Harry Potter is definitely a literary superhero, both in terms of the character’s heroism and the tremendous popular success of the series. The first Harry Potter novel became a sensation shortly after it was published in 1997 (in the U.K. as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; 1998 in the U.S. as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – because of marketing). When Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth book in the series, was published in July 2000, there was so much excitement that bookstores had to hide their copies before the official release date and many stores had midnight release parties.
In terms of genre, Harry Potter is clearly a fantasy novel – specifically a quest fantasy – and shares some of the humor and absurdity of Roald Dahl’s books. Here’s an interesting article about the tradition of British children’s fantasy (Links to an external site.). It’s also a coming-of-age narrative (each novel shows a significant step in Harry’s maturation over a school year, and the series as a whole covers his growing up from childhood to young adulthood). And it’s a school story: the story mostly takes place among children at a boarding school, and their rivalries, friendships, and conflicts with each other and with the school authorities drive the action. The coming-of-age and school story narrative forms intersect in an interesting way: each of the first six books begins with Harry leaving his Muggle home, going to school, and then leaving school to reenter the Muggle world. This roughly follows the pattern of a traditional rite of passage, marking a stage of growth, as described by Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner: separation, transition (liminality), and reincorporation.
Some literary critics have compared J.K. Rowling’s writing unfavorably to that of Ursula K. LeGuin, Philip Pullman, and C.S. Lewis. But I think the novel succeeds in several ways: it blends several genres, it blends moments of humor with moments of deep emotion, and it can be enjoyed by readers at multiple levels. More experienced, older readers catch more of the humor, social commentary (fairly light in the first novel, but increasing in later novels), and may feel more connection to the sense of loss and finding meaningful relationships. Younger readers sympathize with Harry’s struggles and his making friends, and enjoy the adventure and magic. Furthermore, the books increase in complexity, emotional weight, and length as the series continues.
The series as a whole is a coming-of-age narrative, with one book per year from ages 11-17 (7 books total). It begins with Harry the child first learning about his true heritage and identity, and ends with Harry the young man taking on the adult responsibility of facing Voldemort in a final battle and saving his world. This narrative arc is similar to the hero’s journey (Links to an external site.) described by Joseph Campbell and seen in ancient myths around the world and modern films. Each book also presents a shorter version of the same narrative arc. Here, the letters arriving from Hogwarts are the “call to adventure” and Hagrid’s arrival is “meeting the mentor,” the train trip to Hogwarts is “crossing the first threshold,” and finding the philosopher’s stone in his pocket is “the ultimate boon.” Harry returns to the Dursley household and the Muggle world at the end of the book, where he was so miserable in the past, but he has been transformed by finding out who he really is, finding friends and family, and having proved himself in the serious battle with Voldemort and the (important but less earth-shaking) battle for the House Cup.
Several themes develop through the series, but we can see a lot of them in the Sorcerer’s Stone. In particular, we see Harry finding his place in the world and finding a family. The depth of Harry’s trauma is only really clear starting in Book 5, but we already know about it here. Harry gains so much in this first book, starting with Hagrid appearing with the only birthday cake he’s ever known, meeting Ron, becoming friends with him and then Hermione and Neville, becoming part of the Hogwarts family, and leaving with wizard photos of his parents. Hagrid’s last gift to Harry – the photo album with old photos of his parents – is more significant than it might seem, tucked in after the climactic battle. We know that Harry’s deepest lack and deepest desire is for his parents, for his family. The Mirror of Erised is illusory, but the photo album is a tangible connection to his parents that he can carry with him back to the ordinary world.
The first adaptation of the Harry Potter books was into film, but now there are many forms. One of my favorite scene adaptations is the delivery of the Hogwarts letters. It’s different than in the book, but very effective!Link (Links to an external site.)You can see several more good clips from the Sorcerer’s Stone here: https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/the-15-best-scenes-from-harry-potter-and-the-sorcerers-stone-for-its-15th-anniversary (Links to an external site.)Link (Links to an external site.)
?the assignment is this below ?? ?
Today’s discussion has two parts, the first focuses on your impressions of encountering Rowling’s world, and the second about two of the major themes in the book. After you’ve posted, please browse through and comment on a classmate’s post.
1) What are your memories of reading or seeing Harry Potter? Was it important to you growing up?
2) What house would you be in if you went to Hogwarts, and why?
3) What’s your favorite moment of humor in the novel? Was there anything that made you laugh? What does it add to the story?
4) More seriously, what is the significance of the Mirror of Erised? (What does the name mean?) What does Harry come to understand about it? How does Rowling deal with the larger theme of desire and longing?
5) What are some of the different kinds of heroism in the novel?