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By Tania Chakraborti, Gale Ambassador at Durham University
Tania is a Gale student ambassador and final year English Literature and History student at Durham University. During her time at Durham she has engaged with student journalism, student theatre, and is currently President of the English Literature Society. She finds Gale’s resources invaluable to her studies and is currently using them to explore a dissertation on Winston Churchill’s rhetoric towards India.
Since 1997 when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published, the Harry Potter series has sold over 500 million copies across the globe, making it the best-selling book series of all time. Of course, I don’t need to tell you this, the wide-reaching influence of Harry Potter is apparent enough for all to see: with a multi-billion-dollar film franchise, a West End Show and even a theme park at Universal Studios Florida, this magical world is clearly subsumed into a mode of popular culture. Any attempt at a brand new interpretation of Harry’s exciting venture into the world of wizardry seems old news, even impossible. Yet, through utilising Gale’s impressive wealth of resources, novel, innovative and informative interpretations of the well-known books can still provide fresh takes on the series.
Through searching Gale Literary Resources, a world of critical interpretations and different modes of thinking about the series can be opened up, such as multiple feminist readings. In Rikva Temima Kellner’s essay J.K Rowling’s Ambivalence Towards Feminism: House Elves- Women in Disguise in the “Harry Potter” Books she argues “that enslaved house elves of the “Harry Potter” series should be seen as indirect and perhaps unintentional representations of unemancipated and unempowered women of the past, and those in oppressive societies today”. Despite being an off-the-wall take on the tale, Kellner makes attempts to look at how J.K Rowling’s work might at first appear to be feminist (such as Hermione Granger’s bravery, the presence of strong female professors, how two founders of Hogwarts were women, amongst others). However, she does not see this as enough to promote the series as kind to a feminist interpretation through, perhaps in a far-fetched manner, positing the patriarchal symbol of the House Elf in the text as representative of patriarchy-oppressed women in modern day society. She concludes her essay after using many textual examples that “women and house elves are putty to be shaped by stronger members of society, witches and wizards or men”.
Victoria Lynne Scholz has gone in a completely different critical direction in her 2018 essay Other Muggles’ Children: Power and Oppression in Harry Potter, which uses the popular novel as a lens through which to view the pitfalls in modern day education systems. She states that, despite J.K Rowling’s potential intentions, “from an American perspective, the state of education described in the novels appears appalling, even though it is not really much different from what we know, and the best efforts of educators to promote a healthy and effective learning environment are often dismissed by government officials more interested in test scores than in applicable skills”. Her essay shows, through multiple examples, how Harry’s world is one of oppression; he is bullied consistently by the Dursleys; the three unforgivable curses represent the fear of evil doing and suspicion in society; and the wizarding world is blighted by class segregation, as shown through the distinction of roles available at the Ministry, or the derogatory classification between wizard and Muggle. Scholz sees these emblems of oppression throughout the books as similar to the “current society in the United States, the students and educators at Hogwarts are also oppressed by the government, but in the form of the Ministry of Magic which sets the rules, monitors magic usage, and conducts judicial hearings as needed.” Scholz thus sees a criticism of society, its educational system and its government, as the biggest take-away from the popular franchise.
Given the far reaching implications of the series’ success, it might be of interest to see how the book series itself was first received in critical interpretation: in Gale’s archives, many of the original book reviews are available to peruse at one’s leisure, such Charles De Lint’s review at the turn of the millennium, which praises ‘Rowling’s language’ and finds Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to be “just as charming and entertaining as the first book”. Eighteen years on from De Lint’s review of only the second in the seven-book franchise, it is hard to see Rowling’s novels as anything but entertaining. Yet, Gale’s archives are useful sources for finding new routes into books we know and love so well, perhaps elucidating darker meanings than one might originally expect from teen fiction.
Blog Post Cover Image Citation: “Potter still a banker for Bloomsbury.” Independent, 28 Oct. 2015, p. 49. The Independent Digital Archive, http://tinyurl.galegroup.com/tinyurl/8bm4F5