Throughout history, children's books have found their ways into the
hands and hearts of many; The Chronicles of Narnia, Anne of Green Gables,
and Little House on the Prairie are prime examples. However, none of the
aforementioned series have ever, throughout the many years of their existence,
come close in sales or style to the phenomenon that is Harry Potter ("Analysis").
Children and adults everywhere have eagerly read and reread the books
in the series. Parents have claimed that it opened new doors in their
relationships with their children (Survey). Even babysitters claim that
when their charges gleefully announce "Let's go find Hogwarts!" (Harry
Potter's school where much of the four books take place) it makes their
jobs much easier (Fauss, Personal interview). Children exclaim that it
is "like life, but better" (Jones et al.), and proved that they felt that
statement to be true when they lined up to buy the 734-page fourth installment
to the series.
Where does the appeal lie in the Harry Potter series? What about
it has captured the minds of so many people, even causing it to bridge
the age gap between young and old? The answers to these questions lie
partly in the details, the characters, and the writing style, but primarily
in the sometimes painfully real situations J.K. Rowling portrays. The
legions of people who enjoy the Harry Potter books do so not only because
of the magical and detailed new world depicted, but because of the everyday
issues and feelings that are addressed within the pages.
Overwhelmingly, what people remember most about Harry Potter and
the Sorcerer's Stone, the first book, is the introduction to the world
of wizards (or, as it is referred to in the books, the wizarding world)
(Survey). To effectively convey the story she has chosen to write, the
author must provide a detailed description of Harry's new and exciting
world; she rises beyond the expectations of the readers. Her vivid descriptions
provide scope for the imagination, and also allow readers access into
another world. The chapter titled "Diagon Alley" (Rowling, Sorcerer's
Stone 63) is where the wizarding world is first displayed. In it, Harry
and the reader are shown amazing stores where they catch glimpses of equally
amazing wares and people (not to mention goblins).
Besides the physical descriptions, the names of several characters
are descriptions in themselves. For instance, Severus, the first name
of Harry's least favorite teacher (Professor Snape) means "severe" in
Latin (Encyclopedia Potterica) and Voldemort, Harry's mortal enemy and
the most evil wizard ever to exist, means "theft by death," implying that
he stole the lives of many through his mass killings. Each spell that
witches and wizards use is Latin for what the spell does; "Lumos," for
example, is similar to the Latin word for light (the spell causes the
end of a wand to light, similar to a flashlight), and "nox," the spell
that causes the light to die, is Latin for night.
A major theme in the first book is wish fulfillment. In the beginning,
Harry is stuck living with the Dursleys, a horrible family (his aunt,
uncle, and cousin) who try as hard as they can to be "normal" and hate
Harry because they know he will turn out to be as "abnormal" as his parents
were before their deaths. When Harry was a year old, Lord Voldemort, a
wizard so evil that people are too afraid even to utter his name (they
prefer to call him "You-Know-Who," "The Dark Lord," or "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named"),
killed his parents and then turned to inflict his rage on Harry. However,
for some mysterious reason, the curse he used backfired and rendered Voldemort
powerless (though not dead). Because of this utterly miraculous occurrence,
Harry was rendered instantly famous. Despite his seemingly good circumstances,
the Dursleys are his only living relatives, and therefore, he is forced
to live with them. They are so oppressive that they do not even tell him
what he is or how his parents died; they tell him his parents were killed
in a car crash and never mention the word "wizard" during his time in
The Dursleys present an interesting and true possibility to the reader:
not everything is what it seems. Outside, the Dursleys are seen as a fine
and upstanding family. They have a perfect house and consist of a stereotypical
housewife, a "lovely" son, and Vernon, a "big, beefy man with hardly any
neck" (Rowling, Sorcerer's Stone 1), the director of a good company. However,
the family is really comprised of three of the most horrible people one
could find. Petunia, Harry's aunt, is a nosey snob who is so obsessed
with being what society perceives to be acceptable that she stopped speaking
to her "abnormal" sister (Harry's mother). Vernon, Harry's uncle, is a
bad-tempered and mean man who is as set on being "normal" as his wife.
Dudley, their son, who is Harry's age, is spoiled and allowed to become
grossly overweight and indolent by his parents. Each of these people is
absolutely rancorous toward Harry, to the point where they force him to
live in the spider-filled cupboard under the stairs and frequently punish
him from food.
