Harry Potter

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Harry Potter

The success of the Harry Potter franchise has led to a set of stamps being commissioned by Royal Mail, which feature the British children's covers of the seven books.
Author J. K. Rowling
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Fantasy, Thriller, Bildungsroman
Publisher Bloomsbury Publishing Flag of the United Kingdom
Scholastic Publishing Flag of the United States
Publication date 26 June 1997 – 21 July 2007
Media type Print ( Hardback & Paperback) and
audiobook
Pages Flag of the United Kingdom 3407 (in total)
Flag of the United States 4126 (in total)

Harry Potter is a series of seven fantasy novels written by British author J. K. Rowling. The books chronicle the adventures of the eponymous adolescent wizard Harry Potter, together with Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, his best friends. The central story arc concerns Harry's struggle against the evil wizard Lord Voldemort, who killed Harry's parents in his quest to conquer the wizarding world, after which he seeks to subjugate the Muggle (non-magical) world to his rule.

Since the release of the first novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 1997, which was retitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the United States, the books have gained immense popularity, critical acclaim and commercial success worldwide. The series has spawned films, video games and Potter-themed merchandise. As of April 2007, the first six books in the seven book series have sold more than 400 million copies and have been translated into more than 64 languages. The seventh and last book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released on 21 July 2007. Publishers announced a record-breaking 12 million copies for the first print run in the U.S. alone.

The success of the novels has made Rowling the highest-earning novelist in history. English language versions of the books are published by Bloomsbury in the United Kingdom, Scholastic Press in the United States, Allen & Unwin in Australia, and Raincoast Books in Canada.

Thus far, the first five books have been made into a series of motion pictures by Warner Bros. The sixth, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, began filming in September 2007, with a scheduled release of 21 November 2008. The series also originated much tie-in merchandise, making the Harry Potter brand worth $15 billion.

Overview

Plot summary

The story opens with the conspicuous celebration of a normally secretive wizarding world; for many years, it has been terrorised by the evil wizard, Lord Voldemort. On the previous night, October 31, Voldemort discovered the Potter family's hidden refuge, killing Lily and James Potter. However, when he attempted to murder their toddler son, Harry, the Avada Kedavra killing curse he cast rebounded upon him. Voldemort's body was destroyed, but his spirit survived: he is neither dead nor alive. Meanwhile, the orphaned Harry is left with a distinctive lightning bolt-shaped scar on his forehead, the only physical sign of Voldemort's curse. Harry is the only known survivor of the curse, and Voldemort's mysterious defeat causes the wizarding community to dub Harry "The Boy Who Lived". Harry (and the Dursleys) are protected by the enchantment that was produced when Harry's mother died while protecting him from Voldemort. This protection will last until his 17th birthday.

On November 1, Hagrid, a 'half-giant', delivers Harry to his only living relatives, the cruel and magic-phobic Dursleys, comprising Uncle Vernon, a bad-tempered uncle; Aunt Petunia, a woman who appears to absolutely loathe Harry; and Dudley, their spoiled and overweight son. The Dursleys are in the words of Professor McGonagall, "the worst sort of Muggles imaginable" and seek to deny Harry his magical birthright by making up a false story about Harry's parents dying in a car accident. They treat Harry as a slave and force him to live in a small, cramped closet under the stairs at their Privet Drive home.

However, as his eleventh birthday approaches, Harry has his first contact with the magical world when he begins receiving letters from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which are delivered by owls. Unfortunately, his uncle confiscates the letters before he can read them. Much to the Dursley's chagrin, Hogwarts is aware that Harry is not receiving the letters. However, the letters keep coming and Uncle Vernon decides to move the family (Harry included) to a deserted island off the coast, hoping that the letters will cease. At the stroke of midnight on Harry's eleventh birthday, Rubeus Hagrid (Hogwarts half-giant gamekeeper) kicks in the door of the house where they are staying, and presents Harry with a letter explaining that he is a wizard and has been selected to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Each book chronicles one year in Harry's life, which is mostly spent at Hogwarts. There he learns to use magic and brew potions. Harry also learns to overcome many magical, social, and emotional hurdles as he struggles through his adolescence, Voldemort's second rise to power, and the Ministry of Magic's corruption and incompetence. After facing many obstacles, forging lasting friendships, and losing countless loved ones, Harry Potter confronts the Dark Lord for the last time, and only one will survive.

