The Harry Potter phenomenon: literary production, generic traditions, and the question of values

by Glover, J.A.

Abstract (Summary)
This thesis is a study of the first four books of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. It accounts for the widespread success of the novels by examining their publication and marketing histories, and their literary achievement as narratives including a sophisticated mix of generic traditions. Chapter One looks at the popularity of the novels, comparing their material production and marketing by Rowling’s English language publishers: Bloomsbury in Britain and Scholastic in the United States of America. The publisher’s influence on the public perception of each book is demonstrated by comparative study of its mode of illustration and layout. Further, the design of the books is linked to their strategic marketing and branding within the literary world. The second chapter considers Rowling’s debt to the school story. It concentrates first on the history of this relatively short-lived genre, briefly discussing its stereotypical features and values. Traditional elements of setting and characterisation are then examined to show how the Harry Potter novels present a value system which, though apparently old-fashioned, still has an ethical standpoint designed to appeal to the modern reader. Chapter Three focuses on the characterisation of Harry as a hero-figure, especially on how the influence of classical and medieval texts infuses Rowling’s portrayal of Harry as a hero in the chivalric mode. The episodes of “quest” and “test” in each book illustrate specifically how he learns the values of selflessness, loyalty, mercy and fairness. Chapter Four surveys the contribution of modern fantasy writing to the series. It shows how Rowling creates a secondary world that allows us to perceive magic as a metaphorical representation of power. This focus on the relationship between magic and power in turn has a bearing on our assessment of the author’s moral stance. The thesis concludes by suggesting that Rowling’s unusual mix of genres is justified by the values they share, and which are inscribed in her work: the generic combination forms a workable, new and exciting mode of writing that helps to account for the phenomenal popularity of the series.
Bibliographical Information:


School:Rhodes University

School Location:South Africa

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:01/01/2004

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