Throughout Harry's horrid life with his relatives, he somehow managed
to keep some wit and good humor. He frequently insults his relations (namely
Dudley (32)) and is not afraid of them at all; in fact, he regularly stands
up to them (35). Odd things happened while Harry was living with the Dursleys
before he learned what he was; for instance, when Dudley's gang of bullies
was chasing him at school, he suddenly ended up on the roof of the school
kitchens (25). However, he did not often give these occurrences consideration
until his eleventh birthday approached.
At that time, strange letters began to arrive for Harry (much to
the dismay of his relatives, who tried to keep him from reading them);
however, he never managed to read one without outside assistance. On his
eleventh birthday he was sought out and told that he was a wizard by Reubus
Hagrid. Hagrid is the very kind and eager to please groundskeeper at Hogwarts
School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the school Harry will attend so that
he can learn to be a proper wizard. As a direct result of this, he was
able to leave the Dursleys.
Harry arrives at school scared and anxious (as many people are in
a new situation) and worried about the sorting, which is a ceremony where
students put on a magical hat that tells them which house would suit them.
There are four houses in Hogwarts, and each student is sorted among them
according to his or her personal characteristics: the Hufflepuffs are
loyal and true, the Ravenclaws are smart and studious, the Slytherins
are willing to do anything to get what they want, and the Gryffindors
are brave and daring. Harry wishes there were a house "...for people who
felt a bit queasy" (119). Even from the little he has heard of Slytherin,
he does not want to be in that house; it is a widely known fact that many
Slytherins are mean, and more dark wizards had come from Slytherin than
any other house. As Harry nervously put the hat on his head, it nodded
him toward Slytherin, but he firmly refused. As a result, he was placed
in Gryffindor, a very coveted placement.
After his classes start, he is revealed to be a natural flyer (wizards
fly on broomsticks) and placed on his house's Quidditch team (Quidditch
is the most popular wizarding sport, played on flying broomsticks) as
the seeker (the most difficult position). Harry is excellent at his new
role, and is widely admired for his talent.
Harry came from nothing and became something fantastic-a rich, popular
person who can perform magic. This idea is obviously very appealing to
people; who would not, given the choice, have her wildest dreams come
true? Harry was predominately the favorite character among children, presumably
because they like what he does and imagine themselves in the situations
(Survey). He is brave and adventurous, and children like such features
in characters, not to mention that he managed to triumph over both evil
and the Dursleys (and can fly on a broom).
During his time at Hogwarts Harry often feels lost or uninformed,
but these feelings are lightened considerably by his best friend Ron Weasley.
The two meet on the train and discover that they come from very different
backgrounds: Harry has no family and Ron has too much of it; Harry is
famous and Ron is lost among his brothers; Harry is rich and Ron is poor.
Despite these differences, their weaknesses are aided by the other's strengths
and companionship, and their friendship blossoms. Harry, a famous person,
gives Ron some individual attention. Ron, who came from a long line of
wizards, is able to help Harry meld into a world that is foreign to him
(Acocella). What is especially interesting about Ron is that he is the
character people seem to relate to the most. Quite a few people name him
as their favorite character, and the reasons they cite for this choice
are that he seems the most like them and that he would make a good friend
(Survey). He is easy to relate to because of his position. There is nothing
truly amazing about him; he is average, makes average grades, and shows
no outstanding talent (except in chess); he isn't the oldest or youngest
in his large family and he is teased because of his economic state. Many
can relate to a character as universal as he.
Hermione is a girl who both Harry and Ron meet on the train, and
neither like her at first. She enters the book as a bossy know-it-all,
and immediately tries to order around both Harry and Ron (Rowling, Sorcerer's
Stone 110). However, after an ordeal with a troll (175), they become good
friends and she emerges as the voice of reason out of the three. Despite
the fact that she is from a family of Muggles (people who are not witches
and wizards), she is obviously the most qualified witch in her year (this
issue comes to the forefront in later books). Perhaps one of the most
refreshing aspects of her character is that she is not the prettiest character
in the book; described as having bushy hair and large front teeth, she
is respected for her intellect and not made to become more attractive
before being liked (Acocella). She gives the books the necessary girl
perspective, and is wonderfully real.
