Reading Harry Potter Critical Essays

Reading Harry Potter: Critical Essays4.27 · Rating details ·  368 Ratings  ·  8 Reviews

J. K. Rowling achieved astounding commercial success with her series of novels about Harry Potter, the boy-wizard who finds out about his magical powers on the morning of his eleventh birthday. The books' incredible popularity, and the subsequent likelihood that they are among this generation's most formative narratives, call for critical exploration and study to interpretJ. K. Rowling achieved astounding commercial success with her series of novels about Harry Potter, the boy-wizard who finds out about his magical powers on the morning of his eleventh birthday. The books' incredible popularity, and the subsequent likelihood that they are among this generation's most formative narratives, call for critical exploration and study to interpret the works' inherent tropes and themes. The essays in this collection assume that Rowling's works should not be relegated to the categories of pulp fiction or children's trends, which would deny their certain influence on the intellectual, emotional, and psychosocial development of today's children. The variety of contributions allows for a range of approaches and interpretive methods in exploring the novels, and reveals the deeper meanings and attitudes towards justice, education, race, foreign cultures, socioeconomic class, and gender.
Following an introductory discussion of the Harry Potter phenomenon are essays considering the psychological and social-developmental experiences of children as mirrored in Rowling's novels. Next, the works' literary and historical contexts are examined, including the European fairy tale tradition, the British abolitionist movement, and the public-school story genre. A third section focuses on the social values underlying the Potter series and on issues such as morality, the rule of law, and constructions of bravery....more

Hardcover, 248 pages

Published May 30th 2003 by Praeger (first published January 1st 2003)

Even though the entire series is not yet published, literary critics have already begun the task of reading and re-reading the Harry Potter novels that are available with the purpose of analyzing the popular books as well as the phenomenon that they have caused. Gizelle Liza Anatol's edition joins at least two other critical books of its kind so far in print: The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter: Perspectives on a Literary Phenomenon, edited by Lana A. Whited (Missouri UP, 2002), and Harry Potter's World, edited by Elizabeth E. Heilman (RoutledgeFalmer, 2003). Each of these volumes uses a multidisciplinary approach, collecting essays from a spectrum of writers with diverse interests in the series. Reading Harry Potter adds to the growing analyses of the series by offering essays about the first four novels from child development and moral and social values perspectives in addition to literary and historical treatments. Re-Reading Harry Potter, Suman Gupta's brief monograph, attempts to use what he calls a "text-to-world approach" in examining political and social issues he claims the novels raise about society, including matters of race and class.

Following Anatol's introduction, Reading's 14 essays are divided into three sections: "Reading Harry Potter Through Theories of Child Development," "Literary Influences and Historical Contexts," and "Morality and Social Values: Issues of Power." The first and last parts bookend the slightly shorter middle section with five essays each. The book's 217 pages conclude with a selected bibliography, index, and notes about the contributors.

Essays in the child development section include "Archetypes and the Unconscious in Harry Potter and Diana Wynne Jones's Fire and Hemlock and Dogsbody, " by Alice Mills; "Harry Potter and the Magical Looking Glass: Reading the Secret Life of the Preadolescent," by Lisa Damour; "Harry Potter and the Acquisition of Knowledge," by Lisa Hopkins; "Safe as Houses: Sorting and School Houses at Hogwarts," by Chantel Lavoie, and "Harry and Hierarchy: Book Banning as a Reaction to the Subversion of Authority," by Rebecca Stephens. These essays address psychological approaches to Harry's adolescence with both Jungian and Freudian readings, as well as speaking to the way young people acquire knowledge and handle hierarchal authority. In her essay on the latter subject, Stephens cautions against dismissal of Potter detractors and warns fellow critics of the series against "walling ourselves off into factions" (63).

The literary and historical contexts section contains "Harry Potter's Schooldays: J. K. Rowling and the British Boarding School Novel," by Karen Manners Smith; "Accepting Mudbloods: The Ambivalent and Social Vision of J. K. Rowling's Fairy Tales," by Elaine Ostry; "Hermione and the House-Elves: The Literary and Historical Contexts of J. K. Rowling's Antislavery Campaign," by Brycchan Carey; and "Flying Cars, Floo Powder, and Flaming Torches: The Hi-Tech, Low-Tech World of Wizardry," by Margaret J. Oakes. The novels are considered here in the contexts of the school story and fairy tale genres of children's literature. Also addressed are the tradition of abolitionist literature and the role of technology in the series as commentary on science in today's world. Oakes writes that wizards are better able to access the knowledge necessary to make their magic "technology" work. By contrast, she writes, in our world, "An unfortunate by-product of burgeoning technology...is an increasing level of knowledge required to understand it, coupled with the decreased level of knowledge required to use it" (119). One result of this substitution of technology for knowledge, Oakes contends, is a dependence on machines that is "doubly dangerous" (120).

The final section of the book takes up issues of moral and social values in the following essays: "Cruel Heroes and Treacherous Texts: Educating the Reader in Moral Complexity and Critical Reading in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter Books," by Veronica L. Schanoes; "Harry Potter and the Rule of Law: The Central Weakness of Legal Concepts in the Wizard World," by Susan Hall; "The Fall Empire: Exploring Ethnic Otherness in the World of...

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