Initial Post Week 2-Harry Potter

… and now for the more critical post. I’m going to break this up into two categories that will hopefully instigate two distinct (but perhaps overlapping) conversational threads.

Thread 1: The Text

It is going to be a challenge, but we need to truly stick with book 1. I too reread these books in a way that has made each one blend together in my brain, but really, let’s stick with book 1.

This is the first contemporary novel we will be reading. How have depictions of young adulthood shifted from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?

This is also our first novel with a male protagonist. How do the struggles that Harry faces regarding gender expectations compare to those of Alice?

Breaking the Rules, Parenting, and Surrogates

So many young readers were drawn to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone because they could simultaneously relate to Harry’s struggles and experience adventure vicariously through Harry. In what ways does the novel construct this simultaneous response on the part of its readers? Drew Chappell’s article addresses this more directly. What is Chappell’s argument? How does it relate to modern conceptions of young adulthood and parenting? (We gave Hemmings a bit of short shrift last week so take the time to read and comment on Chappell).

From my own perspective, I remember powerlessness as being one of the worst feelings of childhood. I was constantly beholden to the whims of other people. I had to go wherever and do whatever my parents wanted. When my parents got divorced and I was shuttled back and forth every weekend, I felt like a captive who had to constantly negotiate new sets of rules and the worldview of whomever I was currently in the company of. Despite the expectations of adults, the HP novels play out a fantasy of childhood empowerment, but at the cost of orphanhood. How do we understand adults operating within this fantasy? How do other adults act as surrogate parents for Harry, and how does their specific position allow for a different model of parenting than we would imagine of a blood parent or legal guardian?

Friendship

Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of Harry Potter is its exploration of YA friendship and its value in navigating the difficult waters of young adulthood, such as bullying, finding a sense of self, and (in later books) romance. What elements of the friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione are particularly attractive? What do we make of Ron and Harry’s early treatment of Hermione? The friendship triangle with two boys and one girl is also fairly common in YA lit. What conventions of this triangle manifest themselves in the novel? Why might Rowling have chosen this format?

Love

Forgive me for spoilers here, but I think you can already tell in this book that the overarching theme of the series is the power of love in a Beatles “All You Need Is Love” kind of way. This can seem corny, or, at the very least, sentimental from a modern perspective. How does Rowling avoid this easy discounting of love as a human source of empowerment? In what ways is she setting up love as central to this first novel? What kinds of love are manifest here? What are the challenges and possibilities of it? I might go so far as to call it the strongest magic in the text. What does it mean to make love magical, and how does the novel’s fantasy genre substantiate love as magical in the real world too?

Fantasy

With Harry Potter we have our first fantasy series—a collection of texts that pull readers into the same fantastical world wherein there is a mythology and an epistemology that exists independently of our own. An epistemology is a culturally constructed way of knowing and seeing the world. We often take our belief system for granted as “natural” or “factual” when it is in fact a worldview specific to our cultural moment and geographical location—the way we have created systems and order (this came up a lot in our discussion of Alice too). Fantasy novels build their own systems, but they often contain many of the same themes and beliefs that are central to our own epistemology. In his book The Fantastic: a Structural Approach to a Literary Genrenarrative theorist Tzvetan Todorov, writes “the supernatural was merely a pretext to describe things [authors] would never have dared mention in realistic terms” (158). In other words, The fantastic allows writers not only to explore but also to critique the systems of knowledge and knowing of their own world in a safe, removed space.

  • Rowling chose to build a fantasy that actually lives within but unnoticed in this world; why? What are the characteristics of Harry’s world?
  • In what ways, does Harry have to become accustomed to the rules and systems of a new culture?
  • What cultural values, morals, and problems are similar to our own?
  • What is a muggle, really? Why choose this name?

Thread 2: Our Harry Potter Lovin’ World, a.k.a. Reading Communities

Cross-Over

I put Harry Potter on this syllabus because it was a hugely important text for the development of the YA genre. It spawned the phenomenon of adults devouring YA that has only grown since the book’s initial success. Now, when you enter a bookstore (I know they are few and far between these days) the YA section is the mostly widely populated and publicized area. In England there was something unseemly about adults reading books meant for children, so Bloomsbury developed two distinct covers for the books to encourage both cross-sections of the market.

Bloomsbury’s British Adult Cover for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

You’ll also notice that the title of the book was different in Britain; Rowling’s American publishers, Scholastic, were concerned that American children would not be attracted to a book about a philosopher. Before Rowling’s transnational success, Scholastic made several changes in the text to appease what they thought were the needs and concerns of American audiences; the later books have fewer and fewer differences.