Draco Malfoy is also introduced. He is the second antagonist (besides
Voldemort); he is immediately portrayed as mean, stuck-up and woefully
misinformed on the ways of the world. He is the main instigator and always
finds new ways to make Harry's life just a bit more miserable; his involvement
in the series makes issues of "bullying, cliques, and ostracism" come
to the forefront (Acocella). Many people have their own personal Draco
Malfoys, and poor Harry's situation is all too easy to understand.
Professor Dumbledore is almost a mentor for Harry. He is the headmaster
of Hogwarts and subtly helps Harry through the course of the four books.
He represents the ultimate good; he is the most powerful wizard in the
world, and he guides Harry through the trials he faces in each book. At
the end, there is inevitably a moral-filled conversation with him, but
the nature of his character allows the talks to feel natural and perfectly
While at the school, Harry and his friends uncover a plot to steal
the Sorcerer's Stone, a stone that can be used to create both gold and
a potion that grants the drinker immortality (Rowling, Sorcerer's Stone
220). They deduce from bits of conversations they accidentally overhear
that Professor Snape, their potions professor (potions classes are for
brewing potions), is after it and the only thing in his way is Professor
Quirrell. Quirrell is the extremely nervous Defense Against the Dark Arts
teacher whom everyone regards as a stuttering joke. Snape is an extremely
mean professor who favors the Slytherins and despises the Gryfindors;
he is always looking to punish Harry and his friends. As a reader, it
is easy to suspect him. After going through a series of obstacles to reach
the stone and arriving at the final destination, Harry finds not Snape
but Quirrell; indeed, especially in this world, everything is not what
it seems to be (288). Here, Harry is given his first glimpse of the villain
who will presumably plague him through all seven books of the series;
Quirrell has bonded with the Dark Lord and allowed him use of his body.
It turned out that Snape had not been trying to bully Quirrell into helping
him, but bullying him into stopping his evil activities. Harry is able
to hold off Quirrell/Voldemort until Dumbledore gets to him and takes
control of the situation.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was truly a beginning book
in many ways. Its plot is light, and it is applicable to the fact that
Harry is only eleven. Much of the book is spent introducing the reader
to the wizarding world, and the only major plot twist is at the end where
Quirrell was evil instead of Snape. The plot had no lasting ramifications;
no one died, Voldemort disappeared, and Harry's life returned to as it
had been before the battle. It retains a childlike innocence and ends
with a sense of fun and eagerness for the future.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second book in the series,
opens with an ominous message from Dobby, a house elf and possibly one
of the least ominous creatures that one could possibly imagine. He is
described as being very small and odd looking with large eyes, bat-like
ears, and a high, squeaky voice (Rowling, Chamber 12). Harry is told that
he cannot go to Hogwarts because of a dark plot that was hatching, but
Harry ignores the warning. Because of this, the house elf gets him in
trouble with the Dursleys (he ruins an important dinner party and Harry
is blamed). Consequently, they lock Harry in his room.
Harry's prospects were looking grim, but Ron, Fred, and George Weasley
(Harry's best friend and his twin brothers, respectively) soon rescued
him. Fred and George are the primary mischief makers at Hogwarts; they
are always up to some trick or prank and are two of the funniest characters
in the book. They rescue him using their father's illegal flying car (the
Ministry of Magic, the wizard government, regulates such things) and Harry
escapes the Dursleys to spend the rest of the summer at the Weasleys'
The Weasleys are a very large family, all with red hair. Molly, head
of the household, and Arthur, an employee at the Ministry who loves Muggles,
are the parents. They have seven children: Bill, Charlie, Percy, Fred,
George, Ron, and Ginny. The oldest two, Bill and Charlie, have graduated
from school and have moved out. Percy is in his sixth year at Hogwarts
and has been named a Prefect, a sort of model student who gets special
privileges and responsibilities. Ginny is the youngest child and the only
girl. She is very unassuming, and has a large crush on Harry. The Weasleys
are not financially well-off; they have little money, and all of their
children have second-hand school supplies and hand-me-down robes (standard
wizard clothes). Ron is very nervous about what Harry will think of his
house as he shows Harry around, but a very satisfied Harry declares it
to be the "best house (he's) ever been in" (41).
The Weasleys are the type of family that the Dursleys would have
locked away if they were given the choice. They are not "normal" in any
sense of the word, and yet they are some of the best people mentioned
throughout the series. Erin Dineen, a librarian, best captured the message
portrayed by the Dursleys as compared to the Weasleys:
From the outside, they're always trying to portray something that's the
way things are supposed to be, and in the end we know that they're very
cruel people and they're very petty people and they're very shallow. And
the people who look like they're not the most important are usually solid
people with good values (Dineen, Personal Interview).
