Contrasted worlds in the fiction of J. K. Rowling

Between muggles And magic - The two worlds Of Harry Potter

Thesis (M.A.), 2001

98 Pages, Grade: 1,1



0 Introduction

1 Worlds Of Fantasy
1.1 Definitions of Fantasy and the Fantastic
1.2 Fantasy as a Response to Reality
1.3 Primary World and Secondary World

2 A Cartographer's Work
2.1 Two Worlds
2.2 Common Ground
2.3 The International Dimension
2.4 Their-story, Our-story ?
2.5 Two Cultures

3 "A Whisper about the Potters" - The Fantastic in the Harry Potter Novels as Subversion
3.1 Magic - The Mysterious "Other"
3.2 Harry Between the Worlds

4 The Wizarding World - Subversion or Restriction?
4.1 Harry Potter as Boarding School Fiction
4.2 Politics, Jurisdiction and the Penal System in the Wizarding World
4.3 Racism, Oppression and Slavery
4.3.1 Death Eaters and "Mud-bloods"
4.3.2 Anti-Muggle Security
4.3.3 Werewolves, Giants and House-elf Liberation
4.4 Otherness and Nonconformity in the Wizarding World

5 "Mrs Weasley alone in the kitchen" - The Concept of Family in the Novels

6 Gender in the Wizarding World

7 Conclusionor Dis-enchantment?

Deutsche Kurzzusammenfassung meiner Arbeit

Works Consulted


0 Introduction

While I was studying for my exams last spring, people around me, from my youngest cousin to my granny, started reading and talking about Harry Potter. Whatever newspaper or magazine I happened to pick up, some journalist was bound to be marvelling at the universal success of the fastest-selling books in history that seemed to appeal to readers from all age groups. So, of course, I became interested: what kind of books could attract so much attention?

The decision to write my thesis about those novels was a rather spontaneous one, based more than on anything else on the desire to deal with a completely new area. It is not a reflection of what authors have become important to me personally in the course of my studies.

Let me say it right away: although I have enjoyed reading the Harry Potter books, and will certainly be looking forward to the three sequels to come, I was not infected with Pottermania. Even so, I thought it worthwile finding out more about the books that have become a cultural phenomenon and have, on such a large scale, entered the consciousness of the turn-of-the-century person in the Western hemisphere.

In my thesis, I will analyse, more specifically, the two contrasted fictional worlds that Rowling has created in her four Harry Potter novels to date: the mundane Muggle world Harry grows up in, and the wizarding world, the fantasy world he enters once he has learned, at the age of eleven, that he is a wizard.

At first, I will establish a theoretical background, dealing with fantasy literature in general. I will give an idea of what constitutes a fantasy world and present several definitions of fantasy or the fantastic. The terms primary world and secondary world will be introduced.

The second chapter is an attempt to define and locate the two worlds in the Harry Potter novels and to find out how they relate to one another.

The core of my thesis are chapters 3-7. Inspired by Rosemary Jackson's theory about the fantastic as subversion, I would like to find out whether the wizarding world has any subversive potential. I will analyse why it initially appears subversive and whether or not it lives up to this impression. This will involve an examination of the educational and political system of the wizarding world. What does it mean to be different in the wizarding world? Is the wizarding world more open to otherness than the Muggle world seems to be? I will have a look at the concept of family that the novels promote, and questions of gender will be raised.

1 Worlds Of Fantasy

The creation of worlds altogether different from the one we know has often been associated with fantasy literature.

A literary text frequently creates its own small world, something like a microcosm within which its characters move and work out their conflicts. Jane Austen's Highbury can well be considered a world of its own. However, we would never think of classifying Emma as fantasy.

What then are the characteristics of a fantasy world? Here are a few general thoughts: When we suspend disbelief and enter such a world on its own terms, we meet characters who, although they might well seem familiar in one way or another, we will certainly not meet in the street on our way to work. Dragons or walking trees, trolls and unicorns simply do not live within the boundaries of our visible reality. Although animals certainly talk, they never speak English as Toad and his friends do in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind In The Willows.

