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About this book

J. K. Rowling's popular series of books about the boy wizard Harry Potter has captivated readers of all ages around the world. Selling more than 400 million copies, and adapted into highly successful feature films, the stories have attracted both critical acclaim and controversy.

In this collection of brand new essays, an international team of contributors examines the complete Harry Potter series from a variety of critical angles and approaches. There are discussions on topics ranging from fairytale, race and gender, through to food, medicine, queer theory and the occult. The volume also includes coverage of the films and the afterlife of the series with the opening of Rowling's 'Pottermore' website.

Essential reading for anyone with an interest in the Harry Potter phenomenon, this exciting resource provides thoughtful new ways of exploring the issues and concepts found within Rowling's world.

Table of Contents


As the last pages of The Deathly Hallows rustled shut and the final notes of music played while the closing cinematic credits for the final film rolled, some rather relieved critics were throwing a wake for Harry Potter, referring to the millions of Potter fans as mourners attending a funeral, for “finally” the Harry Potter phenomenon was dead. What?! Did they not read the book or see the movie? Have they not caught the wave to or been whisked away to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida? “Can you read Bulgarian?” Then off to, or if visiting Bulgaria, get a Potter fix by visiting the exhibition of wax works at the Earth and Man National Museum, Sofia, where there is a Harry Potter corner.
Cynthia J. Hallett

1. Glorious Food? The Literary and Culinary Heritage of the Harry Potter Series

Food is a central theme throughout children’s literature, as the focus of celebrations, the currency of bribes and rewards, a solitary pleasure and a social ritual. Whether the characters experience the deprivations of famine or rejoice at bounteous feasts, food occupies a site of narrative and thematic significance that should not be overlooked. Food can be a mundane necessity or a deeply sensuous experience; it is an everyday essential as well as a luxury:
[T]he subject of food and eating is full of contradictions and a major cause of social anxiety. In our culture food is, paradoxically, compulsively consumed and obsessively consuming […] Above all, food is never just something to eat: even when it is mundane and everyday it carries meaning.1
Siân Harris

2. A Fairy-tale Crew? J. K. Rowling’s Characters under Scrutiny

Once upon a time, there was a little boy whose parents had died and who lived with his aunt, his uncle, and their son, but his aunt was a wicked woman who treated him badly. The boy was forced to sleep in the cupboard under the stairs and was harassed by his foster family, until one day, a giant came to take him away and to tell him that he was a wizard….
Anne Klaus

3. The Way of the Wizarding World: Harry Potter and the Magical Bildungsroman

Starting in the late eighteenth century and continuing until roughly the advent of modernism, the Bildungsroman was a dominant narrative form in European literature. The Bildungsroman offers an entertaining story of a young person’s coming of age, moving from innocence to experience, with lost illusions and great expectations, while making his or her way in the world. The word Bildungsroman is sometimes translated as novel (in German, Roman) of “education” or “formation,” but the term Bildung suggests something both wider and more formative than mere “learning.” It is an education rather broadly conceived to include establishing a self-image (Bild can mean “representation” or “image”), maturing physically, emotionally, and intellectually, and of course learning how the world works, thus gaining the ability to make one’s own way in the wider world. Although the form is most associated with the nineteenth-century novel, the Harry Potter series represents a remarkable updating of the genre for the twenty-first century. In this essay, I argue that the Harry Potter books together form a magical Bildungsroman well suited to the postmodern condition in the twenty-first century.
Robert T. Tally

4. Bewitching, Abject, Uncanny: Other Spaces in the Harry Potter Films

Following the 2011 release of the final film in the Harry Potter series, The Deathly Hallows: Part 2,1 the cinematic adaptations (2001–11) of J. K. Rowling’s novels (1997–2007) became the highest grossing franchise ever.2 The films, inevitably eliciting comparison to their literary sources, display a general fidelity to the novels, although Philip Nel contends that “the attempt to be completely faithful hampers those first two films [while] recognition of the impossibility of being completely faithful liberates the third, fourth, and fifth films.”3 Irrespective of fidelity issues, the different capacities of the visual medium afford certain emphases not available in the novels. For example, Suman Gupta comments that “[a]long with the music the visual effect of the Hogwarts environment provides a sense of continuity that is not wholly due to the descriptions in the books.”4 Gupta further highlights features of the mise-en-scène that become more prominent in the films, including the visual impact of colors, costume, and the Gothic settings, as well as a more distinct contiguity between the Muggle and the magic worlds.5 A marked deviation from the final novel is its two-part cinematic version, while those films made after 2001 display an inflection of their new-millennial contexts not always apparent in the written texts, in particular, in their references to 9/11 and terrorism.
Fran Pheasant-Kelly

