream journey in 1862, the ten-year-old real-life Alice allegedly hoped, "'There will be nonsense in it!'" (Carroll 3). The waking seven-year-old fictional Alice gets tired sitting by her older sister on the bank; once or twice she looks into her sister's book and wonders what the use is of a book "without pictures or conversations" (7). Alice wants to experience a universe consisting of pictures or playing cards or chess pieces come to life and nonsensical conversations. But what happens when Carroll allows her to enter this dreamland? The nonsense world torments and rejects her, pigeons scream that she is a serpent, cooks throw everything within reach at duchesses who violently beat their babies, furious queens try to decapitate her and everyone around them, and the sympathetic Cheshire Cat says that not only is everyone in Wonderland mad, but Alice herself must have been mad to come there in the first place.5
In a book so full of puns that a story or "tale" appears visually in the shape of a winding mouse's "tail;" the word "mad" obviously has two meanings. Carroll radically altered the mouse's tale from Alice's Adventures Under Ground, which began, "We lived beneath the mat / warm and snug and fat / But one woe, & that / Was the cat!" In the extended, revised Alice in Wonderland, the tale begins, "Fury said to / a mouse … 'Let / us both go / to law: I / will prose- / cute you—" (25). Unlike the all-male Neverland where pirates and redskins and Lost Boys pursue each other in an endless dance around the island, Wonderland is driven from start to finish by women's fury. When the White Rabbit exclaims, "'Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!'" he does so out of terror that the Duchess will have him executed (7). In Alice's first meeting with the Mouse she horrifies him by mentioning her female cat Dinah, who is "'such a capital one for catching mice'" (18). It is the repulsively ugly female Duchess who violently beats her baby and the revolting female cook who throws everything in the room at both of them. Finally, the Queen of Hearts might be characterized almost exclusively by her seemingly unjustified rage and its consequences. She turns "crimson with fury" during Alice's first encounter with her, moves "angrily away" from the gentle King (65), and while playing croquet stamps "in a furious passion" (67). The Queen speaks "in a shrill, loud voice" (65); she screams, roars, shouts "in a voice of thunder" (66). Yet none of her actions has any effect in the end, for the smiling, timid King pardons everyone she sentences to execution, as he always does.
Like the Queen, Alice experiences increasing anger throughout the book. In the scene with the disagreeable Caterpillar, Alice "swallow[s] down her anger as well as she could" (36). Because "she [has] never been so much contradicted in all her life before," she feels that she is "losing her temper" (41). At the "mad tea-party," her anger heightens beyond any earlier point in the story. She speaks to the creatures "indignantly," "angrily," "with some severity," and "in an offended tone" (54-59). This scene prepares Alice for her meeting with the Queen of Hearts; as the Queen screams, "'Off with her head!'" Alice interrupts: "'Nonsense!'… and the Queen [is] silent" (64). At last, during the trial scene, the Queen demands the sentence first and the verdict afterwards. Alice, having grown inexplicably much taller, loudly retorts, "'Stuff and nonsense!'"; this infuriates the Queen, who, turning purple, shouts "'Off with her head!'" (97). Now Alice's own anger, which corresponds to her physical growth, explodes the entire dreamworld: "'Who cares for you?' said Alice (she had grown to her full size by this time). 'You're nothing but a pack of cards!'" (97). When the whole pack rises into the air and comes flying down upon her, she gives "a little scream, half of fright and half of anger," tries "to beat them off" and instead wakes up with her head in the lap of her older sister, who is herself brushing away dead leaves from Alice's face (97-98).
Alice cannot survive in the Wonderland of magic and nonsense for which she longs, not because she responds as a cold adult to the games we want to play with her, as Kincaid suggests, but because her dream of "the beautiful garden" full of "bright flower-beds" and "cool fountains" turns out to be an illusion (61). Alice's desperate efforts to make her body the right size to fit into the lovely garden and even her final success in entering the garden, once she finds out what it really is, leave her stranded in a false paradise.6
In Barrie's tales about Peter Pan, as in the Alice books, gender prohibits female characters from entering childland. Shirley Foster and Judy Simons argue that Barrie's "fantasy of permanent childhood" privileges male experience, recreating "the strict gendered division of Edwardian England; the boys go hunting and fight pirates while Wendy becomes a surrogate mother figure who stays at home and cares for her 'children'" (175). Even though Barrie tells us that "[a]ll the characters, whether grown-ups or babes, must wear a child's outlook on life as their only important adornment," he nevertheless closes the doors of childhood to little girls (Peter Pan 88). According to Claudia Nelson, the difficulty we have in figuring out where child leaves off and adult begins "makes possible the greater, if more subtle, opposition in the novel—that between female and male" (170). The text ultimately shows how "even female children are to some extent adult and dangerous, even adult males childlike and endangered" (170).
It seems that if womanhood automatically partakes of childhood, then girls would differ from women only through their absence of maternal feelings along with their unreadiness to enter the sexual relationships that maternity demands. Yet Wendy, we are told, "was every inch a woman, though there were not very many inches" (Peter and Wendy 91). Everyone wants Wendy for a mother, the pirates as well as the Lost Boys, and she wants more than anything to be one. When the Lost Boys first speak with her in the play, they all simultaneously shout, "'Wendy lady, be our mother!'" (Peter Pan 116). Wendy at first doubts the appropriateness of this request, or at least pretends to (so as "not to make herself too cheap"): "'Ought I? Of course it is frightfully fascinating; but you see I am only a little girl; I have no real experience'" (116). But the Lost Boys are not at all discouraged: "'That doesn't matter. What we need is just a nice motherly person'" (116). And Wendy cannot escape this characterization: "'Oh dear,'" she says, "'I feel that is just exactly what I am'" (116).7
It is difficult not to relate Barrie's description of Wendy to that of his own mother, about whom he writes in Margaret Ogilvy:
She was eight when her mother's death made her mistress of the house and mother to her little brother, and from that time she scrubbed and mended and baked and sewed … and had her washing days and her ironings and a stocking always on the wire for odd moments, and gossiped like a matron with the other women, and humoured the men with a tolerant smile.
In his introduction to Peter and Wendy in the Oxford edition, Peter Hollindale offers one reason why biographical interpretations of Barrie's work remain so attractive: namely, that Barrie himself drew attention to the close interaction between his life and work "not only privately, for his own uses, in his notebooks, but publicly and openly, in novels, autobiography, and speeches" (vii). Barrie encourages us to relate Wendy to his mother when, in Margaret Ogilvy, he devotes a chapter to "my heroine," claiming that his mother is the most important female character in all of his books because she is the only woman he ever truly knew. It is not coincidental, then, that the name "Wendy" was Barrie's own invention, deriving, ironically, from that of a little girl (dead at the age of five) with his mother's own name, Margaret, who had told him that he was her "fwendy" ("friendy") and she was his "wendy."
Wendy lacks none of Mrs. Darling's maternal impulses; nor is she a stranger to romantic desire. She "artfully" tries to kiss Peter during their first meeting (Peter and Wendy 101), continually inquires what his "exact feelings" are for her (130, 162), fiercely agrees with Tinker Bell that in his sexual ignorance he is a "silly ass" (130), demands at the end whether he would like to say anything to her parents "'about a very sweet subject'" (151) and one year later (at this point unable to fly without a broomstick) cries out "'Oh, Peter, how I wish I could take you up and squdge you!'" (153).8 In his Dedication, Barrie recognizes the threat that Wendy poses. He refers to her as a "disturbing element," speculating that she may never initially have been wanted by Peter in Neverland at all (Peter Pan 84). Speaking of one of the earliest versions of the play (The Boy Castaways: The Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island, a book composed entirely of a preface and captioned photographs), which evolved from his games with the young Davies boys during a summer holiday in 1901, Barrie says, "Wendy has not yet appeared …" (Peter Pan 84). However, he hypothesizes that she might have "bored her way in at last whether we wanted her or not. It may be that even Peter did not really bring her to the Never Land of his free will, but merely pretended to do so because she would not stay away" (84).
Kincaid wholeheartedly concurs that Wendy acts as the most frightening source of evil in the book. He even goes so far as to say that Wendy enters the story as "an intruder, a disturber of the peace and play, sets up a school, and is last seen on a broomstick, where she should have been all along" (285). As Kincaid sees it, Wendy, just like Alice, "wants so badly to grow up, she more or less is grown-up now, probably was born grown-up" (288). It is almost as though, opposite to Wendy, who cannot be anything other than an adult, Captain Hook is really a child playing the part of a grownup. Kincaid suggests that "the one adult [Peter] does, more or less, manage to kill does not seem to be an enemy at all but a bellowing, funny parody, a player who, like Peter, does not know, a child who has agreed to play Daddy and is having a fine old time of it" (284). Hook understands the world of Neverland, and would never choose to leave it. If, in Kincaid's words, "Hook is the entry adults have into the itch that is Peter," then the adults who want to destroy Neverland, children's real enemies, seem to "wear skirts instead of hooks, come in the form of women who threaten to disrupt the pederastic unity being forged" (285).
I agree with Kincaid that while giving every appearance to the contrary, Wendy doubles as a wicked witch in Peter Pan. What I see omitted from his discussion, however, is the extent to which Wendy's gender forces her into this role. Kincaid likes Peter best "when he can be seen napping, leg arched and hand thrown over the edge of the bed like a serpentining Cleopatra in drag … But not really in drag, being so genderless. One of the things he does not know is gender, or maybe it is one of the things we are allowed for a moment not to know" (282). No matter how compelling this argument may be, I think it is impossible not to know gender when we read Barrie's text. True, male and female relationships collide in Peter Pan much as do relations between children and adults. We constantly find people playing all the wrong parts. Barrie explains in his dedication that Nana was originally (and biographically) a male dog and that s/he first belonged not to the Darlings but to Captain Hook. This piece of historical information serves as one more example of the shifting roles between good and evil characters in the story; it also provides an instance of gender fluidity that Barrie does not let us forget. At the beginning of the play, Barrie places emphasis on Nana's still ambiguous gender. He says that the "first moment in the play is tremendously important, for if the actor playing Nana does not spring properly we are undone. She will probably be played by a boy, if one clever enough can be found" (Peter Pan 88; emphasis added). Barrie uses Nana's sex change as one of the few pieces of evidence that he in fact did write the play himself.9
Nana's gender ambiguity most definitely applies to representations of the boy Peter Pan. As a play produced in 1904, Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up followed the model of nineteenth-century English pantomimes—holiday treats for children, which included music, humor, harlequin clowns, magic, flying, and fantastic effects. In these performances, the most important boy characters were generally played by women rather than male children, in part because adults could better handle the many lines and because women (more easily than men) could successfully masquerade as little boys.10 Making use of the same sort of cross-dressing that characterized British pantomimes, Peter Pan was introduced in London at the Duke of York's Theatre on December 27, 1904, with 37-year-old Nina Boucicault in the role of Peter. This performance set the standard around the world for the next 50 years. In America, the play first featured Maude Adams in the leading role. Some of the most famous Peters were Pauline Chase, who played the part for eight revivals, and Jean Forbes-Robertson, who played it for nine. Intriguingly, the same actresses often played different parts at different times. Jane Baxter has been a Redskin, Mrs. Darling, and Peter Pan, while four actresses have played both Wendy and Peter: Lila Maravan, Dinah Sheridan, Joan Greenwood and Julia Lockwood.11
The disguising of actresses (often grown-up women) as eternal boy-children continued throughout the twentieth century: we might think of the famous 1954 musical production of Peter Pan, which starred Mary Martin in tights (filmed for television and broadcast seven times between 1955 and 1973) or the two major Broadway revivals starring Sandy Duncan in the late 1970s and Cathy Rigby several times in the 1990s. At last, a 1952 German production used a male Peter and in America, Disney's animated 1953 version did the same, but it wasn't until 1982, when Trevor Nunn and John Caird produced their version of Peter Pan at the Barbican Theatre in London, that a male lead was cast in the role of Peter Pan in England.
If boys and men interchange roles in Peter Pan while neither Mrs. Darling nor Wendy can be anything other than mature women, we might want to ask whether these female characters could transform into children simply by disguising themselves as little boys. Like Nana, who changes his moral system as well as his gender, Peter, too (beyond the question of who plays his part), enjoys altering positions in these categories. In Act 3, Peter pretends to be Hook and all the pirates unknowingly take orders from him. Even Hook grips "the stave for support" when he hears Peter talk in his own voice (Peter Pan 121). In response to Hook's question, "'Who are you, stranger, speak,'" Peter, "who can imitate the captain's voice so perfectly that even the author has a dizzy feeling that at times he was really Hook," answers, "'I am Jas Hook, Captain of the Jolly Roger,'" and Hook turns "white to the gills" (120-21). Finally, after Hook "prostrates himself into the water, where the crocodile is waiting for him open-mouthed," the curtain "must not rise again lest we see [Peter] on the poop in Hook's hat and cigars, and with a small iron claw" (146).
Peter's convincing ability to impersonate his worst enemy mimics his gift for posing as the opposite gender. In Act 3, "Tiger Lily slides between [the pirates'] legs into the lagoon, forgetting in her haste to utter her war-cry, but Peter utters it for her, so naturally that even the lost boys are deceived" (120). To mask Wendy's dismayed exclamation that Smee doesn't know what a mother is, Peter "makes the splash of a mermaid's tail" and the pirates think no more of it (121). At the most suspenseful moment leading up to the final battle, Peter folds Wendy's cloak around himself "with awful grimness" and "takes her place by the mast" (144). The pirates decide the ship is "bewitched" by someone—in fact, by "a man with a hook"—but Hook shifts the blame to "the girl" and tells them to throw her overboard (144). Mullins jeers, "'There is none can save you now, missy,'" and "Wendy" answers, "'There is one … Peter Pan, the avenger!'" at which point Peter proudly casts off the cloak and "continues standing there to let the effect sink in" (144).
Consequently, we watch an adult woman disguised as a boy hero pretend to be a little girl and then reveal herself to be a little boy after all, who goes on to give the play's author the "dizzy feeling" that s/he is actually not a child hero in the first place but an adult male villain. To sort through these difficulties, I think we need to step back and ask ourselves one simple question: Who is Peter Pan? First of all, he is a child whom other children see only in their dreams; as they grow older he is completely forgotten and ceases to be visible. Thus it "disturbs" Wendy that one year after her first visit to Never-Never Land, she "does not see him quite so clearly … as she used to do" (153). However, there are two things that this dreamchild does know (Kincaid's speculations notwithstanding): 1) that he is a child rather than a grownup and 2) that he is a boy rather than a girl. It is for this reason that viewers often feel uncomfortable watching grown women play his part. Patrick Braybrooke wrote as early as 1924 in an "Author's Note" to a book on Barrie that Peter Pan should never again be played by a woman: "There is no character of Barrie's so essentially masculine as 'PETER PAN,' yet the part is played by actresses who are in every sense horribly and inevitably grown up" (5).