Moreover, the laws of physics and nature as we have come to know them are suspended as soon as the fantastic enters a text. Suddenly, carpets (or cars, as in HPCS) can fly, and by touching magical rings, children are transported into different worlds as in C.S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew.

Our familiar concepts of identity are no longer reliable, as physical continuity is no longer ensured (Loder): metamorphosis and shape-shifting are staples of fantasy literature.

The laws of cause and effect might be reversed. Like numerous fantasy worlds, J.K. Rowlings "wizarding world" functions by magic as its governing principle.

Although fiction generally implies a step away from reality, "plausible stories set in times past or present, which use invented characters in real or imagined situations, (...) for all that they describe something which did not actually happen" (Hume 22), are not fantasy. Fantasy can lead us one step further: to a world that functions so differently from the one we live in, that, as far as we can see, it could not ever have been ours.

1.1 Definitions of Fantasy and the Fantastic

Definitions of fantasy and the fantastic have varied considerably throughout the twentieth century, yet what strikes me as remarkable is that most of them correspond in one point: they all emphasise a relationship between fantasy or the fantastic on the one hand, and reality, possibility or fact on the other hand.

For Tolkien, fantasy grants "freedom from the domination of observed 'fact' " (Tolkien Fairy-Stories 139).

W.R. Irwin speaks of an "overt violation of what is generally expected as possibility " (qtd. in Wolfe 39).

Eric S. Rabkin defines the fantastic as "a direct reversal of the ground rules [of a narrative world] in part determined by those ground rules" (14-15). This concept already implies that two worlds might be contrasted within a fictional text as it is done by Rowling in the Harry Potter novels.

For Kathryn Hume, fantasy involves a "deliberate(..) depart[ure] from the norms of what can be called consensus reality, the reality we depend on for everyday action" (xi). While I find this definition useful, I disagree with her when she speaks of the fantastic as a "departure from the limits of what is usually accepted as real and normal" (xii), as the terms "real" and "normal" must not, in my opinion, be equated. Postmodern fiction frequently suggests that reality is but a construct - normality certainly is.

An influential study of modern fantasy that simply cannot remain unmentioned has been Todorov's The Fantastic : A Structural Approach To A Literary Genre. However, I will not go into his concept with its distinction between the marvellous, the purely fantastic and the uncanny as it is no help with my particular questions.

Whereas fantasy has traditionally been considered a genre, this view has been called into question increasingly since the 1980s.

Jackson examines fantasy as a "literary mode" (7) that can be identified in texts that otherwise have nothing in common. (Cp. Jameson, qtd. in Jackson 7) In the course of her book, Jackson identifies the fantastic in texts by realist authors such as Henry James and Dostoievsky.

Hume understands the fantastic as "an impulse" (xii) that is, like the mimetic, part of the creative process (xii). She points out that both impulses can be at work in the same text, that is, they are not exclusive of each other.

Although all those definitions are relevant, it is Hume's understanding of the fantastic as a creative impulse that involves a deliberate departure from consensus reality, yet at the same time does not exclude the mimetic, that will be underlying my use of the terms fantasy and the fantastic in this thesis.

1.2 Fantasy as a Response to Reality

The fact that fantastic worlds seem to function beyond the pale of everyday reality, that the reader's imagination is not restricted to the constraints of a strict adherence to what we have come to refer to as fact, suggests the possibility of escapism.

While the chance to mentally escape to a world different from our own is probably one of the primary motives for why we read at all, it would not be legitimate to claim that fantastic literature has nothing else to offer.

As we have seen above, fantasy does not exist independently of reality, but constantly relates to it.

In various ways, it "enters into a dialogue with the 'real' " (Jackson 36). Hume even considers "comment upon reality" as "one of fantasy's primary functions" (xii).