5. Free Will and Determinism: A “Compatibilist” Reading of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series

Great minds have debated the issue of free will and determinism for centuries; in the process, these concepts have been applied to science, religion, philosophy, and consequently literature. The basic definition of determinism is that “Every event has a cause.”1 Hard determinists and libertarians argue that free will and determinism are exclusive of each other: “if an action is determined, then the person was not performing the action of his own free will.”2 This view is considered quite radical; therefore, a more moderate theory of compatibility has arisen which suggests that freedom and thus moral responsibility are compatible with the doctrine of causal determinism: people are free to make choices concurrently with the belief that “all events (including human behavior) are the results of chains of necessitating causes that can be traced indefinitely into the past.”3 Compatibility, then, necessitates the understanding that choices are “events that do not necessarily have antecedent causes.”4
Charlotte M. Fouque

6. Dumbledore’s Ethos of Love in Harry Potter

An “ancient quarrel” is still occurring between poets and philosophers that amounts to a comprehensive clash between world views. It goes back at least to Ancient Greece and Plato’s claim in Republic that poetry has a pervasive and often harmful effect on society. According to Plato, this discord occurs because poets invent rhetorical figures to please or sway their audience—in contrast to philosophers who, more wholesomely, aim to disclose the truth.1
Lykke Guanio-Uluru

7. Harry Potter and the Origins of the Occult

In the 2001 documentary Hell House,1 a Dallas Pentecostal church creates a multimedia presentation designed to scare its patrons away from the temptations of hell. Among the sins enumerated by the performance (abortion, homosexuality, drugs, incest, suicide) is the occult. Two of the church’s scriptwriters work on a scene that situates Harry Potter within a continuum of the occult, writing a “demon’s” monologue by accusing the series of encouraging an interest in the occult, including playing with Ouija boards and becoming involved in role- playing involving magic. As with all of the other plot lines in Hell House, the occult inevitably leads to eternal damnation in hell. Harry Potter clearly represents the beginning point of a contemporary trajectory towards the occult imagined by the Dallas church’s writers and performers.
Em McAvan

8. Wizard’s Justice and Elf Liberation: Politics and Political Activism in Harry Potter

Part of what makes the Harry Potter series so appealing to a large, international audience is the books’ emphasis on discovery. As readers progress through the series, they find answers to the many mysteries that drive the plot, they learn more about characters and their motivations and, most importantly of all, they discover a new world. Readers are newcomers to the wizarding world, and they are guided through it by a main character who is likewise struggling to understand its culture and institutions. Harry and the readers begin the series naively, with little sense of the depth of the world they are about to encounter. Over the course of the series, that world comes into focus first as a world of black and white dichotomies between good and evil, and then as an increasingly complex world of hidden agendas, corruption, and moral ambiguity. Many of the wizarding world’s nuances appear when the books address political topics such as justice, the nature of authority, and political activism.
Marcus Schulzke

9. What it Means to Be a Half-Blood: Integrity versus Fragmentation in Biracial Identity

Late twentieth-century England, where the Harry Potter series is set, was a multicultural place. This plurality is represented to a minor extent in the student body of Hogwarts, with students such as Cho Chang and the Patil twins representing Britain’s large population of Asian immigrants, for example.1 Nevertheless, these characters and other students of color are so secondary to the main action that racial relations among the students cannot be examined with any adequate depth. The students from the French school Beauxbatons and the North European school Durmstrang who appear in The Goblet of Fire are gross stereotypes. The teachers of Hogwarts, as far as the reader knows, are homogenously white. Some critics have attributed the little diversity that does exist in the series to politically correct tokenism on Rowling’s part.2
Tess Stockslager

