Harry Potter

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Novels

The Harry Potter books are an extremely popular series of fantasy novels by British writer J. K. Rowling and have made her the richest writer in literary history.

The books depict a world of witches and wizards, the protagonist being the eponymous young wizard Harry Potter. Since the release of the first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (retitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the United States) in 1997, the books have gained immense popularity and commercial success worldwide, spawning films, video games, and a wealth of other items.

The six books have collectively sold more than 350 million copies and have been translated into 47 languages. The first volume has been translated into Latin and even ancient Greek, making it the longest work written in that language since the novels of Heliodorus of Emesa in the third century AD.

A large portion of the narrative takes place in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, focusing on Harry Potter's struggle against the evil wizard Lord Voldemort. At the same time, the books explore the themes of friendship, ambition, choice, prejudice, courage, growing up, love, and the perplexities of death, set against the expansive backdrop of a magical world with its own complex history, diverse inhabitants, unique culture, and parallel societies.

Six of the seven planned books have been published, and the unnamed seventh book is yet to be released. The latest, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was issued in its English language version on 16 July 2005. The first four books have been made into very successful films, and the fifth began filming in February 2006. English language versions of the books are published by Bloomsbury, Scholastic Press, and Raincoast Books.

Origins and publishing history

In 1990, J. K. Rowling was on a crowded train from Manchester to London when the idea for Harry simply "walked" into her head. 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 didn't know he was a wizard became more and more real to me". That evening, the author began the pre-writing for her first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, a semi-detailed plan that would include the plots of each of her seven envisioned books, in addition to an enormous amount of biographical and historical information on her characters and universe.

Over the course of the next six years that included the birth of her first child, divorce from her first husband, and a move to Portugal, Rowling continued her writing of Philosopher's Stone. Eventually settling in Edinburgh, Rowling wrote much of the Philosopher's Stone in local cafés. Unable to secure a place in a nursery, her daughter would be a constant companion to her as she worked.

In 1996, 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 £3,000 advance for the publication of Stone.

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), omitting her first name and using her grandmother's as her second.

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 of 1998, but not before Rowling had received a six-figure sum for the American rights – an unprecedented amount for a children's book. Fearing that some of its intended readers would either not understand the word "philosopher" or not associate it with a magical theme, Scholastic insisted that the book be renamed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for the American market.

Over nearly a decade Harry Potter has achieved much success due in part to positive reviews, Rowling's publisher's marketing strategy, but also due to word-of-mouth buzz among average readers, especially young males. The latter is notable because for years, interest in literature among this demographic had lagged behind other pursuits like video games and the Internet. Rowling's publishers were able to capitalise on this fervour by the rapid, successive releases of the first three books that allowed neither Rowling's audience's excitement nor interest to wane, along with quickly solidifying a loyal readership. The series has also garnered adult fans, leading to two editions of each Harry Potter book being released, identical in text but with one edition's cover artwork aimed at children and the other aimed at adults. Moreover, the series is popular around the world in its many translations. Such was the global clamour to read the book that the English language edition of the series' fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, became the first English-language book ever to top the bookseller list in France.


Plot summary

The story opens with the unrestrained celebration of a normally-secretive wizarding world which for years had been terrorised by Lord Voldemort in his decade-long bid for power. The previous night, Voldemort, who had for months sought the hidden Potter family, discovered their refuge and killed Lily and James Potter. However, when he turned his wand against their infant son, Harry, his killing curse rebounded upon him. His soul was ripped from his body, and he fled into hiding, leaving Harry with a distinctive lightning bolt scar on his forehead, the only physical sign of Voldemort's curse. Harry's mysterious defeat of Voldemort results in him being dubbed "The Boy Who Lived" by the wizarding world.

The orphaned Harry Potter is subsequently raised by his cruel, non-magical relatives, the Dursleys, in ignorance of his magical heritage. However, as his eleventh birthday approaches, Harry has his first contact with the magical world when he receives letters from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which are stolen from him by his Aunt and Uncle before he has a chance to read them. On his eleventh birthday he is informed that he is in fact a wizard and has been invited to attend Hogwarts, by Hagrid, the gamekeeper of Hogwarts. Each book chronicles one year in Harry's life at Hogwarts, where he learns to use magic and brew potions. Harry also learns to overcome many magical, social, and emotional obstacles as he struggles through his adolescence and Voldemort's second rise to power.