1.3 Primary World and Secondary World

Before exploring the two fictional worlds in Rowling's novels, I would like to give a short overview of some of the techniques that have been used in literature to evoke the fantastic.

Tolkien, in his essay "On Fairy-Stories" has brought up the terms "primary world" (139) and "secondary world" (132). Within a text, the primary world is a recognizable (but not necessarily mimetic) representation of reality[1] whereas a secondary world is a completely imagined alternative world that must have "the inner consistency of reality" (140) yet does not have to share its laws.

Some authors have chosen to omit a primary world, "introducing their readers to their remote secondary world from the outset" (Zahorski and Boyer 57).

One well-known example is Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings", which is set in Middle Earth, a world consisting of landscapes not entirely unlike those we know[2], yet with a distinctive history, mythologies and even languages of its own, inhabited by human beings, but also hobbits, elves, dwarfs, dragons, trolls and other fantastic creatures.

The archipelago that forms the setting for Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea novels is also a fully imagined secondary world with its own particular traditions and magic as the accepted faith in most of its parts (Swinfen 82).

Although those secondary worlds have no direct relationship to any primary world, they do not exist in a vacuum. Zahorski and Boyer argue that although "the primary world does not exist - physically or geographically" (59), the two worlds are related, since the author "lives in the primary world [or, more accurately, in what would become represented in the text as the primary world - my ann.] and writes, as do all authors, from her human imagination and experience" (59). They go on to quote Tolkien, who admitted that "fantasy is made out of the Primary World" (qtd. in Zahorski and Boyer 59).

Swinfen has pointed out that most of the inhabitants of Earthsea are "human beings like ourselves" (76) and that "our immediate point of contact with Middle-earth is through that very down-to-earth creature, the hobbit (...)" (76).

What strikes me is that even the names that Tolkien and Le Guin have chosen for their secondary worlds reflect a connection to our Earth rather than a notion of complete otherness - Middle Earth and Earth sea.

To make the readers feel sympathetic, some common ground seems to be required.

This is probably one of the reasons why numerous authors have preferred to write about two worlds rather than one, and have rooted their secondary worlds in primary worlds. The primary world narrative frequently provides a frame for the secondary world narrative. The protagonists often accidentally enter the secondary world and return to it at closure like Polly and Digory in C.S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew.

This "[enables the authors] to further define their secondary worlds by comparison with this one" (Zahorski and Boyer 63) and leaves additional room for comment on extraliterary reality, sometimes giving "a fresh perspective on our lives and our world" (ibid. 64).

The secondary world can be entered through portals and across thresholds that might be actual or metaphorical, or with the help of magical conveyors[3].

While some secondary worlds give the impression of remoteness, others are very close to ours or even part of it. Sometimes, "the secondary world is simply a particular location within the primary world" (Zahorski and Boyer 71). It can also "[exist] simultaneously and in the same place but [occupy] different dimensions" (ibid. 70).

Not every author of fantasy employs the secondary world technique. Zahorski and Boyer have distinguished between "high fantasy " and "low fantasy", high fantasy meaning secondary world fantasy while low fantasy stands for texts where the fantastic irrupts in the shape of non-rational phenomena or creatures into a primary world (56).

It is helpful to set up those categories, yet I do not think that the terms are well chosen. Although high and low are not used evaluatively, those words involuntarily imply a hierarchy, and I cannot see any reason why they were chosen.

An excellent example of primary world fantasy is Ellis Kaut's Meister Eder und sein Pumuckl, as the entire story is set in contemporary Munich, the only fantastic element being Pumuckl, the little goblin, who accidentally gets caught on very real glue and must, from then on, be visible to Meister Eder.

The television series based on Kaut's books emphasises the sense of contrast between the mundane carpentry and Pumuckl by making the latter the only trick film element. It also plays with the concept of perception that is often central to primary world fantasy. As Pumuckl is not visible to anybody else (and indeed becomes invisible on the screen as soon as another person enters the set), Meister Eder is always in danger of being thought mad if he should be caught talking to him.