When the Weasleys take Harry to Diagon Alley to go school shopping,
it is revealed that a very famous wizard will be the new Defense against
the Dark Arts teacher: the handsome, charming, and pompous Gilderoy Lockhart
(Rowling, Chamber 60). Professor Lockhart immediately strikes the reader
as false, and rightly so; though he wrote several best-selling books about
how he slew several monsters, he really did none of it-he just interviewed
the real heroes, put strong memory charms on them so that they would forget
their deeds, and wrote his books about them adding details about himself
to feed his enormous ego and increase their readability (297).
Lockhart struck a chord with many people, in both a humorous way
and one that was painfully familiar. He provides much of the humor in
the second book due to his stupidity and oblivious air of self-importance,
but many of us know "Lockharts" who exist in our own lives, and they are
not nearly as humorous. Says one reader,
As I have gotten older and met more people in my career, I found out
that there is always one Lockhart in the organization. They may not be
as good- looking as Lockhart, but they overstate their accomplishments
and leave other people in the lurch (Survey).
Prejudice is directly addressed for the first time in this book.
Draco Malfoy, Harry's enemy and known hater of anyone not from a wizarding
family, insults Hermione by calling her a "mudblood." This action results
in shouting and displays of anger by many present, and Ron is so upset
about this that he attempts to curse him (Rowling, Chamber 112). The insult
is soon explained as a very offensive and derogatory comment meaning that
one has "dirty" blood (i.e. one or more of the person's parents was not
a witch or wizard)(115). It is a belief shared by several old wizarding
families like Malfoy's that only "pureblood" wizards are acceptable. Since
this is directed at Hermione, the reader immediately knows that it is
not true in any way, shape, or form. Hermione always achieves the highest
grades, she tries the hardest, and as a result she is the best witch in
her year. As Hagrid says, "...they haven't invented a spell our Hermione
can' do" (116). Despite the obvious stupidity of this idea, the prejudice
does exist; in fact it is the very fuel to the plot of the book, not to
mention a major factor in later books.
The plot of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is noticeably
darker than the plot of the first book. The legend says that the four
founders of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry-Godric Gryffindor,
Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin-worked in harmony
at first, but Slytherin soon had disagreements with them over the admittance
of witches and wizards from Muggle families. He supposedly built a secret
chamber beneath the school that only his heir could open. The chamber
contained a monster that would "purge the school of all who were unworthy
to study magic" (150). Though long regarded as nothing more than a myth,
strange things start to happen at the school; a cat, several Muggle-born
students, and a ghost are all discovered petrified (basically frozen,
unable to move in any way).
An important revelation is made to Harry when Dumbledore, up until
this point in the series an all-powerful character, is forced to leave
the school due to the amount of attacks that have occurred under his watch
(262). He learns that Dumbledore is not invincible, and that there is
a possibility that evil can triumph. However, by retaining faith in good
(i.e. Dumbledore) he is able to still receive help from him in the form
of the weapons he uses to defeat the monster in the Chamber of Secrets
Harry finds an unassuming diary that was long ago bewitched to carry
the spirit of Tom Riddle, an orphan and excellent student who went to
Hogwarts approximately 50 years before Harry attended. Apparently, the
chamber was opened while Tom was in school, and the diary tells Harry
about the circumstances (it can talk on its own), accusing none other
than Reubus Hagrid, the gamekeeper at Hogwarts and Harry's good friend
(242). Harry sympathizes with Tom due to the fact that their pasts seem
so similar (they were both orphans and forced to live in undesirable places,
Tom in an orphanage and Harry with the Dursleys), but refuses to believe
that Hagrid was the culprit. At the end of the book, circumstances reveal
that he was right to be suspicious of Tom's accusations, and that again
everything is not as it seemed. Tom Riddle was Lord Voldemort in his Hogwarts'
years, and he had taken control of little Ginny Weasley; he coerced her
into doing his bidding and opening the chamber (329). Adults primarily
remembered Tom Riddle when asked about this book (Survey), presumably
because of the memorable account of the origin of Harry's archnemesis.
