Eponymous hero of a series of phenomenally popular prize-winning novels written by J. K. Rowling (1970—). The series - which begins with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998) - was conceived from the start as a series of seven novels covering the seven years Harry spends as a pupil at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and among its many themes the series examines the development of identity during adolescence. The books draw heavily upon the conventions of children’s literature, their success being in part attributable to the powerful blend of school story, adventure story and fantasy. Harry is removed from an orphaned and miserable childhood into a magical version of the traditional boarding school where he learns the craft of wizardry. The books chronicle a struggle between the forces of good and evil in which Harry’s task is to preserve the world from the forces of evil embodied by the Satanic wizard Voldemort. While the abstract concepts of good and evil remain clearly defined, the central characters are depicted as complex, multifaceted beings who embody the capacity for both good and evil. As the series progresses the danger to Harry’s inner self becomes visibly greater; the ‘dementors’ of the third novel - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999) - represent not only the physical threat of imprisonment (they chase an escaped prisoner) but also the mental threat of depression.
The Harry Potter series has attained unprecedented popularity with adults as well as children, and first editions of the early books quickly became extremely valuable. However, by the publication of the fourth in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), there were signs of a critical backlash. Much of this was directed against the unprecedented pre-publication publicity, though Anthony Holden, writing in The Observer, went further, referring contemptuously to ‘Billy Bunter on broomsticks’ and complaining that the minds of Rowling’s readers would be ‘unstretched by any reflective pauses in the breathless narrative’. This judgement, however, is wide of the mark; a criticism that might justly be made of Goblet of Fire is that the opening chapters might have been shortened - though the fact that thousands of young readers (some as young as seven) are willing to tackle a novel of 636 pages is a refreshing challenge to the long-held assumption that they can cope only with slim books. The author’s inventiveness and wit are undiminished in this fourth work, and the main characters mature convincingly in a narrative which is uncompromisingly darker and more complex, and which has also successfully sustained the enthusiastic interest of adult readers.
Young readers are probably indifferent to the furore aroused by the doubts and irritation of a few adult commentators; they remain passionately loyal to J.K. Rowling and Hogwarts, and - astonishingly - many have written to national newspapers in defence of her work. On the morning of publication of Goblet of Fire, thousands of children were queuing outside bookshops as early as 7.00 a.m. to buy copies. This enthusiasm is an entirely new - and an extremely exciting - development in children’s book publishing.
-Kate Agnew: Writer and bookseller, UK.
Victor Watson: Homerton College, Cambridge, UK.
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