For a detailed synopsis of the novels, see the relevant article for each book.

Universe

The wizarding world in which Harry finds himself is both completely separate from and yet intimately connected to our own world. While the fantasy world of Narnia is an alternative universe and the Lord of the Rings’ Middle-earth a mythic past, the wizarding world of Harry Potter exists alongside that of the real world and contains magical elements similar to things in the non-magical world. Many of its institutions and locations are in towns and cities, including London for example, which are recognisable in the real world. It possesses a fragmented collection of hidden streets, overlooked and ancient pubs, lonely country manors and secluded castles that remain invisible to the non-magical population (known as " Muggles"; e.g. the world of the reader). Wizard ability is inborn, rather than learned, although one must attend schools such as Hogwarts in order to master and control it. However, it is possible for wizard parents to have children who are born with little or no magical ability at all (known as " Squibs"; e.g., Mrs. Figg, Argus Filch). Since one is either born a wizard or not, most wizards are unfamiliar with the Muggle world. The magical world and its many fantastic elements are depicted in a matter-of-fact way. This juxtaposition of the magical and the mundane is one of the principal motifs in the novels; the characters in the stories live normal lives with normal problems, for all their magical surroundings.

Chronology

The books mainly avoid setting the story in a particular real year; however, there are a few references, which allow the books, and various past events mentioned in them to be assigned corresponding real years. The time line is sufficiently set in Chamber of Secrets, in which Nearly-Headless Nick remarks that it is the five-hundredth anniversary of his death on October 31, 1492; thus, Chamber of Secrets takes place from 1992 to 1993. This chronology was again reiterated in Deathly Hallows, in which the date of death on James and Lily Potter's gravestone is October 31, 1981. Thus, as Harry was a year old at the time of his parents' murders, his year of birth is 1980 and the main action of the story takes place from 1991 (the second chapter of Philosopher's Stone) to 1998 (the end of Deathly Hallows). Interviewed for an ITV documentary broadcast in December 2007, Rowling stated that the final battle with Voldemort's forces takes place on 2 May 1997, however, this would seem to be a mistake, and that the actual date should be 2 May 1998, fitting in with the dates given in Chamber of Secrets and Deathly Hallows.

Series

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone ( 26 June 1997) (titled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the United States)
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (released 2 July 1998)
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ( 8 July 1999)
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ( 8 July 2000)
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ( 21 June 2003)
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ( 16 July 2005)
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ( 21 July 2007)
  • All seven books in the series have been released in the English language as audiobooks. The UK editions are performed by Stephen Fry, while the American versions by Jim Dale.

Supplementary books

  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2001)
  • Quidditch Through the Ages (2001)
  • The Tales of Beedle the Bard (2007)

Origins and publishing history

In 1990, J. K. Rowling was on a crowded train from Manchester to London when the idea for Harry suddenly formed in her mind. Rowling gives an account of the experience on her website saying:

I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, and all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who did not know he was a wizard became more and more real to me.

In 1995, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was completed and the manuscript was sent off to prospective agents. The second agent she tried, Christopher Little, offered to represent her and sent the manuscript to Bloomsbury. After eight other publishers had rejected Philosopher's Stone, Bloomsbury offered Rowling a £2,500 advance for its publication.

Despite Rowling's statement that she did not have any particular age group in mind when she began to write the Harry Potter books, the publishers initially targeted them at children age nine to eleven. On the eve of publishing, Joanne Rowling was asked by her publishers to adopt a more gender-neutral pen name, in order to appeal to the male members of this age group, fearing that they would not be interested in reading a novel they knew to be written by a woman. She elected to use J. K. Rowling (Joanne Kathleen Rowling), using her grandmother's name as her second name, because she has no middle name.

The first Harry Potter book was published in the United Kingdom by Bloomsbury in July 1997 and in the United States by Scholastic in September 1998, but not before Rowling had received $105,000 for the American rights – an unprecedented amount for a children's book by a then unknown author. Fearing that American readers would not associate the word "philosopher" with a magical theme (as a Philosopher's Stone is alchemy-related), Scholastic insisted that the book be given the title Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for the American market.