Inside the Chamber of Secrets lurks one of the most descriptive monsters
in the series, a gigantic venomous snake with a deadly stare known as
a Basilisk (290). Children remembered Harry's climactic battle with the
Basilisk more than any other part in the book, presumably due to the excitement
and suspense the battle induced (Survey).
The major theme in the book is that the choices one makes determine
one's destiny. This lesson is given in small terms in the beginning, when
Harry and Ron cannot access the magical entrance to platform 9 3/4 to
get on the train to Hogwarts (68). Panicking, they decide to use Mr. Weasley's
flying car, and they crash into the Whomping Willow (a tree that can hit).
They are tired, bruised, and hungry by the time they get to the school,
and both the car and Ron's wand were severely damaged. Ron was forced
to use a broken and defective wand for the entirety of the year and Mr.
Weasley faced an inquiry at his job due to some Muggles seeing the car
as it flew (88). Also, Harry and Ron were given detentions and severe
warnings about their impulsive and foolish behavior.
Harry's character develops significantly in this book due to the
application of this theme. He has a small identity crisis dealing with
the fact that the Sorting Hat offered to place him in Slytherin, traditionally
the house where dark wizards are bred (Rowling, Sorcerer's Stone 121).
Since he had the potential to be in Slytherin he questions whether he
is just like Voldemort; after all, they were both parselmouths (they can
both talk to snakes (Rowling, Chamber 195), both orphans, and even looked
a little alike. However, Dumbledore quashes this thought with his traditional
speech to Harry after everything is finished. He states that it is the
choices a person makes that show what a person is, not his or her abilities
(333). Since Harry chose to be in Gryffindor, it makes him much different
from, and Harry's unease is put to rest. Through use of this theme, a
message is conveyed about the choices people make in everyday life. When
one makes an important choice, it should not be out of impulse or convenience;
if something is easy to do it does not mean that it is correct (often
it is the opposite).
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets ends nearly as happily as
the first book; there are no deaths despite the climactic battle, and
though Ginny Weasley is considerably shaken, she makes a complete recovery.
This is the last book in the series that concludes within itself; after
this, the books seem to be merely chapters that are part of a larger story.
Starting with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the plot
begins to get darker and extends beyond the confines of each book. While
the first two books were mostly self-contained, this book begins the overall
plot by introducing Sirius Black, a pivotal character in Harry's life
who is in a tragic predicament. This is the book that people most often
cite as their favorite (Survey), and the story is arguably the most surprising
and involving of the four.
Some of the most horrific characters, the dementors, are introduced.
A dementor is a large, human-like, cloaked creature that wears a hood
over its head so that no one sees its face. They are fear and pain personified;
they feed off of human emotion, and literally suck the happiness out of
the air around them (Rowling, Prisoner 187). When a human is near a dementor,
she is unable to think of anything happy and is instead forced to picture
her worst memory. The weapon of these avatars of fear is what is known
as the dementor's kiss: they literally suck out the soul of their victim
through her mouth, and she is forced to live the rest of her life as merely
an empty, unfeeling shell (247). Harry spends the majority of the book
trying to conquer these creatures, i.e. his fears.
The two characters who readers enjoy the most, Remus Lupin and Sirius
Black, enter the plot in this book. Many paired them when citing their
names; indeed, after the events in the book it is hard to think of one
without the other. Remus Lupin is the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher,
the first competent instructor of the subject that the students have had
so far. He is very wise and compassionate toward his students; in his
first lesson, he brings the incompetent Neville Longbottom to the front
of the class and helps him successfully deal with a monster (139). Professor
Lupin is the person who helps Harry deal with the dementors; he listens
to him relive his visions of the moment Voldemort killed his parents (he
is forced to see the memory each time he is near a dementor), and helps
him work on the spell that will eventually ward them away (236).
Despite being nice, wise, and understanding, Remus Lupin's character
has a gruesome and unexpected twist: he is a werewolf, a creature that
is feared and loathed among witches and wizards. This prejudice is again
proven to be idiotic and unnecessary, but it exists all the same. He leaves
when his secret is exposed to prevent parents from complaining (Dumbledore
is compassionate and accommodating, and never subscribes to any sort of
prejudice). This reflects a sad reality of life: if a person suffers a
certain handicap (whether it be race, sex, or condition), no matter how
wonderful that person may be she will sometimes be shunned and hated because
of who she is.
