Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. A Combination of Genres

Term Paper, 2018

25 Pages


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 The Concept of Genre and its Marketing Functions

3 The Genre of Fantasy Fiction
3.1 Historical Roots and Definition
3.2 Characteristics
3.3 Elements of Fantasy Fiction in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone
3.4 Positive Effects of Reading Fantasy Fiction

4 Folktales
4.1 Historical Roots and Definition
4.2 Characteristics of the Folktale
4.3 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone as a Folktale
4.4 Positive Effects of Reading Folktales

5 The School Story
5.1 Definition and Historical Roots
5.2 Characteristics of the School story and their depiction in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone !
5.3 How School Stories Affect Their Readers

6 Conclusion


1 Introduction “He’ll be famous - a legend -[...] there will be books written about Harry - every child in our world will know his name!” (Rowling 1997 2014, 14). When J. K. Rowling wrote down this sentence, she could not foresee that these fictive words would actually prove valid in our real world. The story of Harry Potter has cast its spell over millions of people all around the world, no matter what gender, age-group or national identity they belong to. The high sales numbers and the fact that the books were translated into more than 60 languages prove that Harry Potter can be considered an international phenomenon (cf. Mende & Karg 2010, 14). Even today, seven years after the last book of the series was published, the question of how Rowling’s book series was able to become so tremendously popular remains unanswered. However, several authors attribute the book series’ success mainly to the fact that Rowling redefines the concept of genre by incorporating many different genres within her book series, such as fantasy, the school story, the folktale, myth, detective fiction, mystery and many more (cf. Alton 2003, 141). The following essay aims to find answers to the question of how the combination of several different genres contributes to the fascination of the Harry Potter novels. This will, due to space restrictions, be achieved through an exemplary analysis of the three genres that were amongst the most frequently mentioned in connection with the Harry Potter books: Fantasy, the folktale, and the school story.

Before taking a closer look at the three major genres of Harry Potter, the following chapter will first of all briefly define the concept of genre in general, give a short explanation of how genres can be used in terms of marketing strategies and of how they can influence the reader. The main emphasis of the essay will be on the following three chapters that are more or less constructed equally and contain in each case one of the above-mentioned genres. In the first part of each chapter, the genre will be defined and examined according to its origins, followed by an analysis of the main characteristics that constitute each genre. Subsequently, the characteristics of each genre will be analysed within Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone, to show that Rowling’s book series actually incorporates the different genres. Finally, it will be illustrated, how the three different genres affect the reader, leading to the fascination of the novels. As the fantasy genre influences all the others, this genre will be presented first and the most extensive, followed by the folktale and ultimately the school story.

2 The Concept of Genre and its Marketing Functions

Since this Essay aims to show how the various genres J.K. Rowling makes use of are incorporated within the Harry Potter series and how they are able to appeal to such a large audience of readers, it is important to first generally define the concept of genre itself. The concept of genre cornes from the Latin word genus and can be translated as kind of or sort of (cf. Beghtol 2001, 17). The beginning of distinguishing kinds of texts from each other by discussing their genre is to be found in ancient Greece with Aristotle (cf. ibid. 2001, 17). According to Britannica, a genre can be defined as a “distinctive type or category of literary composition, such as the epic, tragedy, comedy, novel, and short story.” Within each genre there can exist several sub-genres and new sub-genres may be invented at any time (cf. Beghtol 2001, 18). These categories and sub-categories are helpful to systemize and arrange the innumerable texts that have been produced until today according to either their superficial structure (e.g. poem, novel), their content-related characteristics such as plot, characters, time and space, or both (cf. ibid. 2001, 18). At the same time, the changeability of genres and the possibility of different categories fusing or mutating to create hybrid texts, make it difficult to identify and distinguish genres and their sub-genres (cf. Beghtol 2001, 18). Despite the difficulties of identifying literary genres clearly, readers have learned to recognize those kinds of genres, they are familiar with based on reading experiences and therefore hold expectations concerning contents and structures when reading (cf. Beghtol 2001, 18).

Often large numbers of readers share the same (or similar) names for a particular genre, have a shared understanding of the general purpose of a certain kind of text and a shared awareness of some of the formal text features that one associates with certain kinds of texts. Knowledgeable readers are able to recognize instances of many genres and to bring this recognition into play when deciding whether or not to read a particular kind of text (Beghtol 2001, 18).

Due to the instability of genres mentioned in the paragraph above, these reader expectations need to remain flexible to some extent (cf. Beghtol 2001, 19). Nevertheless, when publishing a book, the publishers make use of those more or less stable reader expectations and employ them as a marketing device, which, besides its systemizing and categorizing purpose, is another important function of genres (cf. Alton 2003, 141). What potential buyers and readers think about and expect from a book depends on those generically categorized expectations and influences them in terms of what kinds of books to buy (cf. Alton 2003, 141). Experienced readers for example, who know what characteristics are typical for the genre of a crime novel and which define a romance novel, know what to expect concerning content and style in both cases. If they do appreciate romance novels rather than crime novels, they will exclude the latter from consideration and prefer to buy the former one (cf. Beghtol 2001, 18).