Rowling's publishers were able to capitalise on this buzz by the rapid, successive releases of the first four books that allowed neither Rowling's audience's excitement nor interest to wane while she took a break from writing between the release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and also quickly solidified a loyal readership. The series has also gathered adult fans, leading to two editions of each Harry Potter book being released (in markets other than the United States), identical in text but with one edition's cover artwork aimed at children and the other aimed at adults.

Completion of the series

In December 2005, Rowling stated on her web site, "2006 will be the year when I write the final book in the Harry Potter series." Updates have since followed in her online diary chronicling the progress of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, with the release date of 21 July 2007.

The book itself was finished on 11 January 2007 in the Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh, where she scrawled a message on the back of a bust of Hermes. It read: “JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (652) on 11 January 2007.”

Rowling herself has stated that the last chapter of the seventh book (in fact, the epilogue) was completed "in something like 1990".

In June 2006, Rowling, on an appearance on the British talk show Richard & Judy, announced that the chapter had been modified as one character "got a reprieve" and two others who previously survived the story had in fact been killed. She also said she could see the logic in killing off Harry to stop other writers from writing books about Harry's life after Hogwarts.

On March 28, 2007, the cover art for the Bloomsbury Adult and Child versions and the Scholastic version were released.

After Deathly Hallows

Rowling spent seventeen years writing the seven Harry Potter books. In a 2000 interview through Scholastic, her American publisher, Rowling stated that there is not a university after Hogwarts. Concerning the series continuing past book seven, she stated, "I will not say never, but I have no plans to write an eighth book." She has since said that if she does write an eighth book Harry Potter will not be the central character, as his story has been told, and that she would not begin such a project for at least ten years.

When asked about writing other Harry Potter-related books similar to Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, she has said that she might consider doing this with proceeds donated to charity, as was the case with those two books. Another suggestion is an encyclopaedia-style tome containing information that never made it into the series, also for charity. She has revealed she is currently penning two books, one for children and one not for children.

In February 2007 Rowling issued a statement on her website about finishing the final book, in which she compared her mixed feelings of "mourning" and "incredible sense of achievement" to those expressed by Charles Dickens in the preface of the 1850 edition of David Copperfield, "a two-years' imaginative task." "To which," she added, "I can only sigh, try seventeen years, Charles…"

On July 24, 2007, Rowling announced in an interview that she "probably will" write an encyclopaedia of the Harry Potter world, which would include background information cut from the narrative as well as post-Deathly Hallows information, including details of what happens to the other characters, who the new Hogwarts headmaster is, and more. Rowling refers to the encyclopedia as the "Scottish Book", a take on the Scottish play.

In a 90-minute live Web chat, Rowling revealed what several of the characters did in the years between the conclusion of the book and the epilogue.

Translations

The series has been translated into 65 languages, placing Rowling among the most translated authors in history. The first translation was into American English, as many words and concepts used by the characters in the novels may have been misleading to a young American audience. Subsequently the books have seen translations in languages as diverse as Ukrainian, Hindi, Bengali, Welsh, Afrikaans and Vietnamese. The first volume has been translated into Latin and even Ancient Greek, making it the longest published work in that language since the novels of Heliodorus of Emesa in the 3rd century AD.

The high profile and huge public demand for a decent local translation means that a great deal of care is often taken in the task. In some countries such as Italy, the first book was revised by the publishers and issued in an updated edition, in response to feedback from readers. In countries such as China and Portugal, the translation is conducted by a group of translators working together to save time. Some of the translators hired to work on the books were quite well known prior to their work on Harry Potter, such as Viktor Golyshev, who oversaw the Russian translation of the series' fifth book. Golyshev was previously best known for translating William Faulkner and George Orwell; his tendency to snub the Harry Potter books in interviews and refer to them as inferior literature may be the reason he did not return to work on later books in the series. The Turkish translation of books two to seven was undertaken by Sevin Okyay, a popular literary critic and cultural commentator. For reasons of secrecy, translation can only start when the books are released in English; thus there is a lag of several months before the translations are available. This has led to more and more copies of the English editions being sold to impatient fans in non-English speaking countries. Such was the clamour to read the fifth book that its English language edition became the first English-language book ever to top the bestseller list in France.