Sirius Black's situation is a living embodiment of Shakespeare's
line "fair is foul, and foul is fair" (as qtd. in Survey). Before the
death of the Potters, he was James Potter's best friend; he was even named
Harry's godfather. It was thought that he had been working for Voldemort
and betrayed the whereabouts of the Potters, causing their deaths; it
was also thought that he murdered Peter Pettigrew, one of his best friends,
after he tried to avenge the deaths of the Potters. On top of these crimes,
he was also accused of massacring twelve innocent Muggle citizens who
happened to be passing by at the time. Sirius was thrown into Azkaban
(the wizard prison run entirely by dementors) and stayed there for twelve
years, until he escaped (Rowling, Prisoner 204). Later, is revealed that
he was innocent the entire time; the real culprit was Peter Pettigrew
During their school years, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, James Potter,
and Peter Pettigrew were all close friends. When Sirius, James, and Peter
found out that Remus was a werewolf, they set out to become animagi-people
who can turn into animals at will-so that they could spend time with him
during the times when he was a wolf. This was an illegal thing to do unless
one was at a certain age and under strict watch of the Ministry; therefore,
they did it in secret. Sirius was a large black dog, James was a stag,
and Peter was a rat. During the battle that Peter supposedly instigated
for revenge, he yelled out that Sirius had betrayed the Potters, cursed
the street behind his back (killing twelve Muggles), cut off his finger
(to make it look like he had been literally obliterated), turned into
a rat, and scampered off, leaving Sirius to take the blame (353).
Despite the years he spent in Azkaban, it is apparent that he is
still a very nice and genuine person who would do anything for his godson.
People sympathize with his sordid past, and appreciate the innocent convict
scenario that J.K. Rowling has placed around him (Survey).
Harry spends the book coming to terms with the past, namely the life
(and death) of his father. This installment to the series offers him several
connections, first and foremost being his father's friends, Remus Lupin
and (especially) Sirius Black, and enemies, Severus Snape. He does not
know their connection with his father for most of the book; it is only
during the climax toward the end when all is revealed (in fact, for most
of the book he believes that Sirius was trying to kill him). It is true
that he does not stay in touch with Remus Lupin after the book ends, but
he does remain in contact with Sirius Black. Severus Snape seems to have
been his father's own personal Draco Malfoy, and the strength of their
mutual hatred seems to have transcended the generation gap (now he hates
He finds another link to his father in the Maurader's Map, a map
of all of the secret passages in the school that his father and his friends
created when they were in school (Rowling, Prisoner 192). Fred and George
were in possession of the map and gave it to Harry so that he could sneak
into Hogsmeade, the wizarding village, with the rest of the school (he
did not have a signed permission slip) (14).
When the dementors are near Harry, he hears the voices of his parents
panicking as Voldemort is about to kill them. This renders him powerless
whenever a dementor is near (they patrol the school in search of Sirius
Black), and he seeks the help of Remus Lupin so that he can ward off the
evil creatures whenever they approach. Harry begins to master the spell,
"expecto patronum"(238), meaning "release protector" (Encyclopedia Potterica),
but cannot fully accomplish this task and conjure a Patronus (the name
of the "protector" that takes on different forms for each person (Rowling,
Prisoner 237) until a very touching scene near the end. Circumstances
required that he and Hermione travel back in time by way of a Time-Turner
(an hourglass necklace that allows one to travel back in time (395)).
He had been cornered by the dementors and thought he had seen his father
from a distance warding them off, but when he traveled back in time to
save Sirius' life he realized that it was not his father, but himself.
When he realizes this (and, consequently, that it is up to him to save
his past self), he conjures a perfect Patronus that takes on the form
of a stag, his father's form as an animagus (411).
Dumbledore's conversation with him at the end helps Harry reach a
state of resolution about the connections that he found with his father
throughout the book. After glumly explaining what happened with his Patronus
(he felt silly for thinking he saw his father), Dumbledore comforted Harry:
You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don't
recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? Your father
is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself most plainly when you have need
of him...You know, Harry, in a way, you did see your father last night....You
found him inside yourself (Rowling, Prisoner of Azkaban, 427).
Harry is growing up as the books progress, and this book showed great
progress in his maturation. Coming to terms with history is no easy task,
and Harry managed to do so despite the pain it caused him and the horrors
he had to face. Losing a loved one is a very difficult thing, and something
everyone must go through at some point in her life. Though Harry was too
young to remember almost anything about his parents when they were alive,
he still feels the loss.
