I read this, and now I have a new to-read list.
Harry Potter’s Bookshelf – Written by John Granger, published in 2009
This is the last of the John Granger books. Like the last couple, my enjoyment of this was reduced a bit by the repeated material, but, also like the last couple that shouldn’t be taken as a reflection of the book itself, which was never meant to be read under these conditions. But I actually found it less bothersome in this book than in How Harry Cast his Spell, because the book is divided into effectively stand-alone chapters, so it was much easier for me to skim the bits I was already familiar with.
The book is divided into ten chapters, each of which looks at a different genre and its influence on Harry Potter. Granger’s meticulous writing and organization is back in full force in this book. You can, more or less read each of these chapters as a complete stand-alone essay, but they also lead into one another beautifully.
The repeated chapters, on Alchemy, Christian themes, the Hero’s Journey and post-modernism were all perfectly good, I actually think this is the clearest explanation of the Hero’s Journey that Granger gives. But the more novel material is where the book really shines. The remaining chapters cover the influences of Dickens style orphan tales, Dorothy Sayer’s mysteries, Austen’s novels, Boarding School novels, Gothic novels, and Satire.
Each of these merits a commentary.
The Dickensian elements are pretty obvious although they’re well presented, but even though I thought of the mystery plot elements of Harry Potter as equally obvious, I had no idea about the specific influence of Dorothy Sayers, and I’ve actually bought two of her books, although I haven’t had time to read them yet, and will report back.
The influence of the Austen novels is more structural, the plot twists based on various character’s limited points of view, especially Harry’s are very Austen. And that’s not a connection I would ever have made myself. And a more thorough reading of Austen is definitely now on my re-reading list. What this book made me wonder about, but didn’t actually cover, is the ways in which class and manners also shows up in Harry Potter, I have a strong feeling its there, but I’m not familiar enough with Austen to say how. Readers? Anyone?
The influence of the Boarding School Novel genre on Harry Potter is something I already knew about. It showed up in Mapping the World of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but this is a much more thorough, in-depth look at the ideas. If I were to recommend only one chapter of this book it would be this one, because this is simultaneously a massive influence on the Harry Potter series, and totally unknown to a huge number of Harry Potter fans and commentators. The Boarding School system, and the social system it supported absolutely pervade Harry Potter because Harry Potter is deeply rooted in British culture and society, especially British society when its landed gentry were still a major political force, which they still are in the Wizarding World. I actually did follow this up by attempting to read Tom Brown’s School Days which is the ur-Example of this genre… I gave up. Its profoundly unreadable, but its available on project Gutenberg if you want to give it a try yourself. If you want a readable version of an unaltered Boarding School Novel, I’d recommend the ones written by Enid Blyton, which I found incredibly exotic and exciting when I was seven.
Gothic novels are another genre which I’m not personally very familiar with, and would never have thought to connect to Harry Potter myself, so this sort of blew my mind. But the description of how the Gothic genre provides the basis for Hogwarts as a setting, and how it plays into and interacts with the mystery elements are really interesting.
Satire is another genre that I thought, going into the chapter, I already had an okay grasp of. There’s plenty of satire all through Harry Potter its pretty hard to miss. But the depth this chapter gives it, in terms of not only describing the satire in Harry Potter but also its relationship to English satire as a genre revealed to me that, actually, I did not.
Of all the things that have come out of my Harry Potter Criticism Reading Project, this is exemplary of the thing I value the most. The degree to which Harry Potter is absolutely rooted deeply into the British history and the history of British literature and culture. Its something that can’t be emphasized enough its really deepening my love for the series. Its something that comes up repeatedly in many contexts, but this is one of the most obvious examples.