First superficial assumptions on how the Harry Potter book series was able to become so tremendously popular can be made here: consisting of a range of different genres, the Harry Potter books appeal to many different readers. No matter if they appreciate fantasy, fairytales, or more realistic genres such as school stories, in Harry Potter the reader will be able to find all of them and even a variety more as had been mentioned in the introduction (cf. Alton 2003, 141). Even though Rowling integrates more realistic genres in her book series, they must be read in consideration of their fantastic background. The fantasy genre dominates the whole series and is one of the reasons why so many readers are enchanted by Rowling’s Harry Potter books.

3 The Genre of Fantasy Fiction

Since the Harry Potter novels are fantasy novels, all other genres incorporated in the book series can be seen as sub-genres of the fantasy genre and for this reason will be dealt with later on (cf. Haas 2001, 15). Before coming to the elements that constitute the literary genre of fantasy, this essay will show its historical origin and try to find a suitable definition first.

3.1 Historical Roots and Definition

In a world that is becoming more and more rational, one would not assume that texts that belong to a genre which does not meet these requirements would be able to become so tremendously popular. In contrast to these expectations many worldwide classics especially of children’s books stem from the genre of fantasy (e.g. Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia) (cf. Haas 2001, 15). While these classics were not written before the 19th century, the foundation for the fantasy genre was laid much earlier. Today, one would consider the ancient Greece’s and even the Old Testament’s writings of the gods as precursors of modern fantasy (cf. Armitt 2005, 13). Considering this, “fantasy literature has existed for many centuries and in many forms” (Mass & Levine 2002, 9). However, it was not before the mid of the twentieth century with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings that fantasy established itself as an independent and serious genre (cf. ibid. 2002, 10).

After speaking of fantasy establishing itself as a literary genre, the concept of fantasy needs to be defined. Due to the ambiguity of the term fantasy, this essay will refer to the literary genre of fantasy as fantasy fiction. Obviously, fantasy fiction implies a concept of genre that is not trying to imitate nature or humans and therefore is not realistic but fictional (cf. Petzold 1986, 12). However, in contrast to common belief, it is not the mere use of fantasy (in this context to be interpreted as imagination) that makes a fantastic text (cf. Haas 2001,24). Literary realism as a type of fictional writing, even though trying to imitate nature or human behaviour, depends on the use of fantasy too (cf. ibid. 2001, 17). According to Haas (2001, 24), it is the special way of defining and literarily describing reality. In combination with Tolkien’s definition of fantasy fiction, which is the creation of a fictional, поп-realistic Secondary World, the essentials of fantasy fiction are formed (cf. Little 2002, 53). In this sense, fantasy fiction can be defined by the creation of a Secondary World that differs significantly from what is commonly accepted to be the real world and by describing this Secondary World in a special and detailed way, so that the reader is enabled to immerse thoroughly in the fantastic world, experiencing everything within this world as if it was real (cf. Little 2002, 53). In this kind of world the reader will not be surprised by encountering for example a unicorn, because in a fictional world the existence of supernatural beings becomes credible (cf. Little 2002, 53). After this broad definition of fantasy fiction, the following sub-chapter will define the main characteristics of the genre, before the effect of fantasy fiction on the reader will be analysed.

3.2 Characteristics

As mentioned before, one of the main characteristics of fantasy fiction is the creation of a Secondary World that differs to a more or less great extent from the real world. Depending on the relation between Secondary World and real world, fantasy fiction can operate on three different levels that are as follows (cf. Haas 2001,22):

> The author does not create a Secondary World where the reader is taken into but lets impossible or supernatural creatures or objects enter the real world (e.g. Mary Poppins).

> A character living in the real world enters the Secondary World. The two worlds are made distinct and set apart from each other but still are somehow connected. This connection is frequently expressed through defined gateways, through which the protagonist is enabled to enter the Secondary World (e.g. Alice in Wonderland).

> The reader is left with no reference to how both worlds are connected with each other, as the Secondary World is set apart from the real world but with no visible link. In this case, there are no characters travelling between the two worlds and the Secondary World seems to be the real and the only world. Characters that live within this world often develop their own languages (e.g. The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings) (cf. Little 2002, 36).

In addition to how the Secondary World and the real world the readers live in are connected, there are a number of patterns concerning plot and structure appearing repeatedly in texts of fantasy fiction that will be dealt with in the following (cf. Mass & Levine 2002, 16).

Another important element frequently used by authors of fantasy fiction is oriented towards the mythic story and depicts a hero on their journey on which they must face several trials in order to achieve their goal (cf. Mass & Levine 2002, 16). This plot line is often used by authors not only of fantasy fiction, but also by authors of other forms of fiction as Mass & Levine state (2002,16). Nevertheless, in contrast to other forms of fiction, the authors of fantasy fiction, are able to “abandon many ties to the real world” (ibid. 2002, 17). The hero’s journey is often considered to be a quest, or in modern literature, an adventure. The major differences between the two of them is that the hero is sent on a quest by higher powers as the status quo of several people or even the world is at threat. During a quest, the hero has a specific goal to achieve, whereas the hero undertaking an adventure may have no precise goal and only commences their journey as a result of boredom (cf. Timmermann 2002, 98). No matter if the journey depicted is called quest or adventure, the protagonists the readers accompany on their journey often are common heroes, which leads to another characteristic of fantasy fiction (cf. Mass & Levine 2002, 20).