Literary analysis

Structure and genre

The novels are very much in the fantasy genre; in many respects they are also bildungsromans, coming of age novels. The stories are predominantly set in Hogwarts, a British boarding school for wizards, where the curriculum includes the use of magic. In this sense they are "in a direct line of descent from Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown's School Days and other Victorian and Edwardian novels of British public school life". They are also, in the words of Stephen King, "shrewd mystery tales", and each book is constructed in the manner of a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery adventure; the books leave a number of clues hidden in the narrative, while the characters pursue a number of suspects through various exotic locations, leading to a twist ending that often reverses what the characters had been led to believe. The stories are told from a third person limited point of view; with very few exceptions (such as the opening chapters of Philosopher's Stone and Deathly Hallows and the first two chapters of Half-Blood Prince), the reader learns the secrets of the story when Harry does. The thoughts and plans of other characters, even central ones such as Hermione and Ron, are kept hidden until revealed to Harry.

The books tend to follow a very strict formula. Set over the course of consecutive years, they each begin with Harry at home with the Dursleys in the Muggle world, enduring their ill treatment. Subsequently, Harry goes to a specific magical location ( Diagon Alley, the Weasleys' residence or Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place) for a period before beginning school, which he commences by boarding the school train at Platform 9¾. Once at school, new or redefined characters take shape, and Harry overcomes new everyday school issues, such as difficult essays, awkward crushes, and unsympathetic teachers. The stories reach their climax near or just after final exams, when Harry confronts either Voldemort or one of his Death Eaters. In the aftermath, he learns important lessons through exposition and discussions with Albus Dumbledore. This formula was completely broken in the final novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in which Harry and his friends spend most of their time away from Hogwarts, and only return there to face Voldemort at the climax.

Themes

According to Rowling, a major theme in the series is the theme of death. She says:

My books are largely about death. They open with the death of Harry's parents. There is Voldemort's obsession with conquering death and his quest for immortality at any price, the goal of anyone with magic. I so understand why Voldemort wants to conquer death. We're all frightened of it.

Rowling has stated that the books comprise "a prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry" and that also pass on a message to "question authority and… not assume that the establishment or the press tells you all of the truth".

While the books could be said to comprise many other themes, such as power/abuse of power, love, prejudice, and choice, they are, as J.K. Rowling states, "deeply entrenched in the whole plot"; the writer prefers to let themes "grow organically", rather than sitting down and consciously attempting to impart such ideas to her readers. Along the same lines is the ever-present theme of adolescence, in whose depiction Rowling has been purposeful in acknowledging her characters' sexualities and not leaving Harry, as she put it, "stuck in a state of permanent pre-pubescence".

Rowling said that, to her, the moral significance of the tales seems "blindingly obvious." The key for her was the choice between what is right and what is easy, "because that, that is how tyranny is started, with people being apathetic and taking the easy route and suddenly finding themselves in deep trouble."

Achievements

Cultural impact

Since the publishing of Philosopher's Stone a number of societal trends have been attributed to the series.

The most notable trend attributed to Harry Potter has been an increase in literacy among the young. Anecdotal evidence suggesting such an increase was seemingly confirmed in 2006 when the Kids and Family Reading Report (in conjunction with Scholastic) released a survey finding that 51% of Harry Potter readers ages 5–17 said that while they did not read books for fun before they started reading Harry Potter, they now did. The study further reported that according to 65% of children and 76% of parents, they or their children's performance in school improved since they started reading the series. Charlie Griffiths, director of the National Literacy Association, said "Anyone who can persuade children to read should be treasured and what Rowling has given us in Harry Potter is little short of miraculous." British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a long time fan, said, "I think JK Rowling has done more for literacy around the world than any single human being."

Indeed as the series progresses, each book gets progressively longer, developing along with the reader's literary abilities. A word-count comparison shows how each book, save the sixth, is longer than its predecessor, requiring greater concentration and longer attention spans to complete. This fact in itself can be seen as contributory to improved literary abilities in children who tackle the series.