People may doubt the reality of Peter, but no one wonders whether he might be in truth an adult woman. Whatever he is, Peter Pan is a child. In the scene where Peter faultlessly imitates Captain Hook, Tiger Lily, and a mermaid, he plays a guessing game with Hook to solve the riddle of his identity. Peter knows he is not a vegetable, a mineral, a man or an ordinary boy. But when Hook asks, "'Wonderful boy?'" Peter shouts (much to Wendy's distress), "'Yes!'" (Peter Pan 122). At the end of this scene, Peter and Wendy nearly drown together, but although she wants to "draw lots" to see which one of them should fly away with a kite and which one should stay behind, he answers, "'And you a lady, never!'" (124). Peter obviously knows gender and he delights in his own little-boyishness, singing "'Wendy, look, look; oh the cleverness of me!'" and "'I'm sweet, oh, I am sweet!'" (Peter Pan 99, 103). Part of the effect of using sexually mature women to play the part of Peter Pan is further to eroticize him, as the whole drama centers around this issue. Female characters think of Peter almost as though he is the ghost of a heart-stoppingly gorgeous man who died as a child; he is supposed to be sexually grown up but he isn't, even though he still has erotic appeal, and this tragic fact causes Tinker Bell (the would-be Cinderella) to pull Wendy's hair and nearly to murder her, then to take her own life out of unfulfillable love for him. Because grown women may have physical attractiveness without possessing the sexual potency of manhood, their impersonations of Peter Pan help us to see precisely what it is that he lacks. Clearly, however, Peter's allure is not comparable to the seductiveness of girls and women. Wendy and Mrs. Darling own this kind of appeal and, erotically, they neither compete with Peter nor entice him, nor bring him to an understanding of what sexual temptation is. For a girl or a woman to pretend to be Peter Pan she must at every moment realize that she is only playing a part.
If Alice suffers from the agony of never being able to enter the beautiful place she envisions (the loveliest garden you ever saw, full of bright flowers and cool fountains), and Peter Pan orchestrates all adventures in a paradisiacal Neverland where he can always be a little boy and have fun, how does Harry Potter interact with fantasylands? In this part of my analysis I will defend two claims. First, because Harry Potter is growing up at the turn from the twentieth to the twenty-first century, he fuses Peter Pan's and Alice's roles, participating in a dreamworld that is at once the product of his greatest joys and his most awful fears. His integration of masculine and feminine characteristics encourages all readers to identify with him (unlike Peter and Alice he is the figment of a woman writer's imagination). This means that the Harry Potter books do not problematize femininity the way that nineteenth- and early twentieth-century texts do. Second (and this point contradicts my first), when we compare Harry Potter's dreams with those of the male and female characters in his world we find ourselves in exactly the same situation we were in before—girls still cannot confidently make the voyage to dreamland and back again; this power seems to be the privilege of male characters alone.
Due to "the riddle of his being," Peter Pan remains the paragon of childhood innocence, and "no one is as gay as he" (Peter Pan 153-54). For Barrie, children have principally three skills that adults do not have: 1) they can enter their own dreams and make these dreams come true; 2) they can play fantasy games in which the imaginary world takes the place of concrete reality; 3) they can fly (with the help of Pixie Dust and happy thoughts). Harry Potter makes his own journey to Neverland when he finds out about Hogwarts and travels there. The morning after Hagrid has suddenly shown up on Harry's eleventh birthday, Harry is afraid to open his eyes: "'It was a dream,' he told himself firmly. 'I dreamed a giant called Hagrid came to tell me I was going to a school for wizards. When I open my eyes I'll be at home in my cupboard.'… It had been such a good dream" (Sorcerer's Stone 76). However, Harry's "good dream" comes true for him. When Harry reaches the Great Hall at Hogwarts he realizes he has "never even imagined such a strange and splendid place" (145). In this dreamworld all that is make-believe takes on physical reality. Just as Peter Pan never knows whether or not he has eaten because he is capable of living in a fantasy game, Harry, who has never been given enough to eat at home, wishes for food on his first night at Hogwarts, and food magically appears: "He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table" (153). Once he has eaten as much as he can, "the remains of the food" vanish "from the plates, leaving them sparkling clean as before" (155). A moment later the desserts materialize: "Blocks of ice cream in every flavor you could think of, apple pies, treacle tarts, chocolate éclairs and jam doughnuts, trifle, strawberries, Jell-O, rice pudding …" (155).12 Rowling's long, exaggerated descriptions of delicious foods underscore the equation between Harry's dreams and what he discovers to be true.
Harry Potter's initial response to Hogwarts differs from other characters' reactions; he is quite literally entering a fantasy world. Ron, on the other hand, has always lived in such a world, as both his parents are practicing wizards, and Hermione (whose parents are only "Muggles") has read everything she can find about Hogwarts and has taught herself spells at home. Nor does Harry's discovery of his ability to fly bear any resemblance to that of the other characters. Here, we find some of the most striking similarities between Harry and Peter Pan. Harry's gifts when he is flying remain unrivaled by anyone else his age.13 During his first flying lesson (unlike Peter, these characters all mature and here they all must use brooms), "Harry's broom jumped into his hand at once, but it was one of the few that did. Hermione Granger's had simply rolled over on the ground" (Sorcerer's Stone 181). Harry ignores Hermione's warning and breaks all the rules—"up, up, he soared; air rushed through his hair … in a rush of fierce joy he realized he'd found something he could do without being taught—this was easy, this was wonderful. He pulled his broomstick up a little to take it even higher, and heard screams and gasps of girls back on the ground …" (182-83).
As in Peter Pan, where the male children forget about reality and want to make Neverland their home, Harry believes his dreamworld feels "more like home than Privet Drive ever had" (Sorcerer's Stone 211).14 However, just like girls, every boy except for Peter Pan must eventually leave make-believe behind. Even if Harry Potter will have more power than women in real life (as men in his world certainly seem to have), his journey parallels Alice's; like Alice, Harry undergoes magnifying rage and fury as his dreams betray him and stop functioning as true—he, too, must grow up.
Harry's dreams increase not only in quantity but in severity as the series progresses. Like Alice, he moves gradually into a nightmare universe. Rowling calls our attention to five kinds of dreams in the Harry Potter series: normal dreams (which she fills with delightfully Freudian implications), retrospective dreams (which simply replay scenes from the past), prophetic dreams (which show us what will happen in the future), factual dreams (which mirror what is simultaneously happening in real life) and implanted dreams (which give every appearance of being factual but have actually been inserted in the mind by someone else). Harry is the only character who experiences all five types of dream; further, he seems to be the only character who undergoes retrospective dreams, factual dreams and implanted dreams. Harry appears to dream much more frequently than anyone he knows. His dreams are not only numerous but recurrent, so that by the fifth book, whenever he closes his eyes, it is "as though a film in his head had been waiting to start" (Phoenix 496).
When he is still a child, Harry's dreamscapes resemble Neverland more than Wonderland. At the start of the first book (when he is still ten years old), Harry is waking up, trying to remember a dream he had just had: "It had been a good one. There had been a flying motorcycle in it. He had a funny feeling he'd had the same dream before" (Sorcerer's Stone 23). Unlike Harry, we know that this dream is retrospective—when Harry was a baby, Hagrid carried him to the Dursleys' house on a flying motorcycle; it is not, therefore, as Harry thinks, "only a dream" (31). When Harry's other "good dream" comes true and he is taken to Hogwarts, his dreamlife begins to complicate (76). On his first night there, he has "a very strange dream" (162). This one turns out to be a disturbingly prophetic nightmare; he thinks he is wearing Professor Quirrell's turban, which keeps telling him he must transfer to Slytherin while Draco Malfoy laughs and Snape turns into Voldemort. Harry will find out at the end of the book that Voldemort really does live beneath Quirrell's turban; eventually he will realize he contains a part of Voldemort within himself (just as Alice eventually makes the connection between herself, the Duchess, and the Queen of Hearts); moreover, Snape is a former (and perhaps a future?) Death-Eater. However, Harry's reaction to the nightmare is to roll over and fall asleep again; when he wakes the next day, he doesn't remember the dream at all.
Later on in the first novel, Harry discovers his dead parents alive in a looking-glass reflection; Dumbledore takes the mirror away, telling Harry that the mirror "'will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible … It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that'" (265). But after Harry has encountered the mirror and to some extent walked inside it (much as Alice does in Through the Looking-Glass), he begins to have nightmares (this time, retrospective ones) and to remember them when awake: "Over and over again he dreamed about his parents disappearing in a flash of green light, while a high voice cackled with laughter" (267). After he has almost been murdered by Voldemort (a masked figure drinking unicorn blood) in the Forbidden Forest, he starts having difficulty sleeping: "Harry kept being woken by his old nightmare, except that it was now worse than ever because there was a hooded figure dripping blood in it" (327). These dreams consequently give Harry more and more information about forgotten traumas from his past.
As a result of multiple encounters with the Dementors in Book 3, Harry impossibly remembers all of the details of his parents' deaths, including their last words (even though this event happened when Harry was only a baby, too young to speak). Now, when he sleeps, he sinks "into dreams full of clammy, rotted hands and petrified pleading, jerking awake to dwell again on his mother's voice" ([Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ] 184). At the start of Book 4 (as he is turning fourteen), Harry has his first factual dream—a detailed nightmare about what Voldemort is in the process of doing. Although he is not sure if the dream is true, it seems "so real" (Goblet of Fire 17). When his dream/fantasy that he can compete in the Triwizard Tournament comes horrifyingly true (an evil wizard makes him a finalist so as to facilitate Voldemort's plan to murder him), Ron stops being his friend, and "for the first time ever" (just as Alice comes to feel about Wonderland) Harry seriously considers "running away from Hogwarts" (339). After Harry has another amazingly factual dream about Voldemort, he confusedly asks Dumbledore, "'So you think … that dream … did it really happen?'" (601). Dumbledore confirms Harry's suspicions: "'It is possible … I would say—probable, Harry'" (601). At the end of the novel, Harry's life takes on all the nightmarish qualities of Wonderland: the rules of the game he is playing (the Triwizard Tournament) deceive him; the competition becomes no longer recreational but dangerously real; he must observe (and help to bring about) his friend's death; he nearly gets murdered; and he finds out he has been betrayed by an evil impersonator who took on the form of a trustworthy wizard (Alastor Moody).
Because of the gruesome nightmare he has endured, Harry is furious from the beginning of Book 5 (at which point he turns fifteen), and his anger grows throughout the novel. His voyage to the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix (accompanied by a group of flying guardians) initially resembles the Darlings' first night voyage with Peter Pan: "Harry kicked off hard from the ground. The cool night air rushed through his hair … He felt as though his heart was going to explode with pleasure" (Phoenix 55-56). Harry loses track of time on this voyage just as the Darling children do on their way to Neverland: "He wondered how long they had been flying; it felt like an hour at least" (57). But completely unlike Peter Pan, and also unlike himself in earlier books, Harry takes progressively less pleasure in the flight. He grows so chilled his body freezes to his broom, and he yearns to land, thinking "longingly for a moment of the snug, dry interiors of the cars streaming along below" (55-57).
As Book 5 advances, Harry's nights grow "restless" and "disturbed" (9); it seems he no longer has any good dreams at all. He believes he is being attacked by many-legged creatures with cannons for heads (a normal dream); he repeatedly thinks he is wandering down a windowless corridor and facing a locked door which he longs to enter (due to his own misjudgment these dreams will become prophetic); Hermione tells him to give Cho his Firebolt broomstick, which he can't do because the evil professor, Dolores Umbridge, has locked it up (a normal—and psychoanalytically fertile—dream); he turns into a snake who bites and nearly murders Ron Weasley's father (this dream is factual, although Voldemort was technically in the snake's body, not Harry); he has a long conversation, speaking in Voldemort's voice, and when he looks in the mirror he sees Voldemort rather than himself (another factual dream); he has a version of an epileptic seizure, and hears (even utters) Voldemort's maniacal laughter (again, a factual dream); he suffers from a terrible nightmare/seizure during an exam, brought on by his lack of sleep and his inability to remember names and dates from the real world—in this implanted dream, he once again has merged with Voldemort and is in the process of torturing Sirius Black (Harry's own godfather).
The way in which Harry changes into a dreadful male adult figure in his fantasy life, translates the implications of these dreams into reality, and ultimately must abandon his faith in make-believe (as part of the process of growing up), strikingly resembles Alice's journey through Wonderland. Harry's inability to dis-tinguish implanted from factual dreams derives in part from his childishness. The Death Eater, Bellatrix Lestrange (Sirius's murderer), cruelly mocks him: "'The little baby woke up fwightened and fort what it dweamed was twoo'" (Phoenix 782). In order to protect himself from this mistake, Harry was supposed to have learned Occlumency: the magical defense of the mind against external penetration. Snape has repeatedly told him that in order to become good at Occlumency Harry must rid his mind of all emotion—"'empty it, make it blank and calm, you understand?'" (538). Strangely, Harry appears to have no skill at Occlumency—he cannot defend his mind against influence from the outside, and loses all ability to distinguish his fantasy life from the truth.
So far in Rowling's series, Harry's voyages to and from dreamworld have been imitated solely by male characters. Voldemort inserts himself into Harry's dreams; Snape enters Harry's mind on multiple occasions (like Voldemort he is skilled at the art of Legilmency); Dumbledore seems to have this ability as well. Men's power (both in its best and worst possible form) derives from this expertise—it is what enables Voldemort to take over Harry's mind in Book 5 and what repeatedly brings Dumbledore to Harry's aid. Harry's male friends such as Ron and Neville have normal dreams—Ron tends to forget his, although once he remembers he dreamt he was playing Quidditch, which is easy to understand since in real life he is secretly practicing to try out for the team; Neville embarks on "a long-winded explanation of a nightmare involving a pair of giant scissors wearing his grandmother's best hat" (Phoenix 237-38).
Unlike the male characters, girls and women have difficulty moving from real life to dreamworlds and back again. Instead, they seem to divide into two categories in the Harry Potter books. On the one hand, characters like Hermione Granger, Minerva McGonagall and Dolores Umbridge are bound to the real world (however magical this world may be)—they appear to have no dreams at night, they dismiss divination, they scrupulously follow the laws of reason, they do not/cannot play games (McGonagall may love to watch Quidditch, but she herself does not play, and Hermione appears to have little interest in the sport; nor can Hermione play chess). On the other hand, the "loony" girl who gives "off an aura of distinct dottiness," Luna Lovegood, with her "wide, silvery eyes," and the Divination teacher, Sibyll Trelawney, exist in dreamland; they never make any voyage there (Phoenix 183, 199).15 These latter characters might be compared with the Duchess, the Cook, the Queen of Hearts, Tinker Bell, and Tiger Lily; they do not fall to Wonderland or fly to Neverland—they cannot distinguish between dreams and reality; they do not follow the rules of logic; they live only in fanciful realms.
While many people may feel that Rowling is giving them exactly what they want with respect to gender, perhaps these readers—just like Rowling's protagonists—will discover that no matter how well-intentioned they were, they have accidentally misunderstood reality, betrayed themselves into believing what turns out not to be true. By phrasing the problem this way, I do not mean to imply that Rowling herself might be a traitor in the fashion of the "makebelieve" Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Alastor Moody, who reveals himself to be a servant of the Dark Lord in the fourth book. Nor do I mean that, like Sirius Black, Rowling may give us every reason to assume she is a maniacal mass murderer and then turn out to be the loving and protective "godmother" we never knew we had, even though all evidence points to the contrary. (The fifth book suggests that if we attach ourselves to this metaphor, we will eventually bring Rowling to her death due to our desperate efforts to protect her from torture and blame.) But I do not mean for us to forget these analogies either. Rather, I think we need to keep both constantly in mind, neither to accept one or the other, and to pay close attention to how Rowling's books thematize our struggle to make sense of what they seem to say.
