Harry Potter has been the most famous wizard for twenty years. On June 26, 1997, “Harry Potter at the Wizard’s School” was released, with Harry Potter All Characters Name Signature Shirt, the first novel in a saga that is no longer presented. A publishing success that has pushed the boundaries between adolescent and adult literature. In many libraries, the book is horny because it has been passed from hand to hand in the family or read and reread. The first volume of the Harry Potter saga, Harry Potter at the Wizard’s School, celebrates its 20th anniversary today and remains one of the greatest publishing successes in the world with more than 450 million copies sold, translated into no less than 67 languages (including Latin and Breton). This is without even mentioning the figures related to film adaptations, video games and other related products.
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A huge publishing success, the saga by J. K. Rowling has appealed to both children and adults, blurring the line between adolescent and more mature literature, maintaining a confluence of genres – if not confusion – welcome, at a time when the barrier between adolescence and adulthood is constantly being redefined. So what is the reason for Harry Potter’s success? “There is almost everything,” says Béatrice Bomel-Rainelli, lecturer at the IUFM in Nice and specialist in children’s literature. You have a work that is at the same time related to the enigma, psychology, politics, adventure, novels of adolescence, residential school, farce, all forms of humour… It is a complete universe. This is what allows success at all levels.”
Far from restricting himself to a literary genre, J. K. Rowling preferred to borrow from several of them, starting with fairy tales and fantasy. Harry Potter is thus nothing more than the traditional hero with an unhappy childhood, an orphan, who will be fulfilled by becoming “the hero who is a chosen one, who is predestined, who has a quest that makes him embody good against evil,” says Béatrice Bomel-Rainelli. But what is striking is the transformation of this: while fantasy has an aristocratic ideology on the theme of election, Rowling, who is a left-wing woman, mocks this tradition and will undermine it. She brings a critique of this theme. The resolution of the enigma that Harry Potter is shows that he is nothing special: what made him elected is that he was chosen as his enemy by Lord Voldemort. Harry Potter is only a chosen one because he was believed to be a chosen one.”
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J. K. Rowling thus deconstructs the traditional genre novel: before Harry Potter, teenage literature was in a realistic phase, with a majority of novels set in a contemporary universe. Harry Potter signs the return to the wonderful. In fantastic children’s literature, teenagers often have to cross a border into another world, like the hole in which Alice in Wonderland’s heroine falls or the closet that leads the heroes to The World of Narnia. But if Hogwarts Express, hidden on channel 9 ¾, is here as a place of passage, the wonderful world and the contemporary world remain deeply linked: “It is obvious that J. K. Rowling has played a major role in the development of “urban fantasy”, which is now really significant, and of what is called “low fantasy”, continues Béatrice Bomel-Rainelli. We will thus have fights and the presence of supernatural beings in the real world. There are places of passage to other worlds or hidden places, both Hogwarts and The Way of the Crossing, but we will also have a lot of fighting in England today. Now, in fantasy literature, we are only in the real world. You can’t tell fantasy from fairy tales anymore.”
By placing his saga at the confluence of multiple genres, J. K. Rowling has thus created a genre of his own, to the point of leading to the industrialization of sagas for adolescents. “When there is a big success, publishing houses launch a lot of authors who will industrialize the processes,” explains Béatrice Bomel-Rainelli. Harry Potter is not industrial literature because it is a far too complex product that does not follow a narrative system, but by mixing piles of narrative systems with a very great richness will finally create a new model. He creates within the large apparent domain of fantasy, a new subgenre.
Nevertheless, Pierre Bruno, author of the book Harry Potter, angel or demon, wishes to point out that J. K. Rowling’s novels continue to be based on the natural structures of stories: “We have a writing at the crossroads of genres, but which is increasingly based on the development of the human sciences. We can see, in many authors in their youth, the influence of the theories of Bruno Bettelheim or Vladimir Popp”.
In the program Les Nouveaux Chemins de la connaissance, in March 2012, Adèle Van Reeth and psychoanalyst Paul Denis returned to Bettelheim’s work: “The tale that works is the tale that makes the child eat you up when you read it to him. Which makes the child at the end of the tale fall asleep quietly, and in the meantime completes in imagination or dream what he or she may have begun to imagine through the tale. What works is that the story gives him a kind of reflection of what is going on in his head and that he can’t exactly formulate. The stories are almost all built on the same model, as Vladimir Popp showed in Morphologie du conte_. The story is set in time, “Once upon a time…”, it’s far from what’s happening today, it’s reassuring for the child_.”
Harry Potter’s success is obviously not only due to her ability to mix genres, but also to the positions taken by her author as she unfolds her story. The universe invented by J. K. Rowling, while at first deeply Manichean, eventually gains in depth and complexity: “There is an extremely structured political and moral discourse in the work,” says Pierre Bruno. The very strong Manicheism of the first volumes will diminish as the works progress. It remains to be seen whether this was part of the author’s initial project, or whether there was some kind of correction when she changed her discourse from the fourth volume.
“It’s very nuanced and it’s not something you find in fantasy literature,” says Béatrice Bomel-Rainelli. In Tolkien, for example, we are not going to try to reanimate the bad guys, there is an absolute opposition between good and evil. While Rowling considers that we cannot reason in a Manichean way.” The fallibility of heroes, whether Harry Potter, Ron Weasley or even Albus Dumbledore, a figure of wisdom in essence, is thus opposed to Drago Malefoy’s redemption. “All beings are the place of a struggle, we choose to be on the side of good or evil, and we can choose until the end. It is a rejection of the ideology of fantasy: there the hero himself will constantly fight against a part of himself, since from the beginning he learns that he can be Slytherin like Gryffindor. To learn that he can be a Slytherin is to explain what he always fears, that he may not be totally fine. He’s going to try to prove to himself that he’s not on the side of evil.”
More than a novel that strives not to be Manichean – a rarity in the field of fantasy – Harry Potter is a political novel. Hermione Granger, a strong and probably the least fallible female character in the trio of heroes, whose influence on a generation of young women readers is well established, is thus considered a feminist character. It is also one of the only ones to denounce the mechanics of oppression, suffered here by the other magical creatures, of which the other two heroes are totally disinterested. While Béatrice Bomel-Rainelli also sees Hogwarts school (a mixed school in which everyone is admitted, regardless of resources and origins) as a political choice, Pierre Bruno nevertheless wishes to qualify certain aspects of J. K. Rowling’s choices: “What surprises me is the image of society that the work conveyed. Some people are born wizards and others are born moldus. We see in this work beyond the image that we can judge positive or not of women, of the dominated identity, that we are in a society where the destiny of individuals is determined at birth by their unequal skills. What bothers me is when the author tells us that there is a natural inequality of individuals, and that there are two ways of thinking about this inequality: the good one that is Harry’s, and the bad one that is that of the Slytherin – identified with the Nazis – who say that the inequality between beings is based on heredity and that the lower lines must be marginalized or even eliminated.” J. K. Rowling’s novels have often been referred to the psychological qualities of the protagonists, Harry Potter All Characters Name Signature Shirt, facilitating the identification of young children with heroes. “As there is everything, it is a mirror of the world, a mirror of political, social and psychological problems,” says Béatrice Bomel-Rainelli. There is obviously a success by identifying with this modest, tortured hero. Readers can find themselves in him.”