In 2005, doctors at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford reported that their research of the weekends of Saturday 21 June 2003 and Saturday 16 July 2005 (the release dates of the Order of the Phoenix and the Half-Blood Prince, respectively) found that only 36 children needed emergency medical assistance for injuries sustained in accidents, as opposed to other weekends' average of 67.

Crowds wait outside a Borders store in Newark, Delaware for the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Crowds wait outside a Borders store in Newark, Delaware for the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Notable also is the development of a massive following of fans. So eager were these fans for the latest series release that bookstores around the world began holding events to coincide with the midnight release of the books, beginning with the 2000 publication of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The events, commonly featuring mock sorting, games, face painting, and other live entertainment have achieved popularity with Potter fans and have been incredibly successful at attracting fans and selling books with nearly nine million of the 10.8 million initial print copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince sold in the first 24 hours. Among this large base of fans are a minority of "super-fans", similar to the Trekkies of the Star Trek fandom. Besides meeting online through blogs, podcasts, and fansites, Harry Potter super-fans can also meet at Harry Potter symposia. These events draw people from around the world to attend lectures, discussions and a host of other Potter themed activities.

The Harry Potter books have inspired the " wizard rock" movement, where a number of bands were formed whose names, image and song lyrics relate to the Harry Potter world. Examples include Harry and the Potters and The Cruciatus Curse.

Harry Potter has also brought changes in the publishing world, one of the most noted being the reformation of the New York Times Best Seller list. The change came immediately preceding the release of Goblet of Fire in 2000 when publishers complained of the number of slots on the list being held by Harry Potter and other children's books. The Times subsequently created a separate children's list for Harry Potter and other children's literature.

The word muggle has spread beyond its Harry Potter origins, used by many groups to indicate those who are not aware or are lacking in some skill. In 2003, "muggle", entered the Oxford English Dictionary with that definition.

There is an accredited course at California State University, Bakersfield devoted to the literature of Harry Potter titled "The World of Harry Potter."

The 2007 Iowa State Fair featured a statue of Harry Potter sculpted entirely out of butter. The sculpture was based on Harry's appearance in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and featured sculptures of Harry's owl Hedwig and his school trunk as depicted at the beginning of the book.

Awards and honours

J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series have been the recipients of a host of awards since the initial publication of Philosopher's Stone including four Whitaker Platinum Book Awards (all of which were awarded in 2001), three Nestlé Smarties Book Prizes (1997–1999), two Scottish Arts Council Book Awards (1999 and 2001), the inaugural Whitbread children's book of the year award, (1999), the WHSmith book of the year (2006), among others. In 2000, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was nominated for Best Novel in the Hugo Awards while in 2001, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire won said award. Honours include a commendation for the Carnegie Medal (1997), a short listing for the Guardian Children's Award (1998), and numerous listings on the notable books, editors' Choices, and best books lists of the American Library Association, New York Times, Chicago Public Library, and Publishers Weekly.

Commercial success

In November 2007, the magazine Advertising Age estimated the total value of the Harry Potter brand at roughly $15 billion (£7 billion). The popularity of the Harry Potter series has translated into substantial financial success for Rowling, her publishers, and other Harry Potter related license holders. This success has made Rowling the first and thus far only billionaire author. The books have sold over 325 million copies worldwide and have also given rise to the popular film adaptations produced by Warner Bros., all of which have been successful in their own right with the first, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, ranking number four on the inflation-unadjusted list of all-time highest grossing films and the other four Harry Potter films each ranking in the top 20. The films have in turn spawned five video games and have in conjunction with them led to the licensing of over 400 additional Harry Potter products (including an iPod) that have, as of July 2005, made the Harry Potter brand worth an estimated 4 billion US dollars and J.K. Rowling a US dollar billionaire, making her, by some reports, richer than Queen Elizabeth II, however, Rowling has stated that this is false.

On 12 April 2007, Barnes & Noble declared that Deathly Hallows has broken its pre-order record, with over 500,000 copies pre-ordered through its site.

