Joanne Kathleen Rowling, now as a world-famous author, has greatly changed modern fantasy novels with her Harry Potter series and has shaped modern literature and the public’s view of fantasy in a new way.
At an early age, she expressed a significant interest in books and writing which can be seen as she wrote her first novel at age eleven. In her collegiate years, Rowling studied French and Classic novels which gave her a strong background in Latin. This knowledge later influenced the Harry Potter series as many spells including lumos (light), crucio (torture), and accio (summon) are based on Latin phrases. During her time as a teacher after college, she was extremely busy but would continue to write in any spare moment. Much of her writing is influenced by real-life places or events and is true for the origins of the wizarding world. For example, she received inspiration from train ride to King’s Cross station and has been incorporated into every book of Harry Potter.
After the release of the first book, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, Rowling received a massive amount of praise and continued to write six more books in the series developing a gargantuan fanbase around it. When writing these novels, Rowling would often sketch scenes in the book to better visualize the scenario. This and many other parts of her early works were on display at the British Library and show Rowling’s attention to detail in her style of literature. Additionally, her notes tell us that the stories were well planned as she left notes about each character’s role in the drafts. Her notes and early drafts were so detailed that little about the plot was edited when changing the draft into a published book. This consistent attention to details also connects the continuity of the plot across the series. For instance, when Voldemort states, “The dementors will join us…they are our natural allies…” (Rowling, 651), it foreshadows future events like when the dementors fight with Voldemort in the Battle of Hogwarts in ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’. Small actions in previous books have influenced the later books in the series showing that the plot is continuous throughout the books. The small details that frame the larger story in Rowling’s works help us visualize the scene and give us a better idea of how Harry Potter’s world works.
Even though Harry Potter is complete fantasy, much of the magical aspects of the novels are based on history. For example, the philosopher’s stone already had a history before Rowling decided to incorporate it into her first Harry Potter book, ’Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone’. The stone was first mentioned in the Ripley Scroll, an 18-foot long manuscript filled with alchemic symbols and directions to craft the philosopher’s stone. When examining the directions to craft the stone, many mythological creatures such as dragons and phoenixes are used to symbolize processes in alchemy that produce the stone of eternal life. These animals from the scroll have been incorporated into the wizarding world to make the magical creatures more relatable to the reader and the real world. In addition, many of these animals are hybrids of animals that can be found in our world. One example of an animal hybrid in ‘Harry Potter’ is when Beauxbatons arrived and the students saw a carriage “soaring towards them, pulled through the air by a dozen winged horses…and each the size of an elephant” (Rowling, 242-243). These horses are clearly a hybrid between a bird and a horse which could be considered a pegasus which has a previous history in Greek mythology. This animal along with most creatures in Harry Potter tells us that many creatures in Hogwarts can be traced back to normal human history or real life animals.
However, even though the story is well planned, widely praised, and based on real life, some believe that the Harry Potter series is promoting witchcraft. Some fundamentalist Christian groups believe that children reading these books will result in increased attempts and interest in witchcraft. For this reason, these groups have initiated book burnings as a move to keep witchcraft out of schools. On the other hand, there are other Christian groups that praise the series as they view Harry’s journey as, “an edifying allegory for Jesus Christ” (Olukotun). This conflict between supporters of the Harry Potter series and those who want the books banned is greatest when scenes of pagan-like traditions like potions or transfiguration are used or when significant amounts of magic are used to enhance the story. But even if Harry Potter were to be banned, it would still be easy to obtain a copy since over 400 million books have been sold and they are in almost every bookstore.
In addition to censorship over magic covered in the books, there has been some conflict over copyright pertaining to fan-based works. Some fans have created fanfiction which uses pre-existing characters and plot which sometimes results in the violation of Rowling’s copyright. As the copyright holder, “the law gives Rowling the ability to turn on and off the tap of creativity’ (Olukotun). In theory, she could shut down some fan websites based on this interpretation of the law. But for the most part, she has allowed these fanfiction websites as it spreads the popularity of the series to newer audiences. This has developed over the years into a large community of fans that collects facts and analyzes the books for deeper meaning into how the wizarding world works. However, she has sued on occasion when a website attempted to copy one of her novels without editing the original. But after this instance, she has taken no significant legal action against fans’ websites. Even though fanfiction lies on the border between fair use and copyright infringement, it seems for now these works are acceptable.
Despite sporadic legal conflicts and movements to ban her novels from schools, Rowling’s novels have received praise from a variety of sources. Numerous example includes Children’s Book of the Year, British Book Awards, WH Smith Fiction Award, and PEN America Literary Service Award. The books have been a massive success, especially in the United States. Around the same time the Harry Potter series was published, there were many initiatives created in the US to get children reading more. As a result of these initiatives, “the Harry Potter phenomenon made books and reading a shared activity, and something that had a breadth of appeal, bringing in people who were not habitual readers” (Fulleylove). For most, even skeptics of reading saw the series as intriguing which generated a broad audience of readers as more people got hooked. To get people to start reading, ’Harry Potter’ was a great choice for almost everyone. Furthermore, this cycle of people getting hooked and recommending it others increased the popularity of the books leading to more praise worldwide.
After reading all of the books in the Harry Potter series, watching almost all of the Harry Potter films, and watching the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it can be concluded that Rowling has developed a whole world of magic that successfully engages the reader and makes for an excellent series of stories that continues to grow. Even though many of her first novels seem weaker than some of the books later in the series, all of them serve a purpose to forward the plot and keep people engaged. Most of the wizarding world films are good at fitting a 700-page book into 150 minutes and the new Fantastic Beasts movies add a new fresh take on the wizarding world, before the time of Voldemort and Harry Potter. In a move away from the already used Harry Potter series, future wizarding world movies are going to be based around a ‘new adventure of Magizoologist Newt Scamander marked the start of a five-film series to be written by the author. The second of the series of movies should be interesting as it continues the plot from the first. Overall, the wizarding world of Harry Potter showcases an outstanding piece of literature that can be appreciated by all audiences and ages and has continued to this day in the form of popular full feature films.
- Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Pegasus.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 12 Feb. 2018, www.britannica.com/topic/Pegasus-Greek-mythology.
- The British Library. “The Journey – Google Arts & Culture.” Google, Google, 18 Oct. 2017, artsandculture.google.com/project/harry-potter-a-history-of-magic.
- Fulleylove, Rebecca. “The Enduring Magic of The ‘Harry Potter Effect’ 20 Years Later – Google Arts & Culture.” Google Arts and Culture, Google, 2017, artsandculture.google.com/theme/BQICb_K5wDNKLg.
- J.K. ROWLING’S WIZARDING WORLD. “J.K. Rowling.” J.K. Rowling, J.K. ROWLING’S WIZARDING WORLD, 2016, www.jkrowling.com/about/. Olukotun, Deji. “The Banning of Harry Potter.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/deji-olukotun/the-banning-of-harry-pott_b_1864502.html.
- Oxford Dictionaries. “The Classical Roots of Harry Potter’s Magical Spells.” OxfordWords Blog, Oxford University Press , 17 Dec. 2015, blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2013/07/23/spells-harry-potter/.
- Tucker, Trisha. “Some Schools Still Ban ‘Harry Potter.’ Here’s How They Justify It.” GoodEducation, 26 June 2017, education.good.is/articles/harry-potter-censorship-schools.