This relationship between the fantastic and supposed insanity is characteristic of primary world fantasy: E.T.A. Hoffmann's protagonists in Der Goldene Topf are constantly doubting their sanity as the fantastic plays with their perception of reality.

2 A Cartographer's Work

A lot of authors of secondary world fiction have drawn maps of their invented worlds.[4] Others, into whose primary worlds the fantastic irrupts often give explicit information about the time and place of their settings as if the reader should be invited to look them up and follow in the steps of the protagonists, or at least be convinced of the actuality of the events described. This is why the fictional places frequently correspond to actual places outside the text.

The fictional events of E.T.A. Hoffmann's Kunstmärchen Der Goldene Topf, for instance, are set in his contemporary Dresden. Just before the Student Anselmus has his first encounter with the fantastic, this is made explicit:

"Am Himmelsfahrtstage, nachmittags um drei Uhr, rannte ein junger Mensch in Dresden durchs schwarze Tor (...)"

(Hoffmann 5)

Although the Schwarze Tor had actually been torn down by the time Der Goldene Topf first appeared in 1814, it obviously continued to be a point of reference in Dresden[5]. Other topographical details his contemporary readers would have been familiar with include the Elbbrücke and Conradis Konditorei in the Schlossgasse. The fantastic is thus firmly rooted in the tangible world outside the text.

In the following, I would like to imagine myself as a cartographer, entering J.K. Rowling's fictional worlds in order to answer the first two questions: Where are those worlds located, and what do they look like?

2.1 Two Worlds

The two worlds that are juxtaposed in the Harry Potter novels are the Muggle world on the one hand and the wizarding world on the other hand. The main feature that makes them out as different is that the wizarding world - we are dealing with a telling name here - is governed by the principle of magic whereas the Muggle world is characterized essentially by the absence of magic.

The Muggle world, although not exactly "realistic", clearly functions as a representation of everyday reality where people have to "muggle" through without magical solutions, go to work, live ordinary lives[6] and take certain natural laws - that "owls normally hunt at night" (HPPS 12) or that rain is more probable during the day than a downpour of shooting stars (HPPS 13) - for granted. One could therefore say that the Muggle world is a primary world against whose background the wizarding world is set off as a secondary world.

By no means a mimetic representation of the world as we know it, it is what Hume would call a "subtractive world" (Hume 83pp), a literary device in fantasy literature that is frequently applied when "contrastive worlds" (ibid.) are created. In a subtractive world, "reality is greatly simplified" and "large portions of human experience [are left out]" (ibid.) in order to highlight certain features of interest. The Muggle world is largely (pun intended![7] ) represented by the Dursleys, Harry's Muggle relatives he grows up with. They are not only fairly flat characters, mainly characterised by their arbitrary cruelty and absolute heartlessness, but their obsession with "normality" is pathological. Rowling thus effectively creates a contrast between the dullness and oppression of her primary world and the abundance of funny ideas and magical gimmicks with which she furnishes her wizarding world.

The drawback of this subtractive technique is that her primary world only superficially comments on "Muggle" reality outside the text.

Apart from the Dursleys, "[m]any Muggles remain anonymous and are identified only as a group rather than individually" (Schafer 41). One example are Hermione's parents who are non-magical dentists. They only appear on the margins of the story, which is a pity, because telling the reader some more about them would throw light on different aspects of the Muggle world. While the description of the Dursley family and their reaction to any sign of magic highlights the conflict between the two worlds and makes them appear irreconcilable, the Grangers are proof of the fact that it is possible for Muggles and witches/wizards to interact in a way that is loving and respectful. While the Dursleys incessantly discriminate against Harry because of his association with the wizarding world, the Grangers obviously respect their daughter's "otherness" and are supportive of her (cp. Schafer 53). Even if the narrator never mentions how they actually feel about Hermione having turned out a witch, they accompany her to the wizarding world to change Muggle money into Galleons, Sickles and Knuts[8] and to buy her books that she needs for her education at Hogwarts (HPCS 65-73). They have no objection to her getting the Daily Prophet delivered to Southern France where they spend their summer holidays so she can "keep up with what's going on in the wizarding world" (HPPA 17).