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


The wizarding world in which Harry finds himself is both utterly separate from and yet intimately connected to our own world. Unlike the fantasy worlds of Narnia and Middle-earth, the world of Harry Potter exists alongside ours, and many of its institutions and locations are in towns, such as London, that are recognisable to anyone. It is a fragmented collection of hidden streets, overlooked and ancient pubs, lonely country manors and secluded castles that remain utterly invisible to the non-magical population (known as " Muggles"). Wizard ability is inborn, rather than learned, although one must attend schools such as Hogwarts in order to master and control it. Since one is either born a wizard or not, most wizards are unfamiliar with the Muggle world, which appears odder to them than their world would to us. Despite this, the magical world and its many fantastic elements are depicted very matter-of-factly. One of the principal themes in the novels is the juxtaposition of the magical and the mundane; the characters in the stories live utterly normal lives with utterly normal problems, despite their magical surroundings.


Owls: Owls are perhaps the most visible motif of the Wizarding world. They appear at the start of the first novel, presaging what is to come, and play a very visible role in every novel following. They act as the principal form of communication among wizards (somewhat like carrier pigeons) and also as pets. Harry Potter has a pet owl named Hedwig.

The Hogwarts Express: The scarlet old-fashioned steam locomotive that is the principal means by which a wizard in training can reach Hogwarts. It departs from Platform 9¾ at King's Cross Station, London.

Houses: Like many boarding schools, Hogwarts is divided into four separate houses, and children are sorted into their respective houses at the start of their first year. They are Gryffindor (which favours courage), Ravenclaw, (which favours intellect), Hufflepuff, (which favours hard work and fair play) and Slytherin (which favours ambition). Upon arrival, Harry, along with his friends (Ron and later Hermione), are sorted into Gryffindor.

Quidditch: a spectator sport in the Wizard world, played up in the air on brooms. Similar in style to basketball, and soccer. Harry is an unlikely Quidditch star at his school.

Blood purity: Wizards tend to view Muggles with combination of condescension and suspicion, but for a few wizards this attitude, over the centuries, has descended into bigotry. Characters in the novels are classed either as "Muggle-born", (a wizard born to Muggles) "half-blood" (a wizard born to one wizard parent and one Muggle or Muggle-born parent) and "pure-blood" (a wizard born to parents of purely wizarding lineage). The maintenance of blood purity is the primary motivation for many of the series's darker characters.