Feminist critics split into two opposing groups—those who find Rowling's work empowering for female characters and those who see it as misogynistic. In keeping with my Sirius Black analogy, Ximena Gallardo-C. and C. Jason Smith offer a proactive feminist interpretation of Rowling's work. They maintain that while "the novels do not actively critique gender stereotyping, the narrative does challenge standard constructions of gender and gender roles" ("Cinderfella" 191). Rowling achieves this effect by feminizing Harry through his association with Cinderella, through his symbolic actions (such as flying on a broom—an object associated with women, who use brooms to clean kitchens), and through the series' growing obsession with understanding "otherness." In her article, "Hermione Granger and the Heritage of Gender," Eliza T. Dresang proposes a postmodern feminist interpretation of Rowling's work. She points out that Hermione is immediately chosen for Gryffindor House, and even though her agency might be developing slowly, she is playing more and more of "a decisive role" in Harry's adven-tures and adventures of her own ("Hermione Granger" 227). Furthermore, McGonagall seems to be "a strong, ethical woman … an empowered female" (235).
On the other hand, in keeping with my Alastor Moody impersonator analogy, many dismiss Rowling's work as dangerous, false, and misleading. In her article, "Harry Potter's Girl Trouble," Christine Schoefer concludes that the "world of everyone's favorite kid wizard" is "a place where boys come first." Jack Zipes does not consider the Harry Potter texts to be "books of quality" precisely because (as "phenomenal" books) they are "driven by commodity consumption that at the same time sets the parameters of reading and aesthetic taste" (187, 172). Consequently, Zipes finds the Harry Potter books extremely "formulaic and sexist" (171). As Farah Mendlesohn argues in her essay, "Crowning the King: Harry Potter and the Construction of Authority," the one "heroine" of these books, Hermione, "will never be permitted to be anything other than a second in command"; the only time Hermione achieves separation from Harry (as late as the fourth book) she receives attention first through "the magical equivalent of plastic surgery" and second through her attractiveness to the only figure presented as more "exciting" than Harry Potter—Viktor Krum, the world-famous Quidditch player (174-75).
Do the Harry Potter books ultimately eliminate gender stereotypes, or radically reinforce them? I believe that Rowling inscribes this question within her stories themselves. Her self-aware narrative strategy becomes clear at the start of the first book as soon as McGonagall tells Dumbledore that Harry Potter will "'be famous—a legend … there will be books written about Harry—every child in our world will know his name!'" (17). When Rita Skeeter appears in Book 4 and sets out to ruin Harry's life in order to further her career as a reporter, Rowling encourages readers to laugh at the absurd real-life association between critical articles and the Harry Potter series. Later, Rowling makes the unusual point of stressing Harry's inability to master Occlumency—his powerlessness when it comes to keeping control of his fantasy life. In so doing, Rowling may be acknowledging that like Harry, she cannot block her own fantasies from outside intrusion.
In the book, Kids' Letters to Harry Potter, girls say they identify with Hermione; that they "look, act and think" like her; that they dressed up as Hermione for Halloween, or wanted to play her role in the Harry Potter movies; that they wish they had Harry for a boyfriend; that they think about him all the time, love him and miss him and wish he knew who they were; that they (like Hermione) are not as "noble and brave" as he is.16 Children seem to believe in the Harry Potter series as much as Harry believes in his own dreams; one fifteen-year-old girl from the Philippines admits to Harry, "When I was a kid, I used to believe in fairies. Now that I'm older, I believe in you" (12). Like Harry, Rowling may inadvertently be leading us on a rescue mission to save the very person whose death we are helping her to bring about. Unintentionally, perhaps, we must now witness and facilitate the murder of the female dreamchild—the girl who could someday become as powerful as Dumbledore, Voldemort or Harry Potter himself.
How should readers handle their simultaneous adoration and fear of Harry Potter? I keep picturing Dumbledore's words of comfort to Harry after he has brought about the murder of the one person he would have given his life to rescue: "'In the end, it mattered not that you could not close your mind. It was your heart that saved you'" (Phoenix 844). Regardless of how dangerous her/our fantasy life turns out to be, it matters as little for J. K. Rowling as it does for her male hero that she has allowed her dreams to be penetrated by forces from the outside. The Harry Potter books are so full of love they burn us when we touch them; it is in their very skin.
1. Philip Nel draws connections between Rowling's vision of education and Lewis Carroll's. Like Alice, Rowling's characters "learn only when they put their knowledge to use"; furthermore, "joy in learning finds expression through games with words, numbers, and ideas" (30-31). Nel uses such examples as the logical puzzle at the end of Book 1, the anagram "Tom Marvelo Riddle" in Book 2, the Sphinx's riddle in the Third Task of Book 4, and the chess sets with living pieces.
2. In the play version of Barrie's work (which I will from now on term Peter Pan, as opposed to the novel, which I will call Peter and Wendy), Mrs. Darling is "startled to see a strange little face outside the window and a hand groping as if it wanted to come in"; she anxiously asks, "'Who are you?'" (Peter Pan 89). Barrie alludes in this scene to Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, where Lockwood sees "obscurely, a child's face looking through the window"; the little girl ghost's hand clings to his as she cries "'Let me in—let me in!'" (20). For evidence of Barrie's admiration for Emily Brontë, see M'Connachie and J. M. B. Speeches by J. M. Barrie, where, in one lecture, Barrie claims that he has only one fault to find in Thomas Hardy, which is that out of fear the book would be "too depressing," Hardy never read Wuthering Heights, a novel written by our "greatest woman" (149). The difference between Catherine and Peter Pan is that the girl reaches sexual maturity while the boy does not. Although Catherine returns to childhood at the end of her life, she does not tell Lockwood her name is "Catherine Earnshaw," as it was when she was a child, but "Catherine Linton," which is her name only after childhood has been lost due to marriage. The significance of this difference will become more apparent as my argument progresses.
3. U. C. Knoepflmacher makes a similar claim about how Lewis Carroll uses Alice to gain access to an imaginative part of himself: "By 'eternizing' the child and converting her into an ever-youthful figure, Carroll's artistic reconstructions can offer him and her a perennial field of dreams open to other players similarly eager for renovation" (157).
4. The story of Peter Pan was first published in 1904, when it was included as part of Barrie's novel The Little White Bird. That same year, the Peter Pan tale was converted into a play entitled Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. The Peter Pan section as it appeared in The Little White Bird was republished in 1906 as the novel Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. In 1911, Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up was turned into the novel Peter and Wendy, which is the version commonly read today. (Please note that whenever I cite Peter and Wendy, I am referring to the Oxford University Press edition, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Peter and Wendy, first published in 1991.) The name Peter and Wendy, however, was changed in 1921 to Peter Pan and Wendy. That title was later shortened to Peter Pan. In 1928 Barrie changed the script again, creating the first published version of the play (to which he attached his famous dedication).
5. In his interpretation of Through the Looking-Glass, Roderick McGillis reads the White Knight's character sympathetically. Alice mistakenly wants to be Queen, while he alone sees the importance of invention and play: "For Alice, the desire to be Queen has something to do with her sense of herself as a person of position and power, but the Knight knows just how meaningless the designation 'Queen' really is" (117). I am arguing here that regardless of whatever the White Knight or the Cheshire Cat may know, Alice has no alternative but to become Queen, however dreadful (and "meaningless") this prospect may be.
6. Alice is called a "serpent" by the Pigeon in the same way that Eve is called a serpent by Adam, who, lamenting his fall, repels her in Book X of Paradise Lost: "Out of my sight, thou serpent, that name best / Befits thee with him leagued, thyself as false / And hateful … But for thee / I had persisted happy …" (PL X:867-74). Milton's sensual description of the unfallen Eve might mean that she is in effect already fallen from the moment of her creation.
7. The association between girlhood and maternity is not limited to Barrie's work. In her discussion of Francis Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess, Elisabeth Gruner stresses the importance of Sara's maternal instinct: "But Sara, though she is only eleven, is repeatedly characterized as maternal; as if to suggest that the all-female setting requires a mother, as if to suggest that to mother is the ultimate expression of a girl's, if not a princess's, duties" (176).
8. According to David Holbrook's psychoanalytic reading, Wendy "cannot fly as she once did" because she "is growing up to adult sexuality, and the broomstick represents a penis. This growth to adult sensuality divides her forever from Peter, who died as a child and must remain a child" (77).
9. See Barrie's Dedication to Peter Pan (78).
10. Historically, the pantomime originated in Italy, where it developed into a stylized form called the harlequinade. The first of these Italian performances came to Britain in the early eighteenth century. By the mid-eighteenth century the form of entertainment had been adopted by the famous clown family, the Grimaldis, and by the end of the nineteenth century, pantomimes were generally based on fairy stories such as Cinderella. For more reasons than simply practical ones, cross-dressing contributed to the topsy-turvy format both of Italian harlequinades and British pantomimes. Not only did grown women play the parts of boy protagonists in nineteenth-century England, but men also played the parts of Cinderella's stepsisters.
11. Consult Roger Lancelyn Green's J. M. Barrie for the performance history of Peter Pan (41-44).
12. Harry Potter's first night at Hogwarts differs drastically from Alice's experience at the Mad Tea Party, a scene which begins with the March Hare offering her some wine, although there isn't any in sight.
13. Girls pose no challenge to Harry on the Quid-ditch field. When he first plays against Cho Chang, the Ravenclaw Seeker (and the only girl on the team) he is told she is "pretty good"; nevertheless, she only rides a Comet Two-Sixty, which does end up looking "like a joke next to the Firebolt [Harry's new broom]" (Azkaban 254). Sure enough, Harry has no trouble beating Cho with his incredible skill and on his super-broom, even given the presence of three pseudo-Dementors. On the other hand, he does lose to Cedric (Cho's boyfriend), the Hufflepuff Seeker (true, he is distracted by some real Dementors during the game). When Harry is replaced by Ginny Weasley as Seeker in Book 5 (because he has gotten into a fistfight in front of all the teachers), the team captain tells Harry that while Ginny is "'pretty good,'" she is "'[n]othing on you, of course'" (Phoenix 453).
14. Unlike the boys, Wendy Darling does not/cannot forget the real world that she has left behind. It is Wendy's fault that her brothers and the Lost Boys find their way out of the fantasy realm (and hence grow up). Alice also worries about home during her adventures in Wonderland, and at last both physically and mentally grows out of her dream universe so that she can rejoin her older sister on the bank. And in L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), Dorothy spends her entire dream journey trying to go back to bleak, gray Kansas, a desire that makes no sense to the Scarecrow (the most intelligent character in the book).
15. Rowling takes Trelawney's name from Treasure Island—there, Squire Trelawney brings possible ruin to all his friends by dreamily failing to notice that he is in the process of hiring as shipmates the most dangerous pirates alive. Although Rowling's female Trelawney does in a sense make two voyages to and from dream-world when she formulates her authentic prophecies, she has no memory of ever having made them. In this sense, she can be aligned with Ginny Weasley, who (unlike Harry) loses all recollection each time she is possessed by Voldemort.
16. See, for example, pages 8, 12, 20, 25, 27, 29, 46, 49, 54, 66, 84, 130, 143, 176, 189, and 194.
Adler, Bill, ed. Kids' Letters to Harry Potter from Around the World. New York: Carroll, 2001.
Anatol, Giselle Liza, ed. Reading Harry Potter: Critical Essays. London: Praeger, 2003.
Barrie, J. M. M'Connachie and J. M. B. Speeches by J. M. Barrie. New York: Scribner's, 1939.
――――――. Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Peter and Wendy. 1991. New York: Oxford UP, 1999.
――――――. Peter Pan and Other Plays. Oxford: Clarendon, 1995.
――――――. Peter and Wendy; Margaret Ogilvy. New York: Scribner's, 1913.
Braybrooke, Patrick. J. M. Barrie: A Study in Fairies and Mortals. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1924.
Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. New York: Norton, 1990.
Carroll, Lewis [Charles Dodgson]. Alice in Wonderland. New York: Norton, 1992.
Dresang, Eliza T. "Hermione Granger and the Heritage of Gender." The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter: Perspectives on a Literary Phenomenon. Ed. Lana A. Whited. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2002. 211-42.
Foster, Shirley, and Judy Simons. What Katy Read: Feminist Re-Readings of 'Classic' Stories for Girls. London: Macmillan, 1995.
Gallardo-C., Ximena, and C. Jason Smith. "Cinderfella: J. K. Rowling's Wily Web of Gender." Reading Harry Potter: Critical Essays. Ed. Giselle Liza Anatol. London: Praeger, 2003. 191-205.
Green, Roger Lancelyn. J. M. Barrie. New York: Walck, 1961.
Gruner, Elisabeth Rose. "Cinderella, Marie Antoinette, and Sara: Roles and Role Models in A Little Princess." The Lion and the Unicorn 22.2 (1998): 163-87.
Holbrook, David. Images of Woman in Literature. New York: New York UP, 1989.
Hollindale, Peter. Introduction and Notes. Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Peter and Wendy. By J. M. Barrie. 1991. New York: Oxford UP, 1999.
Kincaid, James. Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992.
Knoepflmacher, U. C. Ventures Into Childland: Victorians, Fairy-Tales, and Femininity. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1998.
Leach, Karoline. In the Shadow of the Dreamchild: A New Understanding of Lewis Carroll. London: Owen, 1999.
McGillis, Roderick. The Nimble Reader: Literary Theory and Children's Literature. New York: Twayne, 1996.
Mendlesohn, Farah. "Crowning the King: Harry Potter and the Construction of Authority." The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter: Perspectives on a Literary Phenomenon. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2002. 159-81.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. New York: Norton, 1993. 253.
Nel, Philip. J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter Novels: A Reader's Guide. Continuum: New York, 2001.
Nelson, Claudia. Boys Will Be Girls: The Feminine Ethic and British Children's Fiction, 1857–1917. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1991.
Rose, Jacqueline. The Case of Peter Pan; or The Impossibility of Children's Fiction. London: Macmillan, 1984.
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic, 1998.
――――――. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, 2000.
――――――. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, 2003.
――――――. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic, 1999.
――――――. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1997.
Schoefer, Christine. "Harry Potter's Girl Trouble." Salon. 12 Jan. 2000. 〈http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2000/01/13/potter/index.html〉. Accessed November 25, 2003.
Whited, Lana A., ed. The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter: Perspectives on a Literary Phenomenon. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2002.
Zipes, Jack. Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children's Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter. New York: Routledge, 2000. 170-89.
HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE (1997; PUBLISHED IN THE UNITED STATES AS HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE)
Linda N. McDowell (review date November 1999)
SOURCE: McDowell, Linda N. Review of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J. K. Rowling. Language Arts 77, no. 2 (November 1999): 172.
The day starts out like any other day [in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone ]. Owls begin flying overhead, and people with cloaks walk the streets. The Dursleys are very nervous that their secret will be divulged. Harry is just a small boy when he is left on his aunt and uncle's doorstep. However, the story moves quickly to Harry's entering Hogwarts where he will begin his education as a wizard. What does one need to be a wizard anyway?