The four books are all structured in a way that those parts of the narrative that are set in the primary world operate as a framing for the main part of the story that is set in the secondary world, and thus follow a pattern that is common in fantasy literature: it has been used for instance by C.S. Lewis in his Narnia books as well as by Lewis Carroll in Alice's Adventures In Wonderland.

2.2 Common Ground

Geographically, both Muggles and wizards inhabit the same territory simultaneously, at least to a certain extent. It is clearly implied that both worlds are set in Britain. A downpour of shooting stars is reported on the news to have been observed by "viewers as far apart as Kent, Yorkshire and Dundee" (HPPS 12). The Dursleys - Harry's relatives he grows up with - live in Surrey (HPPS 42), Hagrid flies Sirius Black's motorbike over Bristol (HPPS 22) and the Knight Bus[9] travels through Wales (HPGF). The Dursleys drive up to London to buy Dudley's school uniform (HPPS 40) and Aunt Marge sends a postcard from the Isle of Wight (HPPS 42).[10]

London is an important cultural centre from the wizard point of view as well. How intricately and organically primary world and secondary world are interwoven is nicely illustrated by the fact that Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, has a scar above his left knee "which is a perfect map of the London Underground" (HPPS 22).

Diagon Alley, where wizard supplies from wands and books such as A Beginner's Guide to Transfiguration to potion ingredients and racing broomsticks can be acquired, and its dark counterpart, Knockturn Alley, whose shops are specialised in the dark arts, are also situated in London. However, as it is frequently the case with magical places in fairy-tales and fantasy literature, only the initiated can get there.

As Zahorski and Boyer have observed,

"one of the most fascinating aspects of the relationship of secondary to primary worlds is the nature and variety of portals, and portal-like agents" (64)

This is certainly true of the Harry Potter books. The portal to Diagon Alley is concealed in a "grubby-looking pub"(HPPS 78) in "an ordinary [London] street full of ordinary people" (HPPS 78) and can, like some kind of a sesame, only be opened by magic[11]. The pub is probably indiscernable for the common Muggle eye.

"If Hagrid hadn't pointed it out, Harry wouldn't have noticed it was there. The people hurrying by didn't glance at it. Their eyes slid from the big book shop on one side to the record shop on the other as if they couldn't see the Leaky Cauldron at all. In fact, Harry had the most peculiar feeling that only he and Hagrid could see it." (HPPS 78)

As far as the fictional reality is concerned, the explanation for this obvious blindness is probably that the pub entrance is enchanted. On a more figurative level, it indicates the inability of many Muggles, caught up in a consumer society, to really see: to read between the lines of ordinary existence and go beyond the limits imposed by society, conventions and narrow definitions of reality.

Another passage that supports this reading is in HPPA where Harry is wondering why the Muggles don't hear the Knight Bus.

" 'Them!" said Stan contemptously. 'Don' listen properly, do they? Don' look properly, either. Never notice nuffink, they don'." (HPPA 44)

The name Leaky Cauldron is of course more than appropriate for a portal through which characters pass from one world to another. Symbolically, it suggests that through a leak in the surface, a different, maybe more complete perspective of reality can be obtained.

By looking at things from a different angle of vision, an otherwise familiar picture might change considerably - a philosophical stance that can even be considered Emersonian.

The secret passage way in the Leaky Cauldron does not transport the characters to a distant otherworld. On the contrary, the reader gets the impression of Diagon Alley being just a backstreet to an ordinary London street, as Harry, when he is in his room in the Leaky Cauldron

"[can] hear the buses rolling by in the unseen Muggle street behind him, and the sound of the invisible crowd below in Diagon Alley." (HPPA 63)

Two different realities are, after all, just two sides of a coin.