It is worth considering how Harry Potter created the concept of the cross-over. For a long time there have been books written for adults that young adults read (usually because they are forced to) like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, or George Orwell’s Animal Farm, but HP was the first series written specifically for children that was devoured by adults. Since its publication and fanfare, cross-over has become a publisher’s buzzword, a sweet spot that both publishers and authors attempt to hit. The Book Thief is just one example, as is Twilight.

Banning

As some of you may or may not recall, Harry Potter was widely banned across the U.S., perhaps partly having to do with many of the issues that we will discuss in relationship to its fantasy of empowered young adulthood, but it was more openly decried for its use of “magic.” In the film Jesus Camp, fundamentalist Christians outline their basic arguments against the book. I used to insert the entire film below, but it is no longer available, so here is a clip of just the Harry Potter scene:

Young Harry Potter fans were among the most active protesters against the novel’s banning. A basic YouTube search for “responses harry potter ban” returns a wealth of these fan responses.

Fandom

Harry Potter has also been renowned for its vigilant and steadfast fan community. See this website for an overview and some samples of Wizard Rock. The Wizard Rock songs demonstrate not only fans’ devotion to the series, but also their creative, interpretive work. The same goes for the healthy fanfic community that sprung up around the novels. As you are posting and commenting, feel free to explore and write about any of these fan-created objects so that we can spark a conversation about the role of fandoms in relationship to YA lit specifically.

Fan communities often use the term “canonical” to argue about whether something is or is not a valid part of a book’s cultural record, mythology, and/or text. Rowling’s revelation that she understood Dumbledore as a gay character sparked heated controversy among her fan community, raising important questions about the role of authors in interpreting their own text. When a book becomes as popular as the Harry Potter series, who does its interpretation and legacy belong to?

Okay, hopefully this will get us off to a good start!

Works Cited

“J.K. Rowling Outs Dumbledore as Gay.” BBC News. 20 Oct. 2007. Web. 7 June 2015. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7053982.stm&gt;.

Steup, Matthias. “Epistemology.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 14 Dec. 2005. Web. 6 June 2015. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology/&gt;.

Todorov,  Tzvetan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Trans. Richard Howard. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1975. Google Books. Web. 6 June 2015.

Wizard Rock. Web 7 June 2016. <http://wizardrock.org&gt;.

14 thoughts on “Initial Post Week 2-Harry Potter

  1. I did a little reading about banning the Potter books and had this issue on my mind as I was reading the novel. It was pretty amazing to read the justifications for banning the book given it is clearly meant to be 1) fantasy 2) an inspirational and empowering story. That the series became so widely read is evidence that “fringe” portrayed by the young wizards is widely relatable.

    Just addressing the fantasy/banning aspect: why do the ultra-religious feel threatened by the fantasy and mysticism of the book? Do they feel they should have the market cornered on these subjects? I don’t want to ruffle any feathers about religion, but there are a couple lines in the Bible that address the judgment of others. I suspect those are ignored at Jesus Camp.

    Here’s some more information from the American Library Association about the banning of the book(s): https://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=10636

    It’s a quick and worthwhile read. It notes that there are many Christians who reject the Camper hypothesis and that is worth remembering. It is easy, but often misleading, to let the loudest voices speak for the majority.

    • Great article! And I know as teachers, the topic of banning is always close and concerning. I don’t know if you saw my response to the initial thread on how we were first exposed to Harry Potter, but I had a super-fun (heavy sarcasm) conversation with a church lady who basically told me reading Harry Potter would send me straight to hell, and then once I was audacious enough to say Harry was really a bit of a Christ-figure, she gave up on convincing me and moved on to easier targets.

      I was raised in church, I am a very devout believer, and I LOVE Harry Potter and have introduced him to all of my children. Many people of faith seem to think their personal interpretation of the scripture is the only interpretation. And many people don’t understand things like context, symbolism, and even modern application when reading. And can I throw some further shade and say many believers haven’t even read the book they’re promoting and therefore don’t *really* know what it says. I loved your comment about judgement!! Preach!

      • I actually teach an entire class on Harry Potter now and again, and, in fact, we have a few Anatomy of Harry Potter graduates among this group…. one thing we discuss in relationship to the banning is the way the novel challenges patriarchal and hierarchical formations, especially by arguing that young adults are in many ways better at changing the world and seeing it for what it is than their parents.

  2. It’s interesting that fans express such outrage at the information Rowling’s revealed after the series was over. It begs the questions, as an author do you talk about more than story inspiration? Or do you just leave well enough alone?