Once Harry gets to Hogwarts the fun really begins! And so does the mystery! Will Harry survive? Readers of all ages will find it difficult to put this book down.
HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS (1998)
Susan L. Rogers (review date July 1999)
SOURCE: Rogers, Susan L. Review of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J. K. Rowling. School Library Journal 45, no. 7 (July 1999): 99-100.
Gr. 3-8—Fans of the phenomenally popular Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Scholastic, 1998) won't be disappointed when they rejoin Harry [in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets ], now on break after finishing his first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Reluctantly spending the summer with the Dursleys, his mean relatives who fear and detest magic, Harry is soon whisked away by his friends Ron, Fred, and George Weasley, who appear at his window in a flying Ford Anglia to take him away to enjoy the rest of the holidays with their very wizardly family. Things don't go as well, though, when the school term begins. Someone, or something, is (literally) petrifying Hogwarts' residents one by one and leaving threatening messages referring to a Chamber of Secrets and an heir of Slytherin. Somehow, Harry is often around when the attacks happen and he is soon suspected of being the perpetrator. The climax has Harry looking very much like Indiana Jones, battling a giant serpent in the depths of the awesome and terrible Chamber of Secrets. Along with most of the teachers and students introduced in the previous book, Draco Malfoy has returned for his second year and is more despicable than ever. The novel is marked throughout by the same sly and sophisticated humor found in the first book, along with inventive, new, matter-of-fact uses of magic that will once again have readers longing to emulate Harry and his wizard friends.
HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (1999)
Amanda Craig (review date 12 July 1999)
SOURCE: Craig, Amanda. "Wit and Wizardry." New Statesman 12, no. 563 (12 July 1999): 47-8.
[In the following review, Craig faults Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for having a formulaic plot, but praises Rowling's "capacity both to create and to transmit joy."]
Harry Potter, the schoolboy wizard who has taken by storm children and adults alike, is back at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry for a third adventure [in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ]. At least a week of utter peace over the summer holidays is guaranteed.
This third book is basically the same as the first two, but that really doesn't matter. There is comfort in formulas as good as this one, and the inventiveness, the jokes, the characterisation and suspense are as enthralling as ever. Sirius Black, the eponymous prisoner and a mass murderer who betrayed Harry's parents to the evil Voldemort, has escaped. To guard Harry, who mysteriously defeated Voldemort as a baby, the school is surrounded by Dementors, hooded figures whose very presence makes people faint with fear. Why, though, is Harry being pursued by a big black dog? Who has given him the deluxe Firebolt broomstick with which to play Quidditch, the wizardly version of soccer? Why is his friend Hermione behaving so oddly, and Ron's rat getting thinner? Over the academic year all is revealed, and evil is yet again defeated.
Rowling has been compared to C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien, chiefly because she has imagined, in considerable detail, a world magically parallel to our own. Unlike these doomy academics, however, her books sparkle with satire, in this case on the evils of capital punishment and revenge. On a more superficial level she is brilliant at the vivid pleasures and pains of childhood, from eating sweets to being bullied.
Orphaned, small, bespectacled and persecuted both by the hilariously horrible Dursleys (his very unmagical aunt and uncle, of whom one longs to see more) and by the snobbish Malfoy, Harry wins our hearts by displaying courage, modesty, intelligence and humour. These are the traditional virtues that come to his aid when confronting Voldemort; those interested in publishing may care to note that they are equally successful at routing the repulsive thriller Hannibal from its position at the top of the current best-seller lists.
As an artist, Rowling isn't in Philip Pullman's league. Her range lies somewhere between that of Edith Nesbit and Roald Dahl, but she is less subversive than either. She has, however, another great gift, and that is the capacity both to create and to transmit joy. It's no coincidence that our hero's battle in this novel is chiefly against the Dementors—creatures who drain their victims of confidence, happiness, sanity and the will to live. Pullman has creatures like these in The Subtle Knife, and in his darker fiction there is no cure.
Harry learns that Dementors can be defeated by concentrating on a single, very happy memory—and eating lots of chocolate. To those familiar with the power of despair, there is now another defence, and that is the Harry Potter books themselves.
HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (2000)
Amanda Craig (review date 17 July 2000)
SOURCE: Craig, Amanda. "Magical Boy." New Statesman 13, no. 614 (17 July 2000): 54-5.
[In the following review, Craig applauds the textured fantasy world that Rowling creates in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.]
With Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire featured on the evening news twice during the weekend it was published, and a print run of one million, it may seem pointless to review J K Rowling's fourth novel. Not so. This is one of those rare books that more than live up to the hype.
The new Harry Potter begins very much like a detective story or Goosebumps novel. Three non-magical ("Muggle") members of the Riddle family are frightened to death in a locked house. Two hundred miles away, the boy-wizard Harry wakes from a terrible dream of murder with his scar burning. The evil Voldemort, whom Harry alone can defeat, is once again in the ascendant.
There are plenty of modern touches—from a Quidditch World Cup to a politician father embarrassed by his son—to make adults smile. What is particularly impressive about this book is how skillfully it weaves in characters and clues from the previous instalments. The defect of the first Harry Potter was that so much was crammed into it. In Goblet of Fire, Rowling's complete cast, plus several inspired new creations, are given room to breathe.
We discover more about Hagrid's parents, and the painful reason why the hopeless Neville has been brought up by his grandmother. Every character is deepened and expanded. Dobby the house-elf from book two plays a crucial role, as does Sirius Black, the former Prisoner of Azkaban from book three, while trying to protect Harry during the potentially deadly inter-school Triwizard Tournament. The similarity of Harry's wand to that of Voldemort, each with the same phoenix feather at its core in book one, becomes of central importance in the climax of book four. If you read this novel fast, the effect is rather like swallowing one of the Weasley brothers' Ton Tongue Toffees.
Each novel tests Harry with one of the seven deadly sins. In this novel, it is envy, both sporting and sexual, of the handsome, successful Cedric Diggory. One loves Harry because his virtue costs him grief: his relations with Hermione and Ron Weasley are full of the scratchiness of real friendship, and all his triumphs are hard-won. His mortification at the Hogwarts school dance is one of the funniest descriptions of teenage angst I can remember. One needs the comedy, because the climax is the stuff of nightmares.
Rowling's genius lies in the extraordinarily detailed world she has created. She understands exactly what an intelligent child feels, yearns for, fears and finds funny. Her style is so transparent that it is easy to miss its skill. Like all the greatest children's writers, she addresses the moral questions that too many adult writers neglect. But unlike, say, C S Lewis, Rowling does not dictate our responses. She is, among other things, a satirist, with a satirist's indignation at injustice, cruelty and sheer silliness—and, crucially, a satirist's willingness to allow the reader the freedom to disagree. This is more than can be said for some of her critics, upon whom she takes ample revenge. Rita Skeeter, Rowling's pushy journalist witch who shamelessly fabricates stories and literally bugs her subjects by turning herself into a beetle for the Daily Prophet, is a gloriously comic creation and seems strangely reminiscent of certain real-life hacks in the Muggle world.
"We could all do with a few laughs," says Harry at the end. The Goblet of Fire is a lot less comforting than its predecessors, and may not be as popular with readers under the age of ten. Good still triumphs—just—but, by the last page, it is clear that the world of magic has darkened with terror and betrayal. Even children's fiction offers no escape from the way we live now.
Karl Miller (essay date winter 2001)
SOURCE: Miller, Karl. "Harry and the Pot of Gold." Raritan 20, no. 3 (winter 2001): 132-40.
[In the following essay, Miller questions Rowling's portrayal of the British boarding school system in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and compliments the truthfulness of Rowling's fantasy world.]
The fourth of the Harry Potter stories [Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ] came out some months ago, and was exclaimed over in the press as having sold more copies than any other book. Seven stories are planned. They are to trace the course of a boarding-school career, from the age of eleven to the age of seventeen, a career which involves a majoring in the occult. Here are the adventures of an adolescent wizard, with a vast readership at their command. Harry Potter—myth or legend? The publication history of these books is remarkable—though the London end of it has one feature that few writers would call outlandish: nine publishers turned down the first installment. Literary critics have in the main been respectful, but vast readerships can spread unease among supporters of an adjudicated canon, and there was always going to be a desire to claim that the Potter books, for all their vogue, and because of it, are no good, a mere successor to Pokémon.
Anthony Holden conveyed this recently in the London Observer, before emigrating to America, where he can hardly have hoped to escape from Harry Potter, whose sales figures here are even more impressive than they are in Britain. Holden said that, as a judge for the Whitbread awards, he had "sparked a national nervous breakdown" when he and his fellow judges were found to be addressing a choice between Seamus Heaney's Beowulf and J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter. The prize in question went to Heaney. A nation mourned—those of them who were not relieved.
Beowulf and Harry have this much in common: each is a hero, a savior, a dragon slayer, a shield against dark forces. The Whitbread jury, not all of them literary critics, not all of them literary, appears to have been conscious of a difference between literature and children's books, and to have agonized over their eventual decision to award the prize to the translation of a poem of a thousand years ago, about a warrior pledged to blood and honor, and to reward. Most people would probably accept that children are a readership with particular needs. Children's books have tended to be wishful, sentimental, didactic, to a degree that the canon is supposed to abhor. And children's needs ensured the success of the Potter stories which nine London publishers were unable to anticipate. These stories were not handed down to the little ones by judges, by teachers or parents, though parents were soon to kick in. Both in Britain and America, they have been discovered for themselves by children of all ages upwards of five, and been read with a fluency which belies the collapse in classroom standards attributed to state schools in Britain—hard-pressed, admittedly—by prophets of doom.
Adult assessors of the Potter books are entitled to say what they think of them, but they should try to take into account what children want from them and how much they want it. I asked a six-year-old girl, who'd earlier solicited "a real wand" for her birthday, what she'd been doing with her day. She replied: "Rolling on the sofa. J. K. Rowling on the sofa." Emerging from the bookstore where I'd bought her the latest installment, and had felt in my surliness like asking for Harry and the Pot of Gold, I was accosted by a neighbor who knew without prying what was in my plastic bag, and when I sat reading the Raritan copy on the top of a bus the girls in the seat in front were holding a Potter seminar. A boy of twelve, no soft touch, told me that his "favorite genre is fantasy, with some realism in it," and that what he liked about the Potter books was the stories, the characters and the spells.
Adult appreciation of the books might well fasten on the same constituents. The spells are resiliently inventive and explosive. And the stories are deftly and purposefully told. The recognition scene at the climax of The Prisoner of Azkaban, in which a vile man is revealed as foster-parent benign, is, in its excessively surprising way, enthralling. As the scene unfolds, Harry and his friend Hermione experience a doubling which permits them to witness the Harry and Hermione of three hours before: "Shh! Listen! Someone's coming! I think—I think it might be us!" whispers Hermione.
And the juvenile leads are likeable and sprightly. Harry of the green eyes, the specs, the unruly black hair, the scar on his brow, shaped like a bolt of lightning (dark forces did it, quelled by the power of love), is a real boy, fully capable of errors, resentments and vexations, a boy of few words, most of them "Yeah." His ungracious friend Ron is real too, and so is their clever, studious, high-principled friend Hermione, who might well grow up to sink her first name in a pair of initials: an authorial self-portrait reportedly, by an author clearly drawn to Harry, who is now, in this latest installment, fifteen, and incipiently sexual. He won't be mating with Hermione—she is a mate in a sense that precludes this. When she does embrace him, just the once, Harry is overcome with embarrassment. It seems, though, that romance in the sexual sense is in store. It won't be, by contemporary standards, inflaming, but Rowling is a sensible and by no means a mealymouthed writer, and it should be worth queuing up for.
The new book exhibits the Blast-Ended Screwt, one of the series' many abrasive concocted animals and birds, a beast of peculiar locomotion—"sparks would fly out of the end of a screwt, and with a small phut, it would be propelled forward several inches"—and five pages further, during an astrology class, Ron inquires: "Can I have a look at Uranus too, Lavender?" "Lavender" is good. Anality is punished here by the infliction, on the whole class, of a load of homework. As for the phallus, it exerts an authority to which both sexes, riding their broomsticks and waving their wands, have access. Elsewhere, pupils are excited about Harry's new broomstick: "Can I just hold it, Harry?" Tolkien and C. S. Lewis would have balked at all this.
J. K. Rowling has been misleadingly praised for offering a postmodern version of the Gothic. What she has done is to place her spin on the ancient theme of the orphan hero, with his wound and his ordeals, and on the familiar form of the school story (the conjunction of schools and spells is far from new in children's books), and to do this in comfortable relation to the Gothic tradition of the past 250 years, with its familiar compound of magic, horror and humor (hers is an effective dry humor which causes an ex-rat to be informed that "you might have missed the finer points" of the explanations in the recognition scene "while you were squeaking around down there on the bed"), and its familiar beetling castle, often seen, as on this occasion, at midnight or under snow. As Stephen King has noted, "the Harry Potter series is a supernatural version of Tom Brown's Schooldays." Wizards, witches, vampires, dragons, elves, hexes, jinxes, unicorns, phoenixes, hippogriphs, manticores, farting screwts associate with prefects, homework, sports stars, bullies, teacher's pets, teachers who don't get on, with "getting people back" and putting them down, in the style of classrooms and playgrounds.
Harry is a young wizard who starts the series in ignorance of his nature: he is on the face of it a Muggle (or nonwizard), stuck with an unpleasant family of relatives in a London suburb, a family who have at least put him up but are accorded no thanks at all for that. Parents are often oppressive in children's books, and are often deserted for a world elsewhere: here, the (overdone) oppression of Harry by the Dursleys lays another brick in the history of the family romance, and must be very good news for adolescents with families to desert, mothers and fathers to resent.
The wizarding world arrives to claim its own and to consign him to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This rescue scene is one of Rowling's best and eeriest episodes. A strange cat has been squatting about in the moonlight. Presently the charismatic old mage Professor Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts and formerly a hippyish teacher there, supervises Harry's restoration to his kind. Dumbledore is a Prospero whose magic is subject to limit, not to say oversight: unless I have missed something, he is extraordinarily tolerant of his sallow colleague Snape—hook-nosed, greasy black hair—whose name, like that of Trollope's slippery Slope, is enough in itself to provoke suspicion.
Harry's parents had been killed by Lord Voldemort. Harry himself had escaped, and his survival had, for the time being, sapped the evil one's power, though Voldemort's tentacles will soon be reaching into the affairs of the school, up there in the hilly Scottish-seeming North. The adventures in the series flow from this primal disaster and triumph; the Azkaban recognitions concern the roles, at the time, of three of Harry's father's male friends, who might remind one of the public school and university pals who have roles to play in the spy stories of Anglo-English literature, so to speak, and of Anglo-English history.
"Public school" means "private school" in the perfidious idiom of Albion—a point not touched on in Rowling's work. Nor do questions of nationality and class receive the attention they merit in discussions of her work. Legend has it, and it may also be true, that she was once upon a time herself an orphan, in the sense that, like the prolific Anglo-Scottish Mrs. Oliphant, she was a single parent, who used to wheel her child round Edinburgh until the child fell asleep, freeing the mother to sit in a café like Jean-Paul Sartre and write her Harry stories, for which, to its credit, the Scottish Arts Council gave her a grant. But is J. K. Rowling Scottish by birth and upbringing? Is she even Scott-ish, in the way that people used to call themselves Jew-ish?