A Maine bookseller said she had to sign a legal form stating that she would not open the boxes of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince until their official release date at midnight, and that she would cover the boxes with blankets in her back room so they would not be seen. For the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, extra security was added by limiting the number of librarians who handle the book prior to its release. Those who failed to comply with the written agreement, which employees were required to sign, would jeopardise those libraries' access to "future embargoed titles." Prior to the release of Deathly Hallows, the BBC reported that some booksellers and libraries may have been tempted to break the embargo for publicity, as there were no future Potter books to be banned from selling.

For the release of Goblet of Fire, 9000 FedEx trucks were used with no other purpose than to deliver the book. Together, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble pre-sold more than 700,000 copies of the book. In the United States, the book's initial printing run was 3.8 million copies. This record statistic was broken by Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, with 8.5 million, which was then shattered by Half-Blood Prince with 10.8 million copies. 6.9 million copies of Prince were sold in the U.S. within the first 24 hours of its release; in the United Kingdom more than two million copies were sold on the first day. The initial print run for Deathly Hallows was 12 million copies, and over a million were pre-ordered through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Others have claimed that sales of the Harry Potter books have not been highly profitable for book retailers. Intense competition to offer the best price on the popular novels has whittled away expected revenue. The suggested retail for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was $35 but Amazon.com offered the book at a discounted price of $18, with other major chains following suit to remain competitive. Some hope that the frenzy associated with the book will create sales of other items when customers are drawn to bookstores. Other small, independent sellers have tried to protect revenues necessary to keep them in business by selling the book at the suggested cover price but offering other "add-on" items like Potter memorabilia or coupons towards other purchases.

Criticism, praise, and controversy

Literary critics

Early in its history, Harry Potter received overwhelmingly positive reviews, which helped the series to quickly grow a large readership. Upon its publication, the first volume, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, was greatly praised by most of Britain's major newspapers: the Mail on Sunday rated it as "the most imaginative debut since Roald Dahl"; a view echoed by the Sunday Times ("comparisons to Dahl are, this time, justified"), while The Guardian called it "a richly textured novel given lift-off by an inventive wit" and The Scotsman said it had "all the makings of a classic".

By the time of the release of the fifth volume, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the books began to receive strong criticism from a number of literary scholars. Yale professor, literary scholar and critic Harold Bloom raised pungent criticisms of the books' literary merits, saying, “Rowling's mind is so governed by clichés and dead metaphors that she has no other style of writing." A. S. Byatt authored a New York Times op-ed article calling Rowling's universe a “ secondary world, made up of intelligently patchworked derivative motifs from all sorts of children's literature … written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, and the exaggerated (more exciting, not threatening) mirror-worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip".

The critic Anthony Holden wrote in The Observer on his experience of judging Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for the 1999 Whitbread Awards. His overall view of the series was very negative—"the Potter saga was essentially patronising, very conservative, highly derivative, dispiritingly nostalgic for a bygone Britain," and he speaks of "pedestrian, ungrammatical prose style."

By contrast, author Fay Weldon, while admitting that the series is "not what the poets hoped for," nevertheless goes on to say, "but this is not poetry, it is readable, saleable, everyday, useful prose". The literary critic A.N. Wilson praised the Harry Potter series in 'The Times', stating: "There are not many writers who have JK’s Dickensian ability to make us turn the pages, to weep – openly, with tears splashing – and a few pages later to laugh, at invariably good jokes…We have lived through a decade in which we have followed the publication of the liveliest, funniest, scariest and most moving children’s stories ever written." Charles Taylor of Salon.com, who is primarily a movie critic, took issue with Byatt's criticisms in particular. While he conceded that she may have "a valid cultural point—a teeny one—about the impulses that drive us to reassuring pop trash and away from the troubling complexities of art", he rejected her claims that the series is lacking in serious literary merit and that it owes its success merely to the childhood reassurances it offers. Taylor stressed the progressively darker tone of the books, shown by the murder of a classmate and close friend and the psychological wounds and social isolation each causes. Taylor also pointed out that Philosopher's Stone, said to be the most lighthearted of the seven published books, disrupts the childhood reassurances that Byatt claims spur the series' success: the book opens with news of a double murder, for example.