    As Professor DeSpain has pointed out Rowlings revealed that she identified Dumbledore has a gay character and many fans were outraged. Would they have read the book had this information been glaringly obvious in the text? Another example of this is the fact Rowlings has admitted she wishes she had put Harry and Hermione together in the end, rather than Ron and Hermione. Some
    fans did not like the ending could have been different, others argued they were robbed of the true ending.

    The read the authors thoughts: https://www.bustle.com/p/hermione-harry-shouldve-ended-up-together-even-jk-rowling-agrees-8181448

    Just my take on the argument – fans who get ruffled over hearing the an author’s take on their creations should take the information with a grain of salt and get over themselves. If you enjoyed the story and it moved you then the storyteller did their job.

    • Carrie,
      I believe the author’s vision for her story and characters is critical and that she reserves the right to share elements of this vision whenever she chooses. However, I also believe that, once a story has been published, readers can develop their own interpretations and opinions. I think the beauty of books such as the Harry Potter series which become phenomenons with large fan bases is the different discussions and opinions that arise. With readers throughout the world, there are countless different viewpoints and perspectives emerging at all times. This is a book you can read time and time again and always learn something new from it.

  3. Comparing young adulthood from Alice to Harry, Harry starts off powerless at the beginning of the novel, similar to Alice. He can’t control where he sleeps, what he eats, or who he’s with, much like Alice can’t control her size, but by the end of the novel, Harry has a great deal of power and autonomy–autonomy that was found through accepting his true identity and background. There’s a bit of a lesson there. Both Alice and Harry had themes of rules being ridiculous at times and authority figures not being right, so there are several similarities. Harry Potter really shines as a more contemporary piece because of the independence of the young people. Alice wakes up and is still in a controlled Victorian world, but Harry who starts out in a controlled, Muggle world winds up finding and saving the wizarding world.

    It’s difficult to discuss gender between Alice and Harry–Alice is a child (age seven), while Harry is a preteen (age eleven), Alice is a girl in Victorian England–Harry is a boy in modern England–this seems apples to oranges. But if we’re talking gender and looking at Harry, he is expected to be a leader–actually a savior–but that’s more to do with his family and legacy than gender. Hermione shows again and again that gender norms of our modern era don’t apply.

    On the ideas of young adulthood, Drew Chappell explains, “Rowling’s writings may be preparing young readers to critically engage with power structures in their lives and become architects of their own agency” (282). So Rowling’s view is that modern young adults can’t take everything they hear at face value, no matter where it’s coming from. The current idea with young adults emphasizes critical thinking rather than blindly following directions because someone in authority said so.

    I loved the topic of parenting in this novel. Harry’s parents were killed tragically and early, yet many other adults in his life circle around to help parent him: from Mrs. Weasley to Hagrid, from Professor McGonagall to Dumbledore to even Professor Snape. Harry has an army of adults who are invested, whether in the hard-knocks style of parenting or something kinder, in helping him become the wizard he is destined to be. This feels very modern. In my blended family, I’m one of a team for many of my children–a team who supports, advises, corrects, and chastises at times, in the hopes of creating excellent adults.

    Ron and Harry’s early treatment of Hermione might be misunderstood. I feel that Hermione represents the role of women in a man’s world. She’s a muggle-born wizard, so she feels like she’s not ever quite good enough. She’s on a mission with her entire existence to prove her worth and that she belongs. I don’t know about everyone else, but I am Hermione, so her treatment from Ron and Harry is altogether familiar and understandable to an extent. Thank goodness for the troll incident, which forced all three of them to forget their differences and come together–what a great lesson.

    On the topic of love, from the very beginning, it’s the love of Harry’s parents that shines through. That’s a love that everyone can relate to–either through parents, children, or what we wish had been. One of the biggest human themes EVER is Love Conquers All–why should it be any different in the wizarding world? Love IS magical–how else can life be explained. Part of the beauty of love is that it doesn’t have to make sense–it simply is.

    The characteristics of Harry’s world are similar to those of any superhero story–more power equals different rules and a code of ethics to protect the masses. Because Harry doesn’t grow up in this world, he has to learn everything like a baby would. It’s a “finding yourself” story, like Tarzan or Star Wars–sometimes you’re not brought up in the place you were intended to be, so it takes time and energy to figure everything out. Wizards still have issues like finding friends, feeling not good enough, and worrying about their place in the world. And Muggles, or non-magical humans, are just another way to show how easy it is to “other” people.