Hogwarts is, at all events, the portrait of a mildly progressive English public school, if you forget about the wands and dragons. It is a kind of Bedales, for all its location in the wilds of Scotland. Like the Bedales that used to be, at any rate, down there in leafy Hampshire. Several boarding schools of the English sort, with a fair number of English students, have operated in Scotland, and the Potter spectacle of parents and pupils embarking for the North on the Hogwarts Express at King's Cross Station in London—at their own magical, Muggles-invisible platform—leads you to expect what you get: an establishment where there are French and German pupils, on secondment for the international Triwizard Tournament, but no Scots ones. An Old Etonian has declared in the New York Times Book Review that Hogwarts is only in part fantastic, that it is very like an English public school, characterized here as an institution "designed to train the elite in a system that other mortals cannot follow." Hogwarts is indeed like an English public school, and like one of the grammar schools which have approximated to that condition, with its four houses, its cult of sport (Hogwarts plays, not rugby and cricket, but Quidditch, an aerial polo requiring broomsticks and wands), its great traditions, its oil paintings of old headmasters, its air of Oxford and Cambridge, its imposing library and lavish tutorial care, and the scramble to a department store at the beginning of the academic year to buy the expensive togs and equipment.
There are no Scottish students at Hogwarts, and practically no poor ones either. Its wizards, young and old, are a middle to upper middle class, with bourgeois-bohemian tendencies and, at times, patrician pretensions. A parent has an important job at the Ministry of Magic, and nasty wizards refer to the taint of Muggle blood. Save for shaggy, tiresomely genial Hagrid, who speaks with what appears to be a Cockney accent and is lineally suspect for the snobbish at the school, as descended from Giants, there isn't a member of the working class in sight, not even on a scholarship.
Hogwarts is a far cry from Glenard Oak, the London state school described in Zadie Smith's White Teeth, a brilliantly funny fantasy of multicultural mingling and chafing which came out at the same time as Goblet of Fire. There's quite a lot of not learning much at Glenard Oak; one or two of the pupils are egged on privately by a Rowling-wizard-like middle-class family of Jewish intellectuals. Immune to any such encouragement are the frightening "thin sons of the fat men with vicious tabloids primed in their back pockets like handguns." The gullible can "purchase a variety of household goods—jasmine tea, garden grass, aspirin, licorice, flour—all masquerading as Class A intoxicants to be smoked or swallowed round the back, in the hollow behind the drama department." The headmaster comes across as an avatar of Lord Voldemort: "his eye sockets were deep, his lips had been sucked backwards into his mouth, he had no body to speak of, or rather he folded what he had into a small twisted package, sealing it with a pair of crossed arms and crossed legs." But he is also, in one respect, like Dumbledore: "Some parents worried the headmaster was a bleeding-heart liberal."
White Teeth is less fantastic in its account of a melting-pot urban school than the Potter stories are in relation to public schools out there in the country. Both accounts are fantasies, but both are informative, and in some measure representative, and between them they expose a great difference. Class A intoxicants are in demand at public schools as well as at Glenard Oak: but there are legitimate demands, well served at "Hogwarts," which go unsatisfied at Zadie Smith's academy.
Why should the Potter stories not be about an English boarding school, or seem so little Scottish and so exclusive of the poor? This too, after all, has been familiar ground in children's literature, and I am not attempting to deplore what happens in J. K. Rowling's academy. But there is a bitter irony in the thought of her stories being, as they are, eagerly read in the state educational system, currently underfunded and in trouble. A recruitment crisis of unprecedented dimensions has hit state schools, whose teachers have been demonized by a Labour government unmoved by the two-tier schooling which must count as one of the chief sources of contemporary class division and social desolation. Public-school teachers are paid more, and have, as Hogwarts indicates, more time to devote to the children whom they are grooming for stardom. State-school readers of Harry Potter are looking at a place which must seem both very like and very unlike the schools they attend. This is an act of contemplation which has been performed since children's books began in Britain. Other prospects, alternative views, have been delivered by many of the children's writers of recent times, but such readers have long been invited to dream about Greyfriars, Eton and Harrow. There are occasions now when the invitation can enrage.
Another occasion in the long literary history of wizards and their wands is wholeheartedly Scottish. James Hogg's novel of 1822, The Three Perils of Man, gets round to depicting the captivity of a party of travelers in the actual Border castle of Aikwood, which proves no less supernatural and frisky than Hogwarts. Hogg's Aikwood is a "queer place," inhabited by "queer folk." It is the home of the wizard Michael Scott, and among the travelers is Friar Roger Bacon. Both of these men are in part historical figures—philosophers who were deemed to be sorcerers (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone suffered a change of title by the American publisher which suggests that there must be Americans who are more at home with sorcerers than they are with philosophers). Michael Scott was, in historical fact, opposed to the black arts, the "ill arts," of which he was popularly deemed a master, while Bacon is thought to have invented spectacles, gunpowder, and a talking head, but did not transmute pure metal into gold, or light upon the Elixir of Life, by means of the philosopher's stone. Aikwood is down the glen from the Eildon Hills, rumored, to this day, to have been split in three by Michael Scott's magic, and was a little to the north of Hogg's house. His wizard is to some extent redeemed by belonging to the same Scott connection as "the Wizard of the North," famously feudal Sir Walter, a connection which could sometimes appear to incorporate Hogg as vassal.
Much of Hogg's magic emerged from a rural environment where people still beheld fairies and bogles and devils and believed their own eyes. Out of the wilderness and into Hogg's parish there crawled in 1801 an American-born beggar woman with a broken leg. Was she human, or diabolical? The villagers touched her, experimentally. Human. She was tended, then went off to beg some more. It is difficult to gauge what superstitious residues are present, how much of the countryside is present, in the Faustian capers which occupy the second half of The Three Perils, but Rowling's stuff seems more skeptical, more ludic, less ambivalent, than Hogg's. It isn't that no one believes in the supernatural any more. Six-year-olds want real wands, and princesses and political leaders run to their astrologers. But it would be startling to learn that J. K. Rowling is prone to either of these pursuits.
Hogg wrote in his novel of an interface, or intercourse, between magic and technology, at a time when the magic of technology had yet to explode. Rowling also writes about it: elements of the Potter magic are equated with the technology which has come true over the last 250 years and is continuing to do so. We are now in a world where talking heads on the top of London buses can not only argue about Harry Potter but converse with other talking heads on one of the three summits of the Eildon Hills. Hermione explains to Ron: "All those substitutes for magic Muggles use—electricity, computers, and radar, and all those things—they all go haywire around Hogwarts, there's too much magic in the air." This communicates an enthusiasm for the subject. It does not communicate an absence of disbelief in the supernatural.
Life at Hogwarts has an educational interest which qualifies this analogy between magic and technology. An attractive, Gulliverian stroke on Rowling's part is the creation of a magical curriculum—attended by loads of swotting and by an apparatus of grades and prizes—which could be thought to correspond to all that is arbitrary and conventional in the subjects pursued by pupils in the real world. It doesn't matter what you study, you see, so long as you study it.
Both Hogg's novel and the Rowling novels raise the question of the constraints that affect the authorial use of magic. Wizards do what they want so far as they can, and so do writers: but they are both constrained. In these books a car flies, but then runs out of ether, or whatever it is. Magic succeeds, but also fails. And J. K. Rowling can seem plausible and bounded in the deployment of her dog-Latin spells. But the escapes they effect do tend to be convenient and desirous, for all the gathering gloom and lost innocence detectable in this latest installment: her stories are, after all, a place for young people to be, and to play, and be scared and reassured, a place where dark forces are thwarted by a plucky boy.
Her stories do not make you think that there must be some deep and stubborn difference between children's books and other fictions. They make you think that literature, adult or juvenile, depends on a relationship between what a writer wants to do and what that writer has to do, between fantasy and an essential realism. An unlimited magic upsets this relationship. J. K. Rowling's magic plays well, and you might also say that she plays the game, that she waves her preposterous wand in a restrained and realistic fashion. Some fantasies are more truthful than others, and the Harry Potter series is one of them. Then again, many people would say that there is a difference, in this respect, between what happens at Hogwarts and what happens in and around Kafka's Gothic castle, "veiled in mist and darkness," the village "deep in snow."
HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (2003)
Philip Hensher (review date 28 June 2003)
SOURCE: Hensher, Philip. "A Crowd-Pleaser But No Classic." Spectator 292, no. 9125 (28 June 2003): 30-1.
[In the following review, Hensher criticizes Rowling's lack of subtlety and tiresome prose in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.]
We can all agree that the phenomenon is astonishing. [Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ], without a doubt, is the book that you are most likely to read this year; indeed, by now probably already have. The advance orders alone were gigantic, stretching well into seven figures, a figure which can only doubtfully be provided with precedents—I think Dickens at his height may have achieved a greater saturation of the literate public, but would not care to swear to it. The security surrounding the book in advance of publication was unheard of. Normally, when one reviews a book, a copy is sent out well in advance and one has a week or two to read and think about it, but in this case I went out on Saturday morning, bought a copy and read it on Saturday afternoon before writing this review.
Other features of the phenomenon deserve comment. For a children's book, this is extraordinarily long—some 255,000 words, which is not enormous by Vic-torian standards but is certainly a substantial book these days. To have encouraged children to read so extended a work is remarkable. J. K. Rowling does not obviously simplify her vocabulary, and smaller children will regularly be taxed with 'amphitheatre', 'pyrotechnical', 'forthcoming', 'regurgitation' and 'imperturbable'. All this is admirable, and for her success in creating what will undoubtedly be a highly literate generation Rowling deserves great praise.
The more curious part of the phenomenon is that the readership is not confined to children, and by now is probably not even mostly made up of children. These books are read by adults of the most surprising sort, avidly and seemingly seriously; I have to report that on Saturday night I was in the pub making mincemeat out of Miss Rowling's new offering when my friend Alberto reported, with some amusement, that he had spent the afternoon at Hampstead Ponds, where every single off-duty rent-boy was laboriously poring over The Order of the Phoenix while topping up his North London suntan. At some point, we will agree that the phenomenon itself is astonishing; and move on to consider this book itself.
Around three o'clock on Saturday afternoon, I raised my eyes in despair from somewhere in the middle of the book, and thought with shame and intensity, 'Jesus, I'm reading a book about sodding pixies.' I don't remember ever being troubled by this consideration in reading, say, Tolkien or The Sirian Experiments; there, you simply accept the world, and something serious has been made out of the Rackham menagerie. In Rowling, I find, the feeling of mild embarrassment is, for an adult reader, never far away. It is perhaps the queasy lurching between funny-aunty whimsy, the wildly tedious school details of prefects' badges and (a particularly annihilating chapter here) Magical 'O'-levels, and Gandalf-like cosmic ramblings. I can see why children would like it a great deal; it surprises me that adults are so enthusiastic, and I strongly resist claims for its literary merit. Contemporary popularity, even on so vast a scale, is no guarantee of that: at some point one has to start exercising judgment.
Rowling is not a subtle writer, and one of the tiresome things about this book is how routinely it resorts to turning up the volume, rather than describing anything vividly. There is a great deal of shouting in capital letters here; it is terribly lazy to write '"NO, IT RUDDY WELL IS NOT ALL!" bellowed Uncle Vernon', the exclamation mark and the verb making absolutely sure the point has been made. More pervasive is this sort of thing:
He opened his mouth yet again, but was spared the struggle to find more words by the arrival of the third owl of the evening. It zoomed through the still-open window like a feathery cannon-ball and landed with a clatter on the kitchen table, causing all three of the Dursleys to jump with fright. Harry tore a second official-looking envelope from the owl's beak and ripped it open as the owl swooped back out into the night.
The high-energy verbs here—zoomed, tore, ripped, swooped—are trying to disguise complete slackness, where the scene hasn't really been visualised; try to see three people simultaneously 'jumping with fright', or to follow the owl's movements here, and it all goes a little vague. The one attempt to be vivid, 'like a feathery cannon-ball', is truly lamentable, but there is no shortage of similarly unconsidered absurdities deriving from not having seen the scene clearly. Sentences like 'Harry felt as though his stomach had sunk through the dusty carpet' are everywhere, but Rowling is always apt to write, say, 'they all smiled humourlessly' without having envisaged how very peculiar this would actually look.
There is a pervasive banality which is much more embarrassing in this book than previously. Here, Rowling occasionally tries to suggest adolescent angst, and, I have to say, it would only satisfy an unusually sappy 11-year-old:
Cho sprang to her feet. The whole tearoom was quiet and everybody was watching them now. 'I'll see you around, Harry,' she said dramatically, and hiccoughing slightly she dashed to the door, wrenched it open and hurried off into the pouring rain. 'Cho!' Harry called after her, but the door had already swung shut behind her with a tuneful tinkle.
I'm not sure what's most frightful here: the pouring rain, the tuneful tinkle, or—probably—the word 'dramatically'.
None of this would matter, but claims are being made for this book on the grounds of psychological gravity and, to be honest, what it most resembles is an episode of Scooby-Doo extended to the point of lunacy. 'Never known kids like you three fer knowin' more'n yeh oughta,' grunts Hagrid in time-honoured fashion, and when we get to the much-trailed Explanation of the Mystery by Dumbledore at the end, it, alas, has a distinct air of teatime TV: 'When, however, you did not return from your trip into the Forest with Dolores Umbridge, Professor Snape grew worried that you still believed Sirius to be a captive of Lord Voldemort's.' But at other points, Rowling sets her sights rather higher in terms of her models, though she doesn't reshape them very ambitiously. Gandalf's fireworks make an unmistakable appearance on page 557, and when we come to her idea of the Patronus, a phantasmagoric animal which every wizard carries inside him—Harry's is a stag, Hermione's an otter, Cho's a swan—readers of Philip Pullman may conclude that she has recently been reading her betters attentively.
All this may seem like taking a sledge-hammer to crack a nut, and, it might be said, this is only a children's book, surely? Does it really matter whether it is well or badly written? It seems to me that claims for Harry Potter's place among the classic children's books, or even, extravagantly, as a work of literature, are seriously ill-founded. The great children's books are, without exception, very well written. Here is one of Rowling's most dramatic scenes, for instance:
Both Harry's and the Death Eater's wands flew out of their hands and soared back towards the entrance to the Hall of Prophecy; both scrambled to their feet and charged after them, the Death Eater in front, Harry hot on his heels, and Neville bringing up the rear, plainly horrorstruck by what he had done.
The clichés are very near the surface, and that same tendency to try to make something vivid with high-voltage verbs. And here is the climax of one of Rowling's most immediate models, Ursula K. LeGuin's The Tombs of Atuan:
At the entrance so great a weight of blind and dire hatred came pressing down upon her, like the weight of the earth itself, that she cowered and without knowing it cried out aloud, 'They are here! They are here!' 'Then let them know that we are here,' the man said, and from his staff and hands leapt forth a white radiance that broke as a sea-wave breaks in sunlight, against the thousand diamonds of the roof and walls: a glory of light, through which the two fled, straight across the great cavern, their shadows racing from them into the white traceries and glittering crevices and the empty, open grave.