Stephen King called the series "a feat of which only a superior imagination is capable," and declared "Rowling's punning, one-eyebrow-cocked sense of humor" to be "remarkable." However, he wrote that despite the story being "a good one," he is "a little tired of discovering Harry at home with his horrible aunt and uncle," the formulaic beginning of all seven books. King has also joked that " Rowling's never met an adverb she did not like!" He does however predict that Harry Potter "will indeed stand time's test and wind up on a shelf where only the best are kept; I think Harry will take his place with Alice, Huck, Frodo, and Dorothy and this is one series not just for the decade, but for the ages." Orson Scott Card wrote a review of Deathly Hallows in which he said, "J.K. Rowling has created something that . . . deserves to last, to become a permanent classic of English literature, and not just as 'children's fiction.'" Tina Jordan of Entertainment Weekly called Deathly Hallows "stunningly beautiful" and predicted that "these books are going to be on my grandchildren's shelves, and my great-grandchildren's, and maybe even further down the line than that." A Telegraph review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and of the series as a whole, observed that Rowling's success was entirely self-made and not due to hype of her books by the publishing world, which has instead followed in her wake.

The books have also spawned studies investigating the saga's literary merit. One collaboration by a number of critics is The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter. In this volume, Amanda Cockrell concludes, "Harry Potter is not the lightweight imitation of such serious high fantasy as A Wizard of Earthsea or The Lord of the Rings, but a legitimate descendant of the darker and more complicated school story," and suggests that "we need to take a deeper look into Harry Potter, who is deeper than we think." She points to Rudyard Kipling, C.S. Lewis, Jill Murphy, Anthony Horowitz, Diana Wynne Jones, Thomas Hughes, Roald Dahl, and others as legitimate literary predecessors to the Harry Potter saga. Lana A. Whithead, editor of the book, notes that Rowling "appears to be very seriously attempting a literary achievement." John Granger, a conservative Orthodox Christian and English Literature professor at Peninsula College, writes that the "Harry Potter books are classics—and not just 'kid-lit' but as classics of world literature," and believes the books carry a "mother-lode" of deeper literary and symbolic meaning than meets the eye.

Controversy

The books have been the subject of a number of legal proceedings, largely stemming either from claims by American Christian groups that the magic in the books promotes witchcraft among children, or from various conflicts over copyright and trademark infringements.

The books' immense popularity and high market value has led Rowling, her publishers, and film distributor Warner Bros. to take legal measures to protect their copyright, which have included banning the sale of Harry Potter imitations, targeting the owners of websites over the "Harry Potter" domain name, and suing author Nancy Stouffer to counter her accusations that Rowling had plagiarised her work.

Various religious conservatives have claimed that the books promote witchcraft and are therefore unsuitable for children, while a number of critics have criticised the books for promoting various political agendas. Her revelation that the character Dumbledore was homosexual has increased the political controversies surrounding the series.

Harry Potter books

  • Rowling, J. K. (1997). Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (in English). London: Bloomsbury/New York City: Scholastic, et al. UK ISBN 0747532699/U.S. ISBN 0590353403.
  • Rowling, J. K. (1998). Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (in English). London: Bloomsbury/New York City: Scholastic, et al. UK ISBN 0747538492/U.S. ISBN 0439064864.
  • Rowling, J. K. (1999). Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (in English). London: Bloomsbury/New York City: Scholastic, et al. UK ISBN 0747542155/U.S. ISBN 0439136350.
  • Rowling, J. K. (2000). Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (in English). London: Bloomsbury/New York City: Scholastic, et al. UK ISBN 074754624X/U.S. ISBN 0439139597.
  • Rowling, J. K. (2003). Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (in English). London: Bloomsbury/New York City: Scholastic, et al. UK ISBN 0747551006/U.S. ISBN 043935806X.
  • Rowling, J. K. (2005). Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (in English). London: Bloomsbury/New York City: Scholastic, et al. UK ISBN 0747581088/U.S. ISBN 0439784549.
  • Rowling, J. K. (2007). Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (in English). London: Bloomsbury/New York City: Scholastic, et al. UK ISBN 1551929767/U.S. ISBN 0545010225.

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