    • To add to the comparison of Alice and Harry, I noticed while reading that Harry asks a lot more questions than I thought he did when I first read it, which makes sense since he is entering this brand new world he never knew about. But his questions (example: Rowling 63-65) reminded me of Alice and all of her questions, and also of Mr. Dursley (an adult figure vs. child figure perspective) at the beginning of the book where he thought that everyone around him with the cloaks was weird, but decided against asking Mrs. Dursley any questions right away regarding the circumstances with Harry’s name being mentioned in the streets (Rowling 4-5).
      Also, I agree that Harry is treated more like a leader in a way than Alice was. I also feel like Harry being a boy might have affected some aspects of his life. I know that he’s usually treated differently based on family connections, but I also wonder what would have happened if Lily had a girl that was dropped off on the Dursley’s steps instead? Would they have treated her a bit less rough than Harry based on the more masculine expectations people sometimes have about boys being “tougher”? Would a girl be seen as less competition for bullies like Dudley and Malfoy where she wouldn’t have been bullied as much, or the opposite where she’d have to prove her worth more to? Also, would that mean that events like the haircut that Aunt Petunia cut “so short he was almost except for his bangs” (Rowling 24) or like the duel challenge from Malfoy wouldn’t have happened or at least been less likely to happen if Harry was a girl instead? I don’t know why I find that viewpoint so interesting to think about!

  4. Rowling’s first novel shifts depictions of young adulthood into a more contemporary setting for Harry. While Alice was situated in Victorian English society, Rowling situated Harry in a more modern English society, so expectations surrounding young adulthood are different. In Alice’s time frame, children were raised and more confined to a set of Victorian societal norms, with adults giving them little to no autonomy to figure things out for themselves. Alice was under the control of the adults in her life and in the larger community of Victorian England. In contrast, Harry was raised with the liberty to figure things out for himself, a result of what Chappell refers to as the “postmodern construction of the heroic child” (Chappell, 282). Simply put, Harry grows up in a time when children are given the chance to learn and discover aspects of themselves and the wizarding adult world into which they are about to enter. Despite the adults’ attempts to reign in and control the children in the novel, Harry and his friends manage to navigate their teenage years in the wizarding world with more autonomy than Alice had. Among all the adults in the novel, Chappell claims that Dumbledore understood the significance of allowing Harry and the others a degree of liberty in discovering who they are: “It seems clear that the headmaster respects the students’ autonomy and knows that for them, this assemblage is often essential to day-to-day survival, and certainly to the successful navigation of schooling.” (286).

    All that being said, I think Rowling is encouraging the idea that young adulthood is a time of learning, of thinking critically about the structures that dominate adulthood, and of cultivating an autonomous mind not easily influenced by the musings of adults simply because they’re adults. As Chappell asserts, “Rowling’s writings may be preparing young readers to critically engage with power structures in their lives and become architects of their own agency.” (282).

    As for gender expectations, Alice was more subjected to follow female gender norms than Harry was, in my opinion. Part of this is Alice’s upbringing and the strictness of Victorian society. Traditionally, women are subjected to harsher scrutiny than men for not adhering to gender rules. Harry, on the other hand, seemed to struggle less with trying to follow male gender norms and more with his identity and entrance into the wizarding world. So much of the first novel is focused on that, on Harry learning about the wizarding community and finding his place in it, that male gender expectations in the novel are shoved to the backburner.

    • Jules,
      I agree with much of what you’ve said, especially when it comes to how gender norms do not have as prominent a role in the Harry Potter series as in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I also agree with your assessment that the different time periods in which these two stories take place have a significant impact on the main characters’ ability to adventure and assert their own autonomy. However, I believe Harry’s autonomy has less to do with his upbringing and the society of the magical and more to do with his own sense of defiance and liberty. Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic impose countless restrictions on the use of magic, especially for the young students. These adults believe that children are helpless and need to be protected until they grow to an age when they can care for themselves. Whenever danger intrudes at Hogwarts, the students are whisked away to the dormitories while the adults handle the situation. Harry and his friends, however, see a larger picture that the adults are unaware or in denial of. According to Chappell, “He and his friends find myriad opportunities to resist the domination imposed on them by wizarding society, forming a pattern for contemporary children to follow” (284). I believe this to be true. Harry, Ron, and Hermoine defy the rules of Hogwarts, but they do so for what they consider to be the greater good. This sets a good example for young readers to question authority and to do what’s right even when it’s not the easiest thing to do.