The difference is that between a temporary crowd-pleaser and a great classic. I greatly admire what Miss Rowling has done in writing books which please and satisfy simple readers; she has performed a signal service to literature. That, however, is not the same thing as writing literature herself, and there is very little in this vast, entranced romance which justifies the many extravagant claims currently being made for it. Quite simply, these are books which will be remembered very fondly, but which their readers will, in the end, grow out of. Hate mail to the usual address, please.
Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Joy Bean (review date 30 June 2003)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Joy Bean. Review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J. K. Rowling. Publishers Weekly 250, no. 26 (30 June 2003): 79.
Year five at Hogwarts is no fun for Harry [in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ]. Rowling may be relying upon readers to have solidified their liking for her hero in the first four books, because the 15-year-old Harry Potter they meet here is quite dour after a summer at the Dursleys' house on Privet Drive, with no word from pals Hermione or Ron. When he reunites with them at last, he learns that The Daily Prophet has launched a smear campaign to discredit Harry's and Dumbledore's report of Voldemort's reappearance at the end of book four, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Aside from an early skirmish with a pair of dementors, in which Harry finds himself in the position of defending not only himself but his dreaded cousin, Dudley, there is little action until the end of these nearly 900 pages. A hateful woman from the Ministry of Magic, Dolores Umbridge (who, along with minister Cornelius Fudge nearly succeeds in expelling Harry from Hogwarts before the start of the school year), overtakes Hogwarts—GrandPré's toadlike portrait of her is priceless—and makes life even more miserable for him. She bans him from the Quidditch team (resulting in minimal action on the pitch) and keeps a tight watch on him. And Harry's romance with his crush from the last book, Cho Chang, turns out to be a major waterworks (she cries when she's happy, she cries when she's sad). Readers get to discover the purpose behind the Order of the Phoenix and more is revealed of the connection between Harry and You-Know-Who. But the showdown between Harry and Voldemort feels curiously anticlimactic after the stunning clash at the close of book four. Rowling favors psychological development over plot development here, skillfully exploring the effects of Harry's fall from popularity and the often isolating feelings of adolescence. Harry suffers a loss and learns some unpleasant truths about his father, which result in his compassion for some unlikely characters. (The author also draws some in-sightful parallels between the Ministry's exercise of power and the current political climate.) As hope blooms at story's end, those who have followed Harry thus far will be every bit as eager to discover what happens to him in his sixth and seventh years. Ages 9-12.
Ilene Cooper (review date July 2003)
SOURCE: Cooper, Ilene. "Reading Harry." Booklist 99, no. 21 (July 2003): 1842.
No, you can't put it down, but believe me, you'll wish you could. [Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ] is not an easy book to lug around. Its worldwide hype aside, the fifth installment in Harry Potter's saga should be judged on the usual factors: plot, characters, and the quality of the writing. So how does it fare? One thing emerges quickly: Rowling has not lost her flair as a storyteller or her ability to keep coming up with new gimcracks to astound her readers. But her true skills lie in the way she ages Harry, successfully evolving him from the once downtrodden yet hopeful young boy to this new, gangly teenager showing all the symptoms of adolescence—he is sullen, rude, and contemptuous of adult behavior, especially hypocrisy. This last symptom of the maturing Harry fits especially well into the plot, which finds almost all of the grown-ups in the young wizard's life saying one thing and doing another, especially those at the Ministry of Magic, who discredit Harry in the media to convince the citizenry that Voldemort is not alive. Rowling effectively uses this plot strand as a way of introducing a kind of subtext in which she takes on such issues as governmental lying and the politics of personal destruction, but she makes her points in ways that will be clearly understood by young readers. To fight for truth and justice—and to protect Harry—the Order of the Phoenix has been reconstituted, but young Potter finds squabbling and hypocrisy among even this august group. And in a stunning and bold move, Rowling also allows Harry (and readers) to view an incident from the life of a teenage James Potter that shows him to be an insensitive bully, smashing the iconic view Harry has always had of his father. Are there problems with the book? Sure. Even though children, especially, won't protest, it could be shorter, particularly since Rowling is repetitious with descriptions (Harry is always "angry"; ultimate bureaucrat Doris Umbridge always looks like a toad). But these are quibbles about a rich, worthy effort that meets the very high expectations of a world of readers.
Janice M. Del Negro (review date September 2003)
SOURCE: Del Negro, Janice M. Review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J. K. Rowling. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 57, no. 1 (September 2003): 31.
Harry Potter's latest adventure [Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ] reveals an admirable hero somewhat the worse for wear: his grief at the death of Cedric, his fear of (and connection to) the evil Lord Voldemort, and his emotional distance from Professor Dumbledore combine to make Harry a bit short-tempered, a bit short-sighted, and a bit more recognizably human. Rowling eases readers back into Harry's world—and Harry's precarious existence—with nary a ripple: the suburban peace of the Dursleys' manicured lives is shattered by the intrusion of dementors, sent by a rogue in the Ministry of Magic and seeking to do Harry serious injury. A wizard rescue party retrieves Harry from the world of Muggles and sets him down amidst the Order of the Phoenix, a secret society that plots Voldemort's final downfall. With an escalating love life, academic complications at school, and a Ministry of Magic determined to ignore the obvious, Harry is in an adolescent uproar. Revelations about Sirius Black, Professor Snape, and Harry's late father cause the boy to question all he holds true, and his confusion clouds his judgment. A roaring set of practical jokes by Fred and George Weasley against a politically appointed, obnoxious new professor at Hogwarts lightens the tone just in time for the Order's tragic confrontation with Voldemort and his malevolent minions. Rowling cheerfully turns her own conventions on their ears, and the result is a surprising and enjoyable ride. While Harry's much-touted love interest fizzles before it fires, familiar characters achieve a bit more depth: Ginny Weasley starts to come into her own, Hermione employs a dryly wicked wit, and Dumbledore reveals, if not feet, at least a little toe of clay. It's no longer quite clear that all will work out in the end; the lines are being drawn, but, as exemplified by Percy Weasley, not everyone is on the right side. Rowling has managed to make Harry and his fate a bit less predictable, which, in the fifth of a seven-volume series, is a very good thing.
Julian Sanchez (review date November 2003)
SOURCE: Sanchez, Julian. "Harry Potter and the Banality of Evil." Reason 35, no. 6 (November 2003): 51-4.
[In the following review, Sanchez lauds Rowling's "subversive" sense of morality in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.]
When we first met the young wizard-in-training Harry Potter some six years ago, he had spent a decade in the care of his overbearing "muggle" (non-magical) aunt and uncle after surviving the murder of his parents by the evil Voldemort. At the close of the fourth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Lord Voldemort has returned to full power.
The Harry we encounter in the recently released fifth installment, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Scholastic, 2003), has picked up some internal scars to match the lightning bolt-shaped mark on his forehead. Now 15, he is every bit the troubled teen, picking fights and flying off the handle at his closest friends. He is also schooled in some very important and lasting lessons about the nature of power and bureaucracy.
Harry Potter's appeal, at least initially, had its roots in an escapist fantasy that all children have entertained at some point: Your parents are not your parents; you have strange and wonderful powers; you are famous in another world. In the early books of the series, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry provided relief from the compulsive conformism of Harry's adoptive muggle family. With the return of Lord Voldemort, however, we see that the wizard world has its own status quo, one that the magical government, in the form of the Ministry of Magic, is reluctant to upset.
Indeed, Cornelius Fudge, the minister of magic, has had the magical media brand Harry an attention-seeking lunatic for his attempts to spread the word about the Dark Lord's return. Harry's chief antagonist for most of the book is not the self-consciously evil Voldemort or his acolytes, the Death Eaters, but the magical establishment, as represented at Hogwarts by the officious Dolores Umbridge.
Umbridge is a Nurse Ratched figure who, like so many government busybodies, is "here to help." Appointed professor of "defense against the dark arts" by ministerial fiat, she soon becomes High Inquisitor at Hogwarts, charged with ensuring that neither Potter nor the powerful Hogwarts headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, upsets the magical world's insistent denial of the ugly truth about Voldemort's return.
Yet as Sirius Black, Harry's wizard godfather, explains at one point, "the world isn't split into good people and Death Eaters." Umbridge and Fudge may be power hungry, but their malevolence is not the raw nihilism of a Voldemort. Umbridge is particularly insufferable precisely because her transformation of Hogwarts into an increasingly regulated panopticon is motivated by an apparently sincere selfrighteousness.
A central theme of The Order of the Phoenix, then, is what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil." The bureaucrats are doing good by their own lights, following orders. Former Hogwarts prefect Percy Weasley is a case in point. In the past, Percy served as comic relief, a stuffed shirt whose obsequiousness toward authority figures was matched only by his imperiousness toward younger students. Now Percy is a Hogwarts graduate and assistant to Minister Fudge, and his blind affection for his masters leads him to join the smear campaign against Harry. The transition from buffoonish to sinister is seamless.
That is not to say that ministry officials, Umbridge in particular, lack a sadistic streak. She sentences Harry to detentions in which he must write "I will not tell lies" over and over again while the words are magically carved into the flesh of his arm, evoking Kafka's story "In the Penal Colony."
Umbridge's comeuppance, when it finally arrives, drives home a different truth about the nature of authority: Power over people ultimately relies on their own compliance. When the students and teachers, who had let Umbridge have the run of the school out of fear, finally decide to employ a sort of passive resistance, she learns all too quickly that she cannot maintain her cherished control.
This latest and longest entry in the Potter saga has also been the biggest immediate success. Its first print run, 6.8 million copies, was the largest ever in the U.S., yet Scholastic still seems to have underestimated demand. The Order of the Phoenix sold a record-breaking 5 million copies on its "opening day." Almost immediate second and then third runs have brought the total number of American copies in print to 9.2 million.
While most parents celebrate anything that gets adolescents to put down the remote and pick up a book—a powerful bit of magic in itself—others are concerned that the series celebrates the "dark arts." Perhaps parents and teachers who relish unquestioned obedience are right to be concerned about the books, but their focus is misplaced. It is not the magic but the morality of Harry Potter that is subversive.
HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (2005)
Michiko Kakutani (review date 16 July 2005)
SOURCE: Kakutani, Michiko. "Harry Potter Works His Magic Again in a Far Darker Tale." New York Times (16 July 2005): section B, p. 7.
[In the following review, Kakutani compliments Rowling's "richly imagined and utterly singular world" in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.]
In an earlier Harry Potter novel, Sibyll Trelawney, divination teacher, looks at Harry and declares that her inner eye sees past his "brave face to the troubled soul within."
"I regret to say that your worries are not baseless," she adds. "I see difficult times ahead for you, alas most difficult I fear the thing you dread will indeed come to pass and perhaps sooner than you think."
In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, that frightening prophecy does in fact come true—in a thoroughly harrowing denouement that sees the death of yet another important person in Harry's life, and that renders this, the sixth volume of the series, the darkest and most unsettling installment yet.
It is a novel that pulls together dozens of plot strands from previous volumes, underscoring how cleverly and carefully J. K. Rowling has assembled this giant jigsaw puzzle of an epic. It is also a novel that depicts Harry Potter, now 16, as more alone than ever—all too well aware of loss and death, and increasingly isolated by his growing reputation as "the Chosen One," picked from among all others to do battle with the Dark Lord, Voldemort.
As the novel opens, the wizarding world is at war: Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters have grown so powerful that their evil deeds have spilled over into the Muggle world of nonmagic folks. The Muggles' prime minister has been alerted by the Ministry of Magic about the rise of Voldemort. And the terrible things that Ms. Rowling describes as being abroad in the green and pleasant land of England read like a grim echo of events in our own post-9/11, post-7/7 world and an uncanny reminder that the Hogwarts Express, which Harry and his friends all take to school, leaves from King's Cross station—the very station where the suspected London bombers gathered minutes before the explosions that rocked the city nine days ago.
Harry, who as an infant miraculously survived a Voldemort attack that killed his mother and father, is regarded as "a symbol of hope" by many in the wizarding world, and as he learns more about the Dark Lord's obsession with his family, he realizes that he has a destiny he cannot escape. Like Luke Skywalker, he is eager to play the role of hero. But like Spider-Man, he is also aware of the burden that that role imposes: although he has developed romantic yearnings for a certain girl, he is wary of involvement, given his recognition of the dangers he will have to face.
"It's been like like something out of someone else's life, these last few weeks with you," he tells her. "But I can't we can't I've got things to do alone now."
Indeed, the perilous task Professor Dumbledore sets Harry in this volume will leave him with less and less time for Quidditch and hanging out with his pals Ron and Hermione: he is to help his beloved teacher find four missing Horcruxes—super-secret, magical objects in which Voldemort has secreted parts of his soul as a means of ensuring his immortality. Only when all of these items have been found and destroyed, Harry is told, can the Dark Lord finally be vanquished.
There are a host of other unsettling developments in this novel, too: the Dementors, those fearsome creatures in charge of guarding Azkaban Prison, have joined forces with Voldemort; Draco Malfoy, Harry's sneering classmate who boasts of moving on to "bigger and better things," appears to vanish regularly from the school grounds; the sinister Severus Snape has been named the new teacher of defense against the dark arts; two Hogwarts students are nearly killed in mysterious attacks; and Dumbledore suddenly turns up with a badly injured hand, which he declines to explain. One of the few bright spots in Harry's school life appears to be an old textbook annotated by its enigmatic former owner, who goes by the name the Half-Blood Prince—a book that initially supplies Harry with some helpful tips for making potions.
The early and middle sections of this novel meld the ordinary and the fantastic in the playful fashion Ms. Rowling has patented in her previous books, capturing adolescent angst about boy-girl and student-teacher relations with perfect pitch. Ron and Hermione, as well as Harry, all become involved in romantic flirtations with other students, even as they begin to realize that their O.W.L. (Ordinary Wizarding Level) grades may well determine the course of their post-Hogwarts future. As the story proceeds, however, it grows progressively more somber, eventually becoming positively Miltonian in its darkness. In fact, two of the novel's final scenes—like the violent showdown between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker in the last Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Sith—may well be too alarming for the youngest readers.
Harry still has his wry sense of humor and a plucky boyish heart, but as in the last volume (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ), he is more Henry V than Prince Hal, more King Arthur than the young Wart. He has emerged, at school and on the Quid-ditch field, as an unquestioned leader: someone who must learn to make unpopular decisions and control his impetuous temper, someone who must keep certain secrets from his schoolmates and teachers.
He has become more aware than ever of what he and Voldemort have in common—from orphaned childhoods to an ability to talk Parseltongue (i.e., snake speech) to the possession of matching wands—and in one chilling scene, he is forced to choose between duty to his mission and his most heartfelt emotions. In discovering the true identity of the Half-Blood Prince, Harry will learn to re-evaluate the value of first impressions and the possibility that his elders' convictions can blind them to parlous truths. And in embracing his own identity, he will discover his place in history.
As in earlier volumes, Ms. Rowling moves Harry's story forward by chronicling his adventures at Hogwarts, while simultaneously moving backward in time through the use of flashbacks (via Dumbledore's remarkable Pensieve, a receptacle for people's memories). As a result, this is a coming-of-age story that chronicles the hero's evolution not only by showing his maturation through a series of grueling tests, but also by detailing the growing emotional wisdom he gains from understanding more and more about the past.
