The World of Harry Potter
The Story & Characters
Myths, Legends & . . .
• ―Myths are stories that reflect cultural beliefs and traditions . . . myths offer explanations for . . . fundamental questions. . . . [A] mythical hero must share aspects of the reader‘s culture‖ (Schafer 127-128; 130).
– What aspects of our culture does Harry employ? How is he like us? What commonalities do we have with Harry and his world?
• ―Legends . . . chronicle stories about heroes and villains who seem to be historically true but whose facts are not easily verifiable‖ (Shafer 128).
– Is Harry a legend only within his own world, the one Rowling has created, or can he also be seen as a legend within our world, our history?
. . . Fairy Tales
• ―The word Faërie comes from Fay-Ry, meaning: ‗the realm of the Fay.‘ The Fay itself is an older word for fairy and refers to a broad range of magical and supernatural creatures of myth and folklore, including elves, dwarves, goblins, and the like‖ (Dickerson and O‘Hara 16).
– How does the fairy tale of Harry Potter compare to others? Cinderella, Snow White, Goldilocks, Hansel and Gretel, King Arthur, Prince Charming.
• ―Much of the world‘s literature is derived from ancient stories that have become imprinted on our subconscious minds . . . writers have known that invoking certain images, symbols, or language from imprinted stories, they could evoke powerful emotions from their readers‖ (Schafer 160).
– Can you list some of the images and symbols and uses of language (including names) that invoke such emotions from readers of Harry Potter? What are the archetypical elements in this story?
• Dark Magic, White Magic, Inner Magic
– ―From the sublime to the ridiculous and the serious to the frolicking, there is no question that the reader who enters the fiction of JK Rowling is stepping into a world of magic and enchantment, one in which portraits move and talk, trees take our their aggressions on people, ordinary objects fly through the air, strange, belligerent plants, animals, and insects share the planet, and wizards practice exceptional powers that Muggles or ordinary people don‘t understand and usually don‘t even see. For young readers, especially, this is part of the fun of a Harry Potter story, and critics who worry that Rowling is trying to heard them into the arms of the occult are probably far more sinister than she‖ (Killinger 106).
• What is the purpose of the magic being used? Is the power for good or evil? • What is the source of the magic? What is its essence?
Objections to Harry Potter
• At #7 on the American Library Association‘s list of 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books for 1990-2000.
– ―For many Christians, however, the books are anathema. Their children are forbidden to read them, and are even pulled from public school classrooms if the books are chosen for read-aloud times. Why such an uproar and reactions? What evil do some people in circles of evangelical Christendom see in these books. The answer is simple: the books are full of magic and witches‖ (Dickerson and O‘Hara 228). How do we address this concern? – The behavior of the students, especially our three main ones— Harry, Ron, Hermione—is less than ideal. How do we address this concern? – Is there too much violence and ―scary stuff‖ in these books for children to comprehend? How do we address this concern?
The Appeal of Harry
• “For fantasy is true, of course. It isn’t factual, but it is true. Children know that. Adults know it too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons because they are afraid of freedom . . . Children know perfectly well that unicorns aren’t real, but they also know that books about unicorns, if they are good books, are true books.”
—Ursula LeGuin from Dragons
The Virtual Harry Potter
Mugglenet.com for just about everything Harry! Wizard Challenge —think you know a thing or two about the boy wizard? The Leaky Caldron—“The most trusted name in Potter” The Official JK Rowling site —if the books don’t give you enough Harry, there is more here about Harry’s world! Darkmark.com—explore the Dark side/site! The HP Lexicon—origins and meanings of everything Potter
Resources for Muggles
• Dickerson, Matthew and David O‘Hara. From Homer to Harry Potter: A Handbook on Myth and Fantasy. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos P, 2006. • Killinger, John. God, the Devil and Harry Potter: A Christian Minister’s Defense of the Beloved Novels. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin‘s P, 2002. • Schafer, Elizabeth D. Beacham’s Sourcebook for Teaching Young Adult Fiction: Exploring Harry Potter. Osprey, FL: Beacham Publishing, 2000.