10. Magic, Medicine, and Harry Potter

The rich tradition of medicine is deeply embedded in the seven Harry Potter novels, yet the steady undercurrent of medical issues and themes in the story has received scant attention from critics. Traditional medical topics such as anatomy, embryology, physiology, and especially pharmacology permeate the books. There is even a reference to the vigorous demands and prerequisites needed for the wizarding equivalent of medical school. Medical care delivered in the magical world at St. Mungo’s Hospital and at the school infirmary is modeled on standard empathetic, humanistic, and professional values. The various medical afflictions from which the characters suffer are considered metaphors for illnesses that affected Rowling’s family members or helped her advance the points of view she wanted to express. Thus, it is important to delineate and to explore the threads of medicine and medical care woven into the novels, both in a socio-medical context and a psychological/psychiatric aspect since they are the most thematically developed. In this vein, one must examine the characters and their afflictions and explore the basic sciences as they are taught by the professors at Hogwarts.
Clyde Partin

11. Harry Potter and the Myriad Mothers: The Maternal Figure as Lioness, Witch, and Wardrobe

Families are important in the Harry Potter series. Harry’s loss of his parents is a key focal point of the narrative, and the series is book-ended by scenes that focus on family. Book One1 begins with Harry’s placement as a baby into the Dursley family environment—the opening sentence of the series setting up the issue of families, normality, and belonging—while Book Seven2 concludes with a scene about the adult Harry’s own family with his wife and children.
Roslyn Weaver, Kimberley McMahon-Coleman

12. “I Knew a Girl Once, whose Hair…”: Dumbledore and the Closet

When J. K. Rowling announced at a reading at Carnegie Hall in October 2007 that Albus Dumbledore is gay—an outing that “must count as the most unlikely in literary history”1 —positive and negative responses were immediate.2 Popular responses generally divided into two clearly defined stances: those seeing Rowling’s announcement favorably praised her for creating a positive portrayal of a gay character; unfavorable responses mainly came from the Christian right, who had already, in large part, condemned the Harry Potter books and films for their positive representation of wizardry and magic. For the Christian right, Dumbledore’s sexuality now became another reason to keep impressionable children away from the contaminating effects of these works. Academics soon entered the debate, and, while generally supportive of Rowling’s announcement, began to examine critically the underlying premises of the controversy created by the now gay Dumbledore. While readers can be sympathetic to the arguments for acceptance that the debate has prompted, significant problems exist in embracing Rowling’s outing of Dumbledore: first, as literary scholars, readers must be aware of the old critical notion of the intentional fallacy; second, positive responses rely on a far too broad definition of “queer,” forcing them into tenuous allegorical readings of the Harry Potter series; and, finally, positive and negative reactions often both rely on a historically problematic association of wizards, werewolves, and homosexuals. In effect, without textual support for Rowling’s claim, positive readings are trapped within negative stereotypes in attempting to see Dumbledore’s sexuality as a step towards greater cultural acceptance. Readers need to be wary of potentially reinforcing these stereotypes.
Jim Daems

13. “Neither Can Live while the Other Survives”: Harry Potter and the Extratextual (After)life of J. K. Rowling

On June 23, 2011, a week after initiating a countdown somewhat cryptically heralding the advent of a new web-based Harry Potter project, J. K. Rowling released an online video officially announcing “Pottermore”: an interactive online interface facilitating an “online reading experience unlike any other,” the content of which, Rowling claimed, would come to be provided by both Rowling herself and fan participants. In the video, Rowling suggests that fans and readers will build Pottermore, though she quickly adds that her presence will be obvious as she shares information about Harry Potter’s world that she has been hoarding since she started the series. While this latest Potter project seems to have been designed at least in part to traverse the presumably discrete realms of author and reader, as I will argue in the following pages, Pottermore, rather, is simply the latest example of Rowling’s insistent need to constantly assert and assert (authorial) control over her text(s) and carefully monitor and indeed police her brand and literary universe. In the following chapter, I situate the release of Pottermore, Rowling’s Harry Potter addenda or supplementary publications and especially her controversial “outing” of the Professor Dumbledore character back in 2007, alongside various authorship theories, in an attempt to offer some tentative conclusions about the ways and means of Rowling’s authorship and the anxieties informing the management of authority in our contemporary publishing landscape.
Pamela Ingleton
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