Another transition point between the two worlds follows a similar pattern. Like a number of perfectly ordinary Muggle trains, the Hogwarts Express, with which the wizard kids travel to their boarding school, leaves from Kingscross station[12]. But mind you, you cannot simply enter the station and walk up to the platform! To get to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, you have to

"walk straight at the barrier between platforms nine and ten. Don't stop and don't be scared you'll crash into it, that's very important. Best do it in a bit of a run if you're nervous." (HPPS 104)

Again, the wizarding reality lies just out of reach of ordinary Muggle reality, behind something as tangible as a barrier between two platforms in a well-known train station in a European metropolis. This technique that is reminiscent of E.T.A. Hoffmann's use of Dresden in Der Goldene Topf is extremely effective because it makes the reader imagine the fascinating "possibility of there being a world of magic just around the corner from the familiar world of everyday" (Jones qtd. in Briggs 76). By using actual places as settings, the text makes "an implicit claim of equivalence between the represented fictional world and the real world outside the text" (Jackson 34).

What is interesting is that the ability to break through to that hidden world is tied up with "not being scared". It does take courage to challenge boundaries and believe that it is possible to live outside of limits one has grown up to see as absolute.

Witches and wizards and their families generally do not live outside of Muggle reality. Hogsmeade, where Hogwarts students go on their day out, is "the only entirely non-Muggle settlement in Britain" (HPPA 87); outside of Hogsmeade, wizard families live in Muggle communities.

The Weasleys, an all-wizard family, with whom Harry frequently stays, live right outside the fictional Muggle village Ottery St Catchpole (HPCS 39). The fact that they "are a little outside the village" (HPCS 38) indicates that they are outsiders, a notion that is intensified when the reader is told that "the Muggle postman has never delivered to [their] house and [Mrs Weasley is] not sure he even knows where it is" (HPGF 32). Although the Weasleys are surrounded by the Muggle world, they are blissfully ignorant of it. This is even more astonishing as Mr Weasley, who works for the Ministry of Magic in the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office (ibid.), is "mad about everything to do with Muggles" (ibid.). Ron Weasley is neither able to use a "fellytone" (HPPA 463) nor to pronounce the word properly. Mr Weasley collects plugs, yet he cannot handle Muggle money (HPGF 71). The text does not reveal whether the Weasleys ever come into contact with their Muggle neighbours although they do call Muggle cabs if necessary (HPGF 144). It remains equally unmentioned whether the Weasley children ever went to a Muggle school before entering Hogwarts.

Although they live in the Muggle world in a topographical sense, the Weasleys are cut off from its society, culture and discourse altogether. They read their own wizard newspaper - the Daily Prophet -, listen to their own radio station - the Wizarding Wireless Network -, have their own pop bands - like the Weird Sisters -, and Ron has covered the walls of his room with posters of the Chudley Cannons - his favourite Quidditch team - instead of Manchester United. Most of his knowledge about the Muggle world probably comes from The Adventures of Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle, a comic series for wizards that might be the equivalent to the Goosebumps series in our world. Our own perspective is altered as the Muggle world, which represents our consensus reality, is marginalised and becomes the fictional, the unreal, the non-normal.

From Kingscross station, the Hogwarts express travels several miles north, and although there is no such statement in the text, Rowling has said in interviews that "in [her] imagination, Hogwarts is set in the north of Scotland " (qtd. in Schafer 116), a region that Schafer thinks represents the mystical and wild aspects of Britain's nature (120). It is also associated with a history of resistance to the attempts of domination by the English and therefore suggests autonomy and opposition. It is thus an appropriate backdrop for one of the centres of an alternative culture that superficially resists the alleged dullness and listlessness of Muggle life.

Whereas Muggle locations such as the London Underground are to a certain extent finite and can be compressed into a reliable map like that formed by Dumbledore's scar, Hogwarts is ever-changing, fluid and un-predictable.