Death is hinted at subtly throughout the series, but it comes to the
forefront in this book because of a Hippogriff (beasts described as having
"...the bodies, hind legs, and tails of horses, but the front legs, wings,
and heads of what seemed to be giant eagles..." (114)) known as Buckbeak.
After the Hippogriff is unjustly accused of attacking a student, he is
sentenced to death. Hagrid saw the beast as a pet, and shed many tears
over the presumed fate of his beloved "Beaky." For a lengthy period of
time, the reader is led to believe that the execution took place (331),
and is forced to deal with death for the first time. However, later it
is revealed that Buckbeak did not actually die, and the reader is not
dealt this card just yet. The situation acts as a prelude to the next
book, in which death plays a larger role.
Dumbledore is further removed from his previously invincible standpoint
when he tells Harry that he cannot change the Minister's mind regarding
Sirius's innocence (393). As Harry gets older, he is being fed larger
spoonfuls of the ways of the world; as he learns in this book, the innocent
are not always allowed to walk free.
For the first time in the series, all is not right in the end. No
one died, but Sirius Black still remains an outlaw and Harry is forced
to go back to the Dursleys. Despite the darkness implied by the plot,
it is fairly sugarcoated when compared to the next book.
When people are asked about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,
the first thing they mention is its length. At 734 pages, it is indeed
very long, and written differently than the other books in the series.
For the first time, the reader is allowed a glimpse at what happens during
the summer holidays; also, it is the first time that a book begins somewhere
besides the Dursleys. In fact, it is the first time that any of the books
contained a beginning this dark at all.
While death was hinted at but never fully dealt with in previous
books, it opens with both the mention of a death and the murder of an
innocent Muggle (Rowling, Goblet 11). However, the impact is considerably
lighter than it would have been had the reader known about the deceased
characters before their deaths. In the end of the book, a character who
the reader has gotten to know is mercilessly and unnecessarily murdered,
and the subject again comes to the forefront.
Lord Voldemort rises again in a final, horrific scene where he battles
Harry, and the connections between himself and Harry are again elaborated
upon (697). As aforementioned, Harry and Voldemort are connected in many
ways: they are both parseltongues and orphans, and a new connection is
brought to the attention of the reader: their wands share a similar core.
Each wand has something magical inside it, such as a unicorn hair or a
phoenix feather. Both Harry and Voldemort's wands contain a feather from
the same phoenix, as was revealed in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
(Rowling 85), and now the consequences of this match are shown (when engaged
in battle, the wands form a link between each other) (Rowling, Goblet
663). Good and evil are very aligned in this book; the ultimate cause
of the connection between Harry and Voldemort has not been revealed yet,
but will probably be touched upon in future books.
Prejudice against Muggle-borns is again mentioned in this volume; during
the Quidditch World Cup, the Death Eaters literally play with Muggles
simply because they are Muggles (143). One of Voldemort's causes is to
rid the world of Muggles and wizards who are not pureblood, and one feels
that this will come back to haunt Hermione, whose parents are both Muggles
On the lighter side, in this book the characters continue to get
older, and with aging comes maturity, and with maturity comes interest
in the opposite sex. Veela, beautiful creatures that inspire such desire
in men that they begin to overstate their accomplishments and try to jump
off of high ledges, are introduced (103), and the characters' interest
in the opposite sex is only heightened by the occurrence of the Yule Ball
at Hogwarts (386). Many of the older readers delighted in seeing the antics
that the characters went through trying to get that special someone to
go to the ball with them (and then watching what happened when they failed).
Unrequited love is an aspect in the lives of many people, and reading
about it in such amusing terms presents a way to both understand it and
laugh at it.
The press enters as a major player in Harry Potter and the Goblet
of Fire in the form of special Daily Prophet (the newspaper in the wizarding
world) correspondent Rita Skeeter. She is a ruthless reporter who prints
grossly exaggerated and false stories, complete with out of context quotes,
causing the devastation of those who are targeted. It is an obvious replica
of today's media; if someone gets on the wrong side of the media, then
she will pay for it with the horrible things that will be printed and
aired on the television. Rita Skeeter presents the important lesson of
not always trusting what one reads (or hears), but that one should be
prepared with the knowledge that many people will.
