This review will be a little different and contains spoilers.
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling is widely known and showered with praises. Why? What makes this series stand out in a sea of books? Yes the series is a fun magical read that young readers and old alike can get lost in, but there is more between the pages of this tale.
I read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as part of my reading assignment for my YA Lit class, so I will be focusing on this particular book. As I started reading, I realized how much I missed the wizarding world of Harry Potter and because of my class, loved the story so much more this time around.
First, lets talk about fantasy. This genre is more than an escape read. The Latin and Greek word for fantasy is phantsia, meaning the power of imagination, image or appearance; making visible. With the power of imagination, fantasy makes visible the truths of our reality. It forces us to look at our world and our lives as what is and what it could be. While the world or the story may not be true, there are universal truths weaved into the novel. One example, is racism and discrimination. This affects people all over the world and is also shown in Harry Potter. Not only do The Dursleys discriminate against the magical beings and creatures of the magical world, but there are also characters like the Malfoys who discriminate against humans (muggles) and those who come from non-magic parents (mudbloods). There also characters like Professor Lupin, who is discriminated against because he is a werewolf. His transformation to fur and sharp teeth once a month precedes the kind of person he is. Which brings me to the concept of dualities. Things that stand in contrast to one another. One one side of the story, Lupin is a kind and skillful teacher. The opposite is a monster that emerges on a full moon. A teacher that is trusted yet mistrusted by his peers. Hermoine is another example. She is struggles with loyalty to her friends as well as being a good student.
In fantasy, the hero works in the realm of morality. In this case, it’s a thirteen year old boy learning what is just and what is revenge, another duality. While Harry’s struggling with justice and revenge regarding Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew, Snape is feeling quite vengeful regarding Sirius, Lupin and the past. Which puts Harry and Snape on the same level. It’s not teacher over student. This is also the perfect example of the Junex vs the Senex archetype. A conflict that exists in both young and old alike.
Other archetypes (a very typical example of a certain person or thing; representative) include the trickster or joker. This character archetype plays tricks or disobeys normal rules to get away with something. I believe Peter Pettigrew fits this mold because he fakes his own death and lives the life of a rat for 12 years and essentially fools everyone. Other archtypes include the orphan (Harry), the sage (Professor Dumbledore), and the caregiver (Madam Pomfrey). Those are just a few. Archetypes are important because they fit into every genre. It connects the reading to reality. There is comfort in being able to relate and connect with the characters.
I also think Rowling brings up two types of fears. The first are boggarts. Which are kind of described like the boogie man or the monster under your bed or in your closet. This layer of fear is more surface; more common fears. For example, being afraid of the dark, spiders, teachers, snakes and what not. But, with comical thoughts and mind over matter (and of course a charm) those fears can be defeated. Now Rowling goes a step further and brings dementors into the mix. The dementors are horrifying creatures that suck the happiness out of you and if unfortunate, your soul. These creatures represent a soul crushing spirit and that is something different in each person. This could be mental illness, war, addiction or any kind conflict the makes you feel the state of nothingness. Just typing this is not pleasant. Of course there is way to beat said fear and conquer this dark duality with that of silver light. The happiest memories conjure a patronus that, propels the dementors away. The patronus takes a particular shape and form depending on each person and this reminds me of a support system one needs to fight away the fears. We all need a little help.
Which brings me to another point, language. Rowling is a master of manipulating words. When I see and think about dementors, I think demons. When I see the word “expecto patronum”. I see expect a patron. Which is fitting because the patronus takes a form. In Harry’s case it is a stag, which represents his father. Sirius Black’s name has meaning. Sirius is the dog-star in the constellation. Sirius can turn into an animal, that animal being a dog. Professor Minerva McGonagall, her name Minerva meaning the Roman Goddess of wisdom. Severus Snape looks like severe snake. Also fitting because he is head of the Slytherin house and quite the severe professor. One more example, Draco Malfoy. The word draco comes from the Latin word draconem meaning huge serpent or dragon. Mal is latin for bad. Again quite fitting for Draco is quite the malevolent character belonging the Slytherin house.
Besides everything mentioned above, what makes the Harry Potter series a good YA book? It is a well thought out, structured and exiting plot. The characters reflect experiences that of teen readers. This includes fights between friends or being jealous of your friends or those nervous butterflies you get when you see someone you like. Teens tend to be a little selfish and have a one track mind or exaggerate things and spread rumors; yes that is portrayed in the characters as well. Strong female protagonist are also included. Also this story breaks gender stereotypes. Quidditch is a highly dangerous sport, that both boys and girls play on. A sport where skill is recognized, not gender.
I can go on and on about this book, but for the sake of not writing a paper, I’ll stop here. For these are just a few examples in which why this particular book is amazing and why the Harry Potter series is one that will always be a favorite.