"There were a hundred and forty-two staircases at Hogwarts: wide, sweeping ones; narrow, rickety ones; some led somewhere different on a Friday; some with a vanishing step halfway up that you had to remember to jump. Then there were doors that wouldn't open unless you asked politely or tickled them in exactly the right place, and doors that weren't really doors at all, but solid walls just pretending. It was also very hard to remember where anything was, because it all seemed to move around a lot." (HPPS 144-145)

Although I am not sure whether two writers as different as J.K. Rowling and Jeanette Winterson can be compared[13], I felt reminded of Winterson's representation of Venice in The Passion (49).

As for its relation to the Muggle landscape, Hogwarts resembles the Isle of Avalon from Arthurian mythology: although it is not invisible in the strict sense of the word, only the initiated can ever experience its true nature.

"If a Muggle looks at it, all they see is a mouldering old ruin with a sign over the entrance saying DANGER, DO NOT ENTER, UNSAFE." (HPGF 148)

This is one of countless "Muggle-Repelling charms" (ibid.), which are applied to keep up secrecy and seclusion. I will discuss the impact of the wizarding world's excessive occupation with the prevention of "being found" at a later stage in my thesis. At present, I would just like to draw attention to the tension between the wizarding world's geographical rootedness in the primary world on the one hand, and its separateness from it on the other hand.

Tucker has come up with an enticing idea: he has suggested that "Hogwarts is an example of virtual reality, existing alongside the normal world but only familiar to those in the know" (The Rise 231). He goes on to compare the Potter novels to video games.

"The suspension of time, and the way that Harry and his friends can chart everyone's movements on their special Marauder's Map are both familiar devices from video games. Pages of description in a Potter book can be as active as any of those screen games where clicking on to a particular feature reveals some unexpected, hidden secret within. The game of quidditch could come straight from any video arcade, with scores rattling up on the side as broomstick riders swoop in search of the elusive Golden Snitch, avoiding the assaults of aggressive bludgers on the way. Harry's encounters with absolute evil (...) are already familiar to most children from dungeons and dragons-type computer games." (ibid.)

Maybe this close association with new and exciting media is one of the fascinations many people feel about the novels.

Another thing that is reminiscent of virtual reality is Tom Riddle's mysterious diary in Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets. It works like a chat room on the internet - Ginny writes into it, revealing her deepest hopes and fears to a stranger who only comes (back) to life in the process of their virtual relationship, like many people (re)create themselves on the internet.

The moving pictures at Hogwarts have been compared by Schafer to java movement in internet images (185).

Curiously, while several plot elements are reminiscent of modern technology, Hogwarts students themselves neither have access to the internet, nor do they send e-mails or carry mobile phones. Life at Hogwarts even seems pre-industrial in many ways. Students write with quills on parchment instead of using pens, not to mention PCs. No one ever watches TV at Hogwarts. Rooms are lit by torches and candles, which accounts for the Gothic atmosphere of the school.

"Harry stamped up the stairs and turned along another corridor, which was particularly dark; the torches had been extinguished by a strong, icy draught which was blowing through a loose window pane." (HPCS 219)

A location worthy of any Gothic novel!

It seems that, although being entirely contemporary - we know that modern technology exists from Dudley's gameboys and playstations, and a lot of magical devices correspond to similar ones in our world that rely on electricity and information technology - the wizarding world also displays a strong sense of nostalgia for a vanished past.

Could it be that, after all, this is one of the reasons why it is so appealing to readers in the face of a life style that becomes more and more dominated by technology?