One of the lives that Rita Skeeter throws into turbulence is that
of Reubus Hagrid; she reveals him to be a half-giant (437). Giants are
perceived to be extremely vicious and brutal, and Hagrid is very upset
by the newspaper article due to the fact that he thinks people will try
to have him thrown out of Hogwarts. The view on giants holds no truth
if one looks at Hagrid, one of the kindest people mentioned in the books.
Yet again, prejudice is proven to be untrue and based on myth.
Severus Snape is a character who, though present in all three of
the previous books, comes forward with some interesting new developments.
Despite being horribly mean to Harry whenever he gets the chance, Snape
is also against Voldemort's, which puts them on the same side in the battle
against their mutual foe. In fact, he acts as a spy by serving for Voldemort
and feeding information to the good side (590). A fan says,
He's someone who's got more than his fair share of people who hate him,
but I just love his character. He's so unpredictable and contradictory!
I mean, everyone else you can fit in a black or white box-they're all
either Good or Evil. Snape's more puzzling though: he and the main character
hate each other, yet the dear Prof. works tirelessly to protect Harry
throughout the books; he's cold and sinister, but he's putting himself
in more danger than anyone else against the Dark Lord! It's so fun to
try to figure him out (Survey)!
The true colors of Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, are shown
in the end when he refuses to look beyond what he wants to believe to
see the truth; he does not want to do what he must in order to help the
world, only what will help him stay safely in his position (708). Government
has been shown to be something that Harry Potter is unable to trust. It
is similar to government in the real world; one cannot be sure if the
will to do right is present or if it is just the will to appease the greatest
majority of people.
Death is addressed again at the end of the book, and this time it
touches a character we knew. He is killed simply because he was in the
way. Cedric Diggory's death was quick and without emotion; Voldemort told
his servant to kill him, and it was done (638). Despite the speed of the
murder, its impact was great; it was the first real, permanent loss in
the books, and Harry is noticeably affected because of it. Cedric's loss
is fittingly remembered in a speech by Dumbledore, who warns the students
of the difficult times to come and insists that they remember the senseless
circumstances that brought about his death (721). The death above all
shows Voldemort's true, cold nature; there will be no more games and light
brushes with evil in the books. One reader reflects, "I am fearful for
the characters and hope they will get through the troubled times that
are coming" (Survey).
The Harry Potter books as a whole are about a boy growing up and
learning about the world accordingly. One question remains: what will
happen in the future books of the series? Many readers refuse even to
speculate, saying that they are waiting for the books to actually come
out before they get any ideas (Survey). Others have kindly offered their
thoughts and suggestions, some silly, some fascinating, some impossible,
but all very general; it seems people have given up on looking for specifics.
The one link that could be drawn between the survey responses was the
common assumption that Dumbledore would die at some point in the series.
This was presumably deduced by many after he was described as looking
very old and weary near the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
(Rowling, Goblet 696).
The universal appeal of Harry Potter has enticed many into reading
and enjoying the books. The descriptions and situations have struck chords
with many, some who were so filled with rapture that they could not even
pick a solitary favorite character (Neil, Personal Interview). The situations
and emotions projected-whether they are as upsetting as bigotry and fear,
or as pleasing as love and acceptance-are wonderfully presented. When
applied to a story as imaginative and enduring as Harry Potter, they become
familiar enough for a child to understand and yet complex enough to be
enjoyed by adults. Wherever the series goes during book five (tentatively
titled Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) and beyond, as long
as the situations and characters remain easy to connect with and the plot
remains descriptive and engaging, the readers will follow.
Acocella, Joan. "Under the Spell: Harry Potter Explained." The New Yorker
31 Jul. 2000.
"Analysis: Popularity of the Harry Potter books for children by author
J.K. Rowling." Talk of the Nation. NPR. 6 Jul. 2000.
Dineen, Erin. Personal Interview. 11 Dec. 2000.
Encyclopedia Potterica: Name and Word Origins. 2000. 2 Jan. 2001
Fauss, Rachael. Personal Interview. 8 Dec. 2000.
Jones, Malcom et al. "Why Harry's Hot." Newsweek 17 Jul 2000
Neil, Heather. Personal Interview. 11 Dec. 2000.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic
- - -. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic Press,
- - -. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic
- - -. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. New York: Scholastic Press,
Shakespeare, William. As quoted by Survey. 7 Dec. 2000.
Survey. 7 Dec. 2000.