In addition to being a bildungsroman, of course, the Harry Potter books are also detective stories, quest narratives, moral fables, boarding school tales and action-adventure thrill rides, and Ms. Rowling uses her tireless gift for invention to thread these genres together, while at the same time taking myriad references and tropes (borrowed from such disparate sources as Shakespeare, Dickens, fairy tales, Greek myths and more recent works like Star Wars) and making them her own.
Perhaps because of its position as the penultimate installment of a seven-book series, The Half-Blood Prince suffers, at moments, from an excess of exposition. Some of Dumbledore's speeches to Harry have a forced, summing-up quality, and the reader can occasionally feel Ms. Rowling methodically setting the stage for developments to come or fleshing out scenarios put in play by earlier volumes (most notably, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, with its revelations about the young Voldemort, aka Tom Riddle).
Such passages, however, are easily forgotten, as the plot hurtles along, gaining a terrible momentum in this volume's closing pages. At the same time, the suspense generated by these books does not stem solely from the tension of wondering who will die next or how one or another mystery will be solved. It stems, as well, from Ms. Rowling's dexterity in creating a character-driven tale, a story in which a person's choices determine the map of his or her life—a story that creates a hunger to know more about these people who have become so palpably real.
We want to know more about Harry's parents—how they met and married and died—because that may tell us more about Harry's own yearnings and decisions. We want to know more about Dumbledore's desire to believe the best of everyone because that may shed light on whom he chooses to trust. We want to know more about the circumstances of Tom Riddle's birth because that may shed light on his decision to reinvent himself as Lord Voldemort.
Indeed, the achievement of the Potter books is the same as that of the great classics of children's literature, from the Oz novels to The Lord of the Rings: the creation of a richly imagined and utterly singular world, as detailed, as improbable and as mortal as our own.
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Robert McCrum (review date 17 July 2005)
SOURCE: McCrum, Robert. "My Long, Dark Night with Harry." London Observer (17 July 2005): 6.
[In the following review, McCrum offers a mixed assessment of Rowling's Harry Potter books and notes that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will primarily appeal to previous fans of Rowling's series.]
Obviously, this is not just any old book review. The summer launch of the new J. K. Rowling has become as much a fixture in the diary as Ascot, Wimbledon, or the Lord's Test.
Yesterday, at midnight, the press was invited to go to a secret location in south-west London. There, after the presentation of suitable credentials, The Observer was handed a sealed package containing an early hardback copy of the book known to the trade as HP6, and to you and me as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Usually, your reviewer would settle down to read and evaluate a new novel in the tomblike tranquillity of his library. But not with HP6. Rowling is a writer you read against the clock, with news bulletins breaking in throughout the small hours. Internationally, at the moment The Observer's precious package was spilling its secrets, there was what can only be described as uproar.
In Scotland, after a ludicrous torchlight parade, Ms Rowling read from her work to a specially selected juvenile audience in Edinburgh Castle. In Greenwich, more candles: a procession from the Cutty Sark to Ottakar's bookshop. In America, summer camp counsellors roused their charges at dawn, dished out mugs of steaming cocoa and reportedly read aloud, in relays, to rapt circles of yawning Potter fans. In Australia, camper still, there were Potter parties on Manly Beach. In British Columbia, Rowling's Canadian publisher went to the Supreme Court to uphold the embargo after the Real Canadian Superstore (oops!) was caught selling HP6 a week early.
Among the unbelievably silly things inspired by this quasi-literary event, the claim by Amazon.com that 'Harry Potter Brings the World Together' probably takes the biscuit. But never mind. Harry Potter is a global marketing phenomenon. What else would you expect?
How dear, distant and otherworldly seems the long-ago (1997) publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. In that fabled pre-millennial time, the first printing of HP1 was numbered in the low thousands and the text itself ran to a modest 190 pages.
Then the cult took over. Next came HP2, The Chamber of Secrets, a mere 368 pages. This was followed by HP3, The Prisoner of Azkaban, a chunky 480 pp. After what amounted to five-finger exercises, Rowling pulled out all the stops on the thundering organ of her imagination and gave her myriad readers HP4, The Goblet of Fire, a thumping 636 pages. But that, as it happened, was just an overture. HP5, The Order of the Phoenix was a doorstop of 766 pages.
Nearly 10 years on, Rowling is the 36th richest person in Britain, and an international literary brand of almost unprecedented power that stretches from China to Peru, taking in some 90 countries. Men and women, young and old, queue around the block for her books at midnight. Bloomsbury, her publisher, has so brilliantly managed the career of its golden goose that the imprint has become one of the most significant in Britain.
Hype is one thing. Reading is something else. Today, as reason returns to her throne, and the world ceases to rock on its axis, there is only one question to answer. How good is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ?
The short answer is that, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, people who like this sort of thing will find that this is the sort of thing they like. Even its length (some 600 pages) conforms to international HP standards. From the unprecedented and dramatic appearance of Professor Dumbledore during Harry Potter's summer holidays, Rowling had three tasks to perform with HP6. She had to manage the brand she has created, and develop a complex plot for the climactic confrontation with Harry's nemesis Voldemort in the final volume, HP7. Finally, she had to deliver a book that works on its own terms.
Rowling has no problem with the first two tasks. The fans will be delighted. Working on the principle of if it ain't broke, don't fix it, after a bumpy start Rowling slips smoothly into top gear in the first 200 pages, wheeling out Ron and Hermione, Snape and Malfoy, et al for yet another spin on the carousel with all the cynical calm of a circus magician.
As usual, Rowling's prose runs the gamut from torpid to pedestrian, but her plot—driven by the quest for the identity of the Half Blood Prince—always clips along inventively and Dumbledore, one of fiction's great headmasters, cunningly instructs Harry in many of the unresolved mysteries of HP1 to HP5. But it's not just the same old tricks. In keeping with Harry's mid-adolescent years, the mood is darker, even topical, with references to 'troubled times', global warming and the 'breakdown of law and order'. So: a book for Potter fans and perhaps a few Potter converts.
But does it stand alone? There's a lot of jargon (Dementors, Owls and Horcruxes), and sentences like 'Where were you a few weeks ago, when we battled to retrieve the prophecy for the Dark Lord?'. Harry the chosen one, is said to be approaching his 17th birthday, but life at Hogwarts seems to have changed surprisingly little from his first day as a new boy. Apart from some awkward scenes of 'snogging', Harry Potter is not a teenager many parents will recognise. Hermione describes Harry as 'fanciable', but there's not much evidence of this, unless it's in his extraordinary way with spells.
Elsewhere, Rowling does her best to bring new readers up to speed with a mise en scene more complex than Wagner, but her concerns are really to do with the series as a whole. The dominant theme of HP6 is the tying up of loose ends in preparation for the final volume, the fabled HP7. When she describes Harry 'racking his brains', but 'doing what he did increasingly these days when at a loss: poring over his Potions book, hoping that [the Half-Blood] prince would have scribbled something useful in the margin', it is tempting to morph Harry into Rowling herself.
As well as reasserting control of her Potter franchise once again, Rowling still exhibits literary ambitions. She wants to be taken seriously as an artist.
The dedication of HP6 describes the new volume as the 'ink and paper twin' of her 'beautiful daughter' Mackenzie. Then there's the violent death of a central character, not typical of books for children. Plainly this is a pitch to play in the big league. Narrative action is a test for any novelist.
In her high-octane climax to HP6 Rowling does begin to make a claim to more serious consideration. For the moment, this exhausted reader looks forward to HP7 (Harry Potter and the Global Economy, perhaps) with the grateful sense that it's at least two years away.
Karen R. Long (review date 19 July 2005)
SOURCE: Long, Karen R. "Rowling's Half-Blood Prince Is a Full-Blown Pleasure." Cleveland Plain Dealer (19 July 2005): E1.
[In the following review, Long comments that Rowling is "at the height of her power" in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.]
Ron Weasley, the likable, loyal best friend of Harry Potter, likes to throw around the word "Brilliant!," the British version of the "Excellent!" favored by Wayne and Garth of Wayne's World.
Both adjectives are likely to boil up in the minds of Harry Potter fans as they fly along the brisk pages of J. K. Rowling's sixth book.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has none of the boggy beginnings of books four and five. Rowling said she has imagined the opening chapter of Half-Blood Prince for 13 years. Her ideas, and this series, have aged nicely.
Readers rejoin the saga at the political heart of the nonmagical world, observing England's prime minister. He is about to receive an unwelcome visit from his counterpart in the wizarding realm, necessary because both leaders are experiencing a shocking lack of control.
The reason, of course, is that the hideous power of Lord Voldemort is strengthening, an evil that will crest over Hogwarts itself 600 pages later. Almost all of Half-Blood Prince is set at the wondrous and imperiled boarding school, and, as the book begins, its familiar rituals are as pleasurable as the changing seasons. Nearly Headless Nick, the enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall and the Fat Lady all soothe the reader, just as Albus Dumbledore admits to a quirky fondness for muggle knitting patterns.
Now that Harry, Hermione and Ron are 16, Rowling allows them to flirt and fret, make out and sulk with all the high dudgeon of everyday high schoolers. The author mixes in pratfall and jokey wordplay, and she is not above a rousing poop or booger gag. So Half-Blood Prince is all the more jarring when Harry's nose is broken, and he lies bloody and helpless just hours after leaving Kings Cross Station.
Evil is indeed cross-pollinating the muggle and magical worlds.
Fact-loving literalists and readers divorced from their inner child won't see the charm. They will roll their eyes at Luna Lovegood's offbeat play-by-play calls during Quidditch or the gnome tricked out as angel atop the Weasley Christmas tree. But that is their loss, because Rowling's work only masquerades as child's play. This book, in fact, would be unwise fare for most children younger than 10.
This story has darkened considerably from the woo-woo worries of [Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets ]. Despite the playful black-and-white drawings that start all 30 crisp chapters, torture and death await the reader. Dumbledore now is maimed and often absent from his post. When he is present, the headmaster swirls his magic to show Harry scenes from the life of another quiet, precocious and admired student, Tom Riddle, the young Voldemort.
Dumbledore is preparing Harry, and Rowling is preparing us, for the confrontation of book seven. The similarities between the two antagonists, both orphans, both haunted by their pasts and deeply attached to Hogwarts, do not escape Harry or the reader. Indeed, Rowling's obviousness and her repetition of plot points annoy some, and her recap of the battle at the end sags. But familiarity and easy access to her themes also serve her young readers.
These themes include the struggle between free will and prophecy, which Harry works out here with a deepening insight. Rowling reminds us constantly that appearances can be deceiving, and our initial assessments can be wrong. The author does not divulge the identity of the Half-Blood Prince until the end, and what seemed benign for most of the book has twisted into something lethal.
At the climax, there is one sentence of true horror, when we and Harry hear something utterly unexpected. It carries a long, sickening echo long after the cover closes.
That note, of course, is no good for a finale. Rowling is at the height of her power in Half-Blood Prince as she clears the canvas and mixes the elements for her final book. When we first glimpse Harry in book six, he is asleep and drooling, glasses askew, as vulnerable as a toddler. When we see him last, he is as alert and determined and awake as a character can be. His suffering has quickened his nobility.
Harry Potter will come of age in the final book. We readers await this development with as much impatience and expectation as any child.
John Mullan (review date 23 July 2005)
SOURCE: Mullan, John. "Into the Gloom." Guardian (London, England) (23 July 2005): 9.
[In the following review, Mullan discusses Rowling's exploration of darker, more adult themes in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, asserting that the dialogue of her teenage characters remains "peculiarly unlifelike."]
Enthusiasm and delight greeted the publication of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Elaborately stage-managed as the hoopla might have been, no one can doubt the excitement of all those children queuing for their copies. But then none of them had yet read the book. For, in truth, this sixth Harry Potter novel is designed to dampen any readerly high spirits. Concluding inconclusively, with puzzles unresolved and prophecies unfulfilled, there may be plenty to guarantee the mega-sales of number seven, which will complete the sequence. Yet Harry Potter's fulfilment of his destiny has now become grim-faced. "There was no waking from his nightmare, no comforting whisper in the dark that he was safe really." This is from the end of the novel, a gloom not to be dispelled.
Some might feel a little like Ron Weasley when he sees Hermione Granger reading the unreliable, indispensable wizard tabloid, the Evening Prophet. "Anyone else we know died?" enquires Harry's bosom pal, with a "forced toughness" in his voice. Well might he ask, for the body count has been mounting. Just as Jane Austen's sixth novel, Persuasion, was full of deaths, so is Rowling's. It begins, in the nonmagical world of us Muggles, with reports of murders and "dozens" of fatalities from a collapsing bridge (arranged somehow by the wizard villain Voldemort). It ends with the notably unconsoling funeral of one of her chief characters. In between there are plenty more deaths put on by cunning and forc'd cause.
There have been deaths before in Potter novels: the very first one tells us of the killing of Harry's parents in its opening chapter. Now all the characters are prone to what Hermione bluntly calls "survivor's guilt". The deaths scattered through the previous Potter novels return in their minds to produce a prevailing mournfulness. Psychologically speaking, most are clad in inky robes. Rowling has spoken a good deal about her characters growing older, and now that Harry, Ron and Hermione are 16, the almost oppressive awareness of mortality is clearly a novelistic aspect of their maturity. Adolescence is anything but cheerful.
The attempts to make her characters older are not always thorough. The dialogue is peculiarly unlifelike. The markers of teen-speak are half-hearted, as if Rowling can't face giving them any contemporary diction. Harry says "yeah" rather than "yes" (as does Malfoy), and occasionally "I s'pose." "Cool," says Ron, and "Wow!", but not nearly as often as a real teenager. In the films, Ron says "bloody hell" all the time, but no such thing is permitted here. There is no age-specific slang or teen idiom.
It is sexual awakening that marks the book out from its predecessors. Ron eyes up "the curvy and attractive barmaid, Madam Rosmerta" and is soon "snogging" Lavender Brown ("eating her face" says his sister). Hermione's urges are less obvious, revealed only by the telltale blushes to which she is now prone. Nasty Malfoy reclines with his head in Pansy Parkinson's lap, while she strokes him. Harry experiences all sorts of stirrings and goosebumps. Mooning over girls even distracts our hero from his proper tasks. Gifted a lucky potion (Felix Felicis) that he should be using to extract the secret of Voldemort's past, he finds himself saving it in order to detach the desirable Ginny from her present boyfriend. There are amorous schemes "fermenting in the depths of his brain", but Ginny is Ron's sister. Does he choose friend or lover? At the end of the book, not long after their first rapturous kiss, Harry tells Ginny that, like Aeneas with Dido, he will have to forsake her for his greater mission. The real hero transcends sex.
There is an awkwardness about all this, as if Rowling knows that while some readers have grown older like her characters, others are still children. Because of them the accounts of post-pubertal couplings must still be improbably chaste. Ginny describes Ron and Lavender "thrashing around like a pair of eels", but it is all just a bit of kissing. Younger readers will also miss Rowling's often deft sex-comedy. Parental readers, in contrast, will find Ron's amours ludicrously familiar. His passions are as shallow as they are solemn. Victim of a misdirected love potion, he spouts delicious claptrap about the girl who has brewed it, and then, having been given an antidote, slumps into the disconsolate attitudes of a paramour disabused. All in an evening.