While we experience in our daily lives that an excessive use of television and computer games especially among kids can lead to isolation and a loss of first-hand contact with the world and others, life at Hogwarts emphasises the social aspects. Rowling’s novels thus follow a pattern that Manlove has previously discovered in English fantasy.[14]

"(...) English fantasy has a social bias. The 'hero' can sometimes be a company, as in Nesbit's groups of children, Wyndham Lewis's former schoolmates, Tolkien's Fellowship of the Ring, T.H. White's Round Table, Richard Adams's rabbits. And certainly, English fantasy involves 'meeting' and 'being introduced', as we pass through landscapes of figures; matters of social behaviour are continually at the forefront, as in how one should address a talking tree, converse with an angel, restrain a crazed toad or placate a goddess." (193)

Harry is not a solitary hero. Although the showdown of each sequel involves a final confrontation of himself alone with Voldemort, he never solves a whole mystery on his own, but together with his best friends, Ron and Hermione, who each contribute to the eventual solution according to their own talents and abilities. Harry is thoroughly unhappy when he imagines himself abandoned by them (HPCS 21 ) or when their mutual friendship is endangered by rows and/or misunderstandings (HPGF).

Questions like how to handle dragons or teachers, how to appease biting books and how to deal properly with complicated plants keep coming up throughout the novels.

While the surrogate world of television can render people's actual lives rather stagnant - Dudley ends up needing another TV set in the kitchen so he can avoid moving (between the fridge and the living-room!) altogether - life at Hogwarts depends on the dynamics of relationships.


[1] Tolkien also uses the term to indicate reality outside the text, but "of course, there is a never eliminable gap between extraliterary reality and the fictional reality" (Gilead 101). To avoid confusion, I will only use it to designate one of the planes of reality within a text and otherwise refer to "our world" or "reality outside the text" (although knowing at the same time, that these terms are just as dodgy).

[2] A friend of mine has imagined the shire from which the hobbits start off on their journey to look like the Saarland . Colin Manlove speaks of a "quasi-English idyll" (Manlove 55).

[3] Compare Zahorsky and Boyer 64, as well as Clute and Grant s.v. portal and s.v. threshold

[4] I'm thinking of Tolkien and Le Guin.

[5] It was torn down in 1812, yet Hoffmann referred to it in a letter dated in 1813 to explain where he lived in Dresden. (Hoffmann, Nachwort 139)

[6] The emphasis on "ordinariness" and "normality" in the Muggle world will be discussed in greater depth in a later chapter

[7] Schafer has criticised Rowling for portraying loathsome characters like Dudley and Uncle Vernon as excessively fat because she thus "unfortunately [perpetuates] stereotyped characteristics associated with being fat such as stupidity and laziness" (56). Compare also Tucker, The Rise 226.

[8] Wizard money

[9] A means of public transportation for witches and wizards who are stranded in the Muggle world

[10] For actual places in the Harry Potter books compare also Schafer 117-124.

[11] "(...) tap the third brick from the left above the dustbin, and stand back as the archway into Diagon Alley [opens]" (HPPA 57)

[12] This is not the first time in literature that Kingscross station has functioned as a setting for a portal to a different world. In Eva Ibbotson’s The Secret of Platform 13, a fantasy novel for children, it is an abandoned door at Kingscross that leads into a fantastic realm.

[13] For all their obvious difference, they are both writers in whose work the fantastic impulse can be identified.

[14] I am aware of the fact that the Harry Potter novels are Scottish, not English fantasy. Manlove has concentrated in his analysis on characteristic features of English fantasy and explained how it differs from Scottish fantasy. According to his research, the hero of Scottish fantasy is often an individual in conflict with society or isolated from it in some way. Harry Potter is an outsider in the Muggle world, but not so in the wizarding world.

Excerpt out of 98 pages


Contrasted worlds in the fiction of J. K. Rowling
Between muggles And magic - The two worlds Of Harry Potter
Saarland University
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
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677 KB
Die Arbeit enthält eine 13seitige Kurzzusammenfassung in deutscher Sprache.
Harry Potter, Rowling, Fantasy, Subversion, Family, Feminist View, Homosexuality, Diversity, Difference, Rosemary Jackson, Otherness, Education, Political System, Gender, primary world, secondary world
Quote paper
Magistra artium Isabelle Wagner (Author), 2001, Contrasted worlds in the fiction of J. K. Rowling, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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