  5. The communities that were created in response to Harry Potter is one of the first things I knew about–in regards to the books! In a lot of ways, Harry Potter seemed to have created the foundation of hardcore fans of, typically, supernatural related forms of media. While, I just vaguely remember the frenzy of the initial Harry Potter craze–I was born in 1999, I do think that this had to had to had been where people began to feel safe to obsess and love as much as they did. It didn’t, and still doesn’t, matter if you’re young or older Harry Potter exists for everyone–contrary to being created for younger consumers. Now, I think the same can be said for things like the show Supernatural. More than ever, I see adults proudly claiming fandoms of shows and books intended for younger people. Yet it doesn’t come off as weird, and I think this all roots back to Harry Potter making it acceptable to consume media geared towards younger people. Basically, HP walked so current things like Dr. Who, Supernatural, and many more could run.
    I also think it’s interesting, but not surprising how HP was banned and being rejected from religious people. I actually just watched a video on a woman explain how Monster energy was the devils work. That’s not to say that religious people are wrong. Rather, I think that the idea of magic is scary to them. However, books like Harry Potter aren’t just about the magic. Rather, the magic is just a bonus to add to the fantasy and wonder as we dive into Harry’s new life where he finds friends and sense of belonging! It’s the fear and misinformation that creates the fear but, as we know, HP has themes that are perfect for anyone–but especially young people.

  6. One of the central themes that really stuck out to me was the theme of friendship and Rowling goes about it in a beautiful way. As someone who was basically alone and friendless for so long friendship really is an important factor that helps define Harry’s character. Through his friends Harry experiences what loyalty, courage, hard work and love is. Ron and Hermione accept him for who he is, even though everyone sees as him as a deity sometimes they see past that and acknowledge the true Harry. Rowling manages to create a circle of friends that balance each other out (despite the frequent feuds) as they all possess different traits and characteristics that complement each other. We can really observe this with more detail in the retrieval of the Stone, where the trio works together and use their best traits and skills to help.

    I find it fascinating how Harry Potter manages to help launch crossover literature. As Lissa Paul writes, “crossover works are read by young readers and adults, but they are not necessarily written or marketed intentionally for both audiences.” (Paul, 59) This rings true because Harry Potter was written for and marketed towards children yet managed to snag a completely new audience, an audience that became so invested and absorbed in the wizarding world that it managed to birth a huge community of fans.

  7. The part about breaking the rules and parenting hit home for me a bit. Chappell’s article mentioned, “How can children learn to make wise decisions and become good people?” (Chappell 14). I feel like it seems to suggest that children need to explore decisions on their own to learn, but there’s also the question on how we know they will make the right decisions in that process. A lot of the adults that Harry meets at Hogwarts becomes like “surrogate parents” because of how they become role models for Harry to look up to. For example, Hagrid was a huge parental figure in the book because of how much he would care for Harry and do things with him when his home family wouldn’t even let him out of the house most of the time. Professor McGonagall also felt like an adult figure for Harry to learn from, since she didn’t show favoritism towards her House, but judged things based on if they were wrong or right when punishing her students. She also didn’t let incidents affect her judgement on a students’ good character, especially when it came to being willing to work with Harry on letting him join the Quidditch team early, and even giving him his own broom after the whole flying lesson incident where he could have been punished more than what he was. She was able to show Harry how he may come from a high place, but it doesn’t mean he gets special treatment when in trouble. It also doesn’t mean though that a mistake every now and then affects his character to be bad all of the time. I hope that makes a little sense?

  8. I think breaking the rules is one of the most important aspects of Harry Potter. Unlike many things that are very specific to Harry Potter such as Hogwarts, the professors, and the idea of the housing systems, rule-breaking is a topic that has been employed by many authors. To relate to the book we read last week, Harry and Alice are similar in the way that they break certain rules of childhood, although they go about it in different ways. Alice, for example, I feel like defies and breaks the rules of childhood by questioning certain values within the book, such as that young girls and women in Victorian society is suppose to be quiet and homely. Alice breaks these rules by voicing her opinion on many things, notably so when she speaks out against the queen for wanting to execute everybody. Similar to Alice, one of the main ideas in Harry Potter is breaking the rules. Although Alice does so in almost a curious and harmless way, Harry goes out of his way to break the rules by doing more physical actions such as fighting trolls and flying on broomsticks not even halfway through his first flying lesson. With Harry Potter, his rebellious actions are often punished by detentions and taking points away from his house. I find that the main difference between breaking the rules in the two novels, besides the obvious character differences, is that Harry gets punished for breaking the rules vs how it only empowers Alice.

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