Comedy has always been Rowling's special factor. The business of being trainee wizards fills her books with magical cock-ups and pratfalls, and there are some good episodes of spells gone wrong here, some written with an eye on cinematic treatment. There are also some reliably droll personages. Professor Trelawney, the sherry-tippling clairvoyant, is good for several laughs. As a kind of joke about her own supposed Francophobia—baddies always have French-sounding names—Rowling reintroduces Fleur who is living with the Weasleys and recognisable as an au pair with airs, always ready to tell her hosts about the superiority of the baccalaureate system.
The usual elements are still there. It has been a strength of the Harry Potter books, as well as their severe limitation, that they remind you of their ingredients. Professor Slughorn's potions class, where the pupils strive to achieve a magic effect from just the right combination of elements, is surely Rowling's wry allegory for the business of becoming the world's most successful novelist. Here is a tincture of Narnia, an echo of Jill Murphy's The Worst Witch, a borrowing from Lord of the Rings (Harry has a baleful, slavish minion called Kreacher who is surely another Gollum) and a surprisingly large ladleful of Mallory Towers. Other readers will find their own bits of the recipe. A weighty review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in the London Review of Books detected Arthurian romance, Lewis Carroll and Freud's case histories.
The oft remarked upon public school setting is a shrewd fabrication not just because it re-animates the high jinks free of parental interference that everyone associates with Enid Blyton. It also introduces the elaborate business of rules that are intrinsic to board ing school life but also govern the operation of magic. How do you counteract poisons? What can you tell from the shape of a Patronus? How do you find a Horcrux? This is the aspect of the Harry Potter novels that makes them so tedious when paraphrased by a fan. (Guardian readers might recall the unerring Posy Simmonds cartoon of falsely smiling adults having to listen to a young Potter aficionado on a long train journey.) The details of these rules are at the heart of the Harry Potter novels.
This novel is built around a series of meetings between Harry and Dumbledore, the Hogwarts headmaster, where the great wizard and his apprentice have a pronounced tendency to explain the rules and anomalies of magic to each other. If they understand all, good might triumph. After all, why should evil be defeated? As Fudge tells the British prime minister: "The trouble is, the other side can do magic too." So the workings of magic must sometimes depend on the intelligence and virtue of those who use it. Harry and Dumbledore magically revisit the past and try to divine Voldemort's devilish schemes by understand-ing his past. Family history is all. Their meetings are the marrow of the narrative, for they combat evil without much help from others. When they are not together, you feel the plot is lost.
The odd glumness of this novel is partly a consequence of its loss of a satisfying plot, its lack of shape. There is, I think, a clear reason for this, evident from the amount that we have been hearing about Rowling's plans for her characters. We must not think that she is making her stories up on the hoof, even though the idea of there being seven books, one for each of Harry's years at Hogwarts, must have come to her only belatedly. She has become so fixed on the overall sequence of her novels, that the narrative shape of this one book is no longer a concern. She is working out some prophetic scheme. But it has become a hard task. It is difficult not to think that, rich and adored, J. K. Rowling's gusto has gone. Now she is just, like her hero, set on completing the grand scheme. Into the gloom she is determined to take all those devoted readers.
Connie Tyrrell Burns (review date 25 July 2005)
SOURCE: Burns, Connie Tyrrell. Review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J. K. Rowling. School Library Journal (online edition), http://reviews.schoollibraryjournal.com/bd.aspx?isbn=0439786770&pub=sl (25 July 2005).
Gr. 5-Up—Opening just a few weeks after the previous book left off, [Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, ] the penultimate entry in the series is, as the author foretold, the darkest and most unsettling yet. The deeds of Voldemort's Death Eaters are spreading even to the Muggle world, which is enshrouded in a mist caused by Dementors draining hope and happiness. Harry, turning 16, leaves for Hogwarts with the promise of private lessons with Dumbledore. No longer a fearful boy living under the stairs, he is clearly a leader and increasingly isolated as rumors spread that he is the "Chosen One," the only individual capable of defeating Voldemort. Two attempts on students' lives, Harry's conviction that Draco Malfoy has become a Death Eater, and Snape's usual slimy behavior add to the increasing tension. Yet through it all, Harry and his friends are typical teens, sharing homework and messy rooms, rushing to classes and sports practices, and flirting. Ron and Hermione realize their attraction, as do Harry and Ginny. Dozens of plot strands are pulled together as the author positions Harry for the final book. Much information is cleverly conveyed through Dumbledore's use of a Pensieve, a device that allows bottled memories to be shared by Harry and his beloved professor as they apparate to various locations that help explain Voldemort's past. The ending is heart wrenching. Once again, Rowling capably blends literature, mythology, folklore, and religion into a delectable stew. This sixth book may be darker and more difficult, but Potter fans will devour it and begin the long and bittersweet wait for the final installment.
Kirkus Reviews (review date 25 July 2005)
SOURCE: Review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J. K. Rowling. Kirkus Reviews (online edition), http://www.kirkusreviews.com/kirkusreviews/reports_analysis/looking_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000990757 (25 July 2005).
Revealed at last—now that the fog of whipped-up anticipation, secrecy, hints, threats, news stories of legal action, wild speculation, midnight-oil-burning and marketing smoke is thinning—[Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, ] the penultimate Potter sequel delivers, as have its predecessors, a tale worth the wait. Readers who felt a bit hammered by the adolescent rage coloring Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003) will be relieved to find that Rowling has returned to the lighter tone of earlier episodes, though properly portentous events do swirl in the background, and, as promised: There Is a Death.
Harry enters his sixth year at Hogwarts knowing that he has a pivotal role to play in the now-open war against Voldemort, sure that Draco Malfoy is up to something, and more than a little conflicted by his attraction to Ginny Weasley, sidekick Ron's suddenly not-so-little sister. Harry's relationship to Dumbledore is entering a new phase, too, as under the kindly old wizard's direct guidance, he begins taking trips through a series of magically preserved memories to explore his archenemy's parentage and character.
Meanwhile, Harry's glee at getting a leg up in Potions class thanks to a heavily annotated old textbook that once belonged to a mysterious "Half-Blood Prince" rivals his discomfort at being caught between Ron and Hermione, who are going through a rocky patch, and the horror of discovering that his new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor is none other than hated, hateful Severus Snape. How could Dumbledore possibly insist, as he repeatedly does, that Snape is a trustworthy ally?
While charting teenage infatuations and friendships with a wry wit that occasionally tumbles into outright merriment, Rowling tucks in several revelations (notably, the secret to Voldemort's seeming immortality), adds a dash of sympathy for Malfoy (of all people!), who does indeed turn out to be part of an ugly scheme, and further develops Snape's role as a pivotal character. Then, after a heartrending test of Harry's loyalty to Dumbledore, Rowling propels the plot to a climax that is—thanks to artful pre-pub preparation—tragic, but not uncomfortably shocking. This newest excursion into the Potterverse will leave readers pleased, amused, excited, scared, infuriated, delighted, sad, surprised, thoughtful—and likely wondering where Voldemort has got to, since he appears only in flashbacks. There's no doubt, however, that he'll figure prominently in what promises to be a spectacular finish.
Publishers Weekly (review date 25 July 2005)
SOURCE: Review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J. K. Rowling. Publishers Weekly 252, no. 28 (25 July 2005): 77.
Rowling's sixth book [Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ] opens in the Muggle Prime Minister's office after "a very long, tiring, and difficult week," words that cast an eerie light on actual events in London this summer. Yet from the first, the author has used the wizard world to offer insight into the goings-on in the real world, perhaps now more than ever. She spends a bit more time in the set-up but she accomplishes a great deal in this book, pulling together threads from all the previous books and expertly poising readers for the planned finale. After the new Minister of Magic introduces himself to Britain's Prime Minister, the scene shifts to Professor Snape's home, where Draco Malfoy's mother and aunt pay him a call, referring to a cryptic mission on which He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is sending Draco. Next, Dumbledore himself fetches Harry from the Dursleys, as the two work together to get to the heart of the dark wizardry impacting both the Muggle and magical worlds. Although You-Know-Who makes no appearances here, his henchmen gain momentum, and his past comes to light through multiple trips via the Pensieve; perhaps Rowling's most brilliant invention yet, the Horcrux, comes chillingly to the fore. Meanwhile, after landing a used copy of Advanced Potion-Making with notes from a mysterious Half-Blood Prince, Harry aces the class, now taught by Professor Slughorn; Snape is now teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts—what can that mean? Readers will have to madly flip the pages to find out. Old friends such as Lupin and Dobbin resurface, love interests and subsequent tensions unfold. Harry, now restored to popularity, nonetheless finds Ron and Hermione wary of his new obsession with Draco Malfoy's activities. Mirroring world events, Hogwarts is no longer safe; even Dumbledore finds it difficult to distinguish the good from those who would unleash terror at the school and the world at large. If Harry grew up in the last book, here he becomes a man, learning the true impact of the last book's prophecy, and the importance of love as the antidote to fear. Ages 8-12.
Peter Lambert (review date 29 July 2005)
SOURCE: Lambert, Peter. Review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J. K. Rowling. Times Literary Supplement, no. 5339 (29 July 2005): 19.
[In the following review, Lambert applauds Rowling's accomplishment in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, arguing that "[t]his is a children's writer at the height of her sadistic powers."]
It is not easy being an adult Harry Potter fan. All around us are detractors, laughing at our obsession, questioning our intellectual maturity, forcing us to conceal hardback books behind carefully spread pages of the TLS. But the derision of our peers is nothing compared to the torture that J. K. Rowling is now putting us through. Harry Potter and the HalfBlood Prince, the penultimate book in a series of seven, may be the most gripping yet, but it is also deeply distressing. Harry and his friends are fighting a losing battle against the evil Lord Voldemort, the death count is high, and Hogwarts Academy is awash with paranoia. As we follow the teenage wizard through a year of struggle and eventual tragedy, it becomes clear that Rowling is no longer interested in nurturing our dreams, but in stamping on them.
There was a time when Harry Potter was all about escapism: an unloved orphan turned out to be a glorified messiah, and had some terrific adventures in the process. This was uncut fantasy; for those who could stomach it, reading Rowling's first book was, in Stephen Fry's words, "like swimming in chocolate". Only in retrospect do we realize this was part of a master plan: that the first, sugar-coated hit would lead to a lifetime of troubled addiction. Who would have guessed, before the arrival of Volume Four, that a Harry Potter novel might end not in resolution but in turmoil? Who would have believed, before Book Five, that a major character could be killed? Rowling's genius has turned out to be her ability to manipulate readers over the course of an entire series: to set up a craving for escapism which, with increasing resolve, she refuses to satisfy.
What hurts most is the casual erosion of the customs and routines that once made Hogwarts such a delightful place to visit. The everyday rituals of magical existence have always been important—buying school books in Diagon Alley, drinking Butterbeer in the Three Broomsticks—and part of the pleasure for readers is seeing these rituals happily revisited from book to book. Not so, however, in Half-Blood Prince. Quidditch is now fraught with danger, the house cup competition all but forgotten; even Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour is closed for business. A trip on the Hogwarts Express, once a perfect opportunity to swap chocolate frogs and catch up on some wizard chess, now ends with Harry's nose shattering, "blood spurting everywhere", as he is mercilessly kicked in the face.
And this is before anyone dies. Readers have now come to expect one important mortality per novel: it is a tribute to Rowling's skills as a mystery writer that death can still surprise us here. The book's blurb describes the writer as possessing a "flair that is magical"; in fact, Rowling is not so much a magician as a muggle-conjurer, using one hand to dazzle us with red herrings, decoys and bluffs, while the other discreetly removes our wristwatch. Six books in, one might think readers would be wise to her tricks, but again, Rowling plays our familiarity to her advantage: we know that a twist is coming, she knows we know a twist is coming—and so the twist doesn't come. Yet. It would be a crime worthy of the Dementor's Kiss to unveil the identity of her latest surprise victim: let us simply state that there is something perversely cruel about a writer who begins her story with an orphan finding a surrogate family, then spends five books killing this new family off. No one is safe from Rowling's merciless pen: one of the reasons fans are now desperate for Book Seven is the suspicion that she might use it to kill Harry, or, worse still, have him survive without any living friends.
As a series writer, J. K. Rowling is learning from previous mistakes: where the last two Potters were in danger of becoming flabby, this one feels lean; the story-telling is efficient. And the writer's weakness for expository dialogue—in which large amounts of back-story are explained to Harry—is less in evidence here; Rowling is using new, inventive (and, naturally, magical) means to dramatize information. This is a children's writer at the height of her sadistic powers. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is taut, witty, effortlessly engaging, and very, very nasty. How we yearn for more.
Atkinson, Michael. "The Broom of the System." Village Voice 48, no. 26 (25 June 2003): 59.
Compliments the prose in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, stating that, "Rowling hasn't yet written an ungraceful sentence."
Cummings, June. "The Secret World of Harry Potter." Michigan Quarterly Review 39, no. 3 (summer 2000): 661-66.
Asserts that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets create a world of "secret spaces" for young readers.
Jones, Mike. Review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J. K. Rowling. Chronicle of Higher Education 25, no. 7 (August 2003): 48.
Compliments Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but notes that the novel "doesn't work well as a standalone."
King, Stephen. "Wild about Harry." New York Times Book Review (23 July 2000): 13-14.
Best-selling novelist King offers a positive assessment of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, commenting that, "Rowling's punning, one-eyebrow-cocked sense of humor goes the distance."
Leonard, John. "Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition." New York Times Books Review (13 July 2003): 13-14.
Notes the angry adolescent voice of the protagonist in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
McVeigh, Dan. "Is Harry Potter Christian?" Renascence 54, no. 3 (spring 2002): 197-214.
Discussion of the moral subtext of the Harry Potter books from a Christian perspective.
Morone, James A. "Dumbledore's Message." American Prospect 12, no. 22 (17 December 2001): 40-1.
Explores the questions surrounding the perceived ethical messages in Rowling's Harry Potter series regarding children and authority.
Payne, Michael. "Hogwarts and the Austere Academy." Bookbird 41, no. 2 (May 2003): 20-4.
Critical examination of the Harry Potter novels in terms of the literary tradition of the boarding school story.
Tucker, Nicholas. "A Little Touch of Harry." Michigan Quarterly Review 39, no. 3 (summer 2000): 667-73.
Assesses Rowling's thematic blend of fantasy and reality in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Wallace, Catherine M. "Rowling as Moralist." Christian Century 118, no. 21 (18 July 2001): 18-19.
Discussion of the theme of childhood bullying in the Harry Potter series.
Wood, Susan Nelson, and Kim Quackenbush. "The Sorcerer's Stone: A Touchstone for Readers of all Ages." English Journal 90, no. 3 (January 2001): 97-103.
Offers suggestions for the classroom applications of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
Additional coverage of Rowling's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 34; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vols. 11, 13, 14; Children's Literature Review, Vols. 66, 80; Contemporary Authors, Vol. 173; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 128; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 137; Literature Resource Center; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Ed. 2; Major 21st-Century Writers, Ed. 2005; Something about the Author, Vol. 109; and Supernatural Fiction Writers, Vol. 2.