The common hero who sets out on a journey is by Mass and Levine (2002, 20) defined as a protagonist with whom the readers can identify. Accordingly, the hero must not be god like, as it is common in traditional myths. On the contrary, beginning the journey, the protagonist should be disadvantaged somehow, for example by being completely on their own, or by lacking the knowledge they need in order to succeed the trials on their journey. In this way, the heroes seem more familiar to the reader and therefore offer a higher potential of identification (cf. ibid. 2002, 20). To speak with the words of Mass and Levine (2002, 20): “[wjith the odds stacked against them [the heroes], they reflect the common, everyday person who struggles through the trials of life.”

Besides of the creation of a new world and the common hero who undertakes a journey, magic is another element that regularly appears within the literature of fantasy fiction. In literature, magic is, as stated by Mass and Levine (2002, 18), either used as a natural power, and thus, out of human control, or as a tool that only a particular group of humans is able to make use of. Often, characters that are able to perform magic are overwhelmed with that power given to them and do struggle between using it for good or evil actions. As a result, the magical tool in fantasy fiction can be interpreted as a metaphor for morality. This allows the reader to explore the blurring boundaries between good and evil within a fantastic landscape by opening up new perspectives in terms of judging moral standards (cf. ibid. 2002, 18, 22). The inner conflict of choosing to use magical powers for either good or evil purposes allows to introduce the last common feature of fantasy fiction: The presentation of the fight between good and evil (cf. Mass & Levine 2002, 21 ).

The depiction of the conflict between good and evil has its tradition in some of the earliest stories ever told, starting with Adam and Eve, and yet still is a highly interesting theme not restricted to concerns in the world of literature, but also regularly discussed in real life. Accordingly, the theme repeatedly is depicted by authors of fantasy fiction. The conflict of good versus evil is not only evoked and represented by the use of magic. The heroes of fantasy fiction are also frequently confronted with either people that appear to be extremely evil or extremely good and are tested to resist evil powers. By being confronted and tested, the protagonists are forced to determine their own views on morality and so is the reader (cf. Mass & Levine 2002, 21). There are still plenty other elements constituting the characteristics of fantasy fiction. However, due to space restrictions, this essay was only able to point out the most important aspects that constitute fantasy fiction, in conformance with Mass and Levine (2002).

3.3 Elements of Fantasy Fiction in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone

In order to justify that the Harry Potter novels have the same positive influences on their readers as books of fantasy fiction, leading at least partly to the novels success, it will now be shown that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone incorporates the major characteristics of fantasy fiction. The first and most important characteristic of fantasy fiction is the existence of a Secondary World. Considering the three different levels that have been introduced in 3.2, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone can be called an example of the second level. The reader gets to know the eleven-year-old Harry, living with his aunt Petunia, his uncle Vernon, and their son Dudley in Privet Drive in London. The Secondary World is the Wizarding World. It mainly evolves around the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and can be entered through defined gateways in London as for example through platform nine and three-quarters at King’s Cross, a train station in London, oran archway behind the pub Leaky Cauldron. Only wizards and witches are able to enter the Secondary World, whereas people without the ability to perform magic, called Muggles, do not even know about its existence (cf. Rowling1997 2014, 76). The Secondary World therefore is somehow placed in our world and connected with it through defined gateways. However, the two worlds differ significantly from each other. The real world is set in the 20th century, where technologies as televisions, telephones and others exist. The Secondary World, on the contrary, is described as a realm placed in a medieval time, where owls are responsible for post deliveries. Furthermore, the wizarding world differs from the real world in several other aspects such as food, sports, clothes and the classes students visit (cf. Rowling1997 2014, 109).

The second characteristic of fantasy fiction that can also be found within Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone is the journey of the protagonist. In the beginning of the book, Harry seems to be on an adventure. Harry’s adventure starts as soon as he gets onto the Hogwarts Express, and leaves his life with the Dursley’s behind, travelling from London to the Wizarding World of Hogwarts. In Hogwarts, Harry enjoys school life with his friends with whom he breaks rules, visits several classes and proves to be a natural talent in Quidditch, a wizarding sport. What seemed to be an adventure first, turns out to be a quest, when Harry and his friends learn that the Philosopher’s stone is hidden in Hogwarts and that someone wants to steal it, as well as to use it to bring the evil Voldemort back to power.


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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. A Combination of Genres
Karlsruhe University of Education
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harry, potter, philosopher’s, stone, combination, genres
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Natalie Schneider (Author), 2018, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. A Combination of Genres, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/452052


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