Recurring characters in the Harry Potter series

  • Harry Potter: The only child of James and Lily Potter, with whom he shares many distinct characteristics, most notably James' untidy black hair and Lily's green eyes. It is also revealed later that he gets his cheekiness from his mother. He was born on 31 July 1980. He achieved fame at the age of one when Lord Voldemort, the most feared dark wizard in the world, attacked his home and murdered his parents but failed to kill him. Voldemort was left nearly dead and Harry was left with an instantly recognisable lightning bolt-shaped scar on his forehead. In the attempt, Voldemort was ripped from his body by his Killing Curse backfiring on him. Harry's survival was shown later to be a result of his mother's love for him, and the fact that she died to save him. Harry was raised by his Muggle aunt and uncle and knew nothing of his history until Hagrid came to fetch Harry to attend Hogwarts.
  • Ronald Weasley: Harry's best friend and the sixth of seven children of the kind and poor Weasley family. The Weasley family are one of the best examples of supposed " blood traitors". Ron befriended Harry almost immediately upon meeting him during their first journey on the Hogwarts Express. However, a rift developed between them in their fourth year, due in part to Ron's frustration at being forced to live in Harry's shadow – no doubt magnified by his position as the youngest son in his large and talented family. This gained praise for being an even-handed portrayal of secondary characters, defying the convention that the Hero must have a best friend and a love interest, but the best friend does not need friends or interests of his own. Despite this, he and Harry have remained close through the years, with Ron being a constant companion through Harry's trials and adventures.
  • Hermione Granger: The best friend of Harry and Ron who is generally held to be the top student in Harry's year at Hogwarts. She is extremely bookish and reads voraciously, far more than her studies call for. In times of challenge, Hermione is often likely to make a bee-line for the library. Her high intelligence coupled with her reasoned and logical way of tackling challenges have often been a great asset to Harry and Ron throughout their Hogwarts careers and other adventures, though her sometimes bossy and interfering manner has at times been a source of contention between them. Her status as a Muggle-born, along with her intelligence and studious manner, have on occasion made her a prime target for prejudiced, bullying classmates, e.g. Draco Malfoy. Though very proud of her intelligence, she can be insecure and harbours a great fear of failure, as seen by her experience with the boggart in the third book. She is the daughter of two dentists, neither of whom has a magical history.
  • Lord Voldemort: Evil wizard and chief antagonist of the series bent on securing unmatched power and immortality through the practice of the Dark Arts. His given name is Tom Marvolo Riddle. Rearranged, the letters spell "I am Lord Voldemort." He is a half-blood, the son of a muggle father and witch mother. He attended Hogwarts years before Harry's time. After years of slaughter in pursuit of his goals, Voldemort was ripped from his body and forced into hiding after his failed attempt on the life of the young Harry Potter. So feared was he at the height of his prodigious powers that even following his downfall most wizards feared to speak his name, referring to him instead as "You-Know-Who", "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named", or "The Dark Lord", the latter of which is used primarily by his followers, the Death Eaters. Note: The books he has not appeared in are Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Lord Voldemort appears in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince but it is very brief.)
  • Albus Dumbledore: Harry's most trusted advisor and Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He is perhaps one of the most respected men in the wizarding world, holding high ranking positions in both national and international magical government, along with being an accomplished alchemist and master of an assortment of magical disciplines. Dumbledore was repeatedly offered the position of Minister of Magic but turned it down every time. He is also said to be the only known person whom Lord Voldemort ever feared, and also one of the few who does not fear Voldemort and openly speaks his name, often calling him by his Christian name of Tom (Riddle). He is later killed in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince after returning from a trip to collect the third Horcrux with Harry. He has a wonderful sense of humour, and his idea of "a few words" in the first book proves to be "Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!".
  • Minerva McGonagall: Who was born October 4, c. 1925. Minerva is deputy Headmistress at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, head of Gryffindor House, and the Transfiguration Mistress (teacher), which she began teaching in December of 1956. McGonagall considers Transfiguration to be the most complex and difficult branch of magic and has little use for Divination or its teacher at Hogwarts. McGonagall has black hair, typically drawn into a tight bun. She wears emerald green robes and always has a very prim expression. Now in 2006 she is 81 years of age. She wears square glasses which match the markings around the eyes of her tabby cat transfiguration form. She also has a fondness for tartan patterns, apparently derived from a Scottish heritage; even her dressing gown and biscuit tin have tartan patterns. Stern, snappy, and generally reserved, Professor McGonagall has nonetheless been shown to have in mind the best interests of the students at Hogwarts, her wards in Gryffindor, and Harry himself. McGonagall is also one of Albus Dumbledore's staunchest supporters and is still a member of the Order of the Phoenix.
  • Severus Snape: A gifted wizard, Hogwarts staff member, and since his youth, a bitter enemy of James Potter and Sirius Black. As Hogwarts Potions master he sought to exact his revenge on the deceased James Potter by verbally abusing his son Harry from day one of Harry's arrival at the school. A former Death Eater, he was later taken on as a professor by Professor Dumbledore. Snape's loyalty is constantly under question though Dumbledore maintains that he unequivocally trusts him for reasons partially revealed in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Although Snape is responsible for the death of Albus Dumbledore in the sixth installment, his motive for doing so and consequently his ultimate loyalty are the subject of vigorous debate among fans. Snape also happens to be "The Half Blood Prince"
  • Rubeus Hagrid: Son of a wizard and a giantess, he is both surprisingly gentle and nurturing. One of Harry Potter's biggest supporters and most steadfast friends, he is also the Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts, as well as gamekeeper(Previously a man named Og.) and professor of Care of Magical Creatures. Hagrid was sent to fetch Harry after the Dursleys refused to give him his welcoming letter to Hogwarts and told him he was a wizard. Hagrid also went to school at Hogwarts, but was expelled in his third year for an offence he did not commit and is thus unable to legally perform magic (not that that stops him). Hagrid's lessons have involved formidable magical creatures which some officials of the Ministry of Magic (notably Dolores Umbridge) consider inappropriate for the instruction of young students. In Harry's fifth year, Hagrid brings his half-brother,Grawp, to the Forbidden Forest to live.
  • Sirius Black: Best friend of James Potter and former rebellious youth who fled his pure-blood supremacist parents' home at an early age. Following the murders of James and Lily, he was arrested for supposed involvement though he later escaped and was only proved innocent after his death in the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Sirius is also Harry's godfather.
  • Ginny Weasley: The only daughter of the Weasley family. She is a talented witch, especially noted for her skill with the Bat-Bogey Hex. Ginny is the first female born into the Weasley line in several generations, and that, as the seventh child, "she is a gifted witch." Potions professor Horace Slughorn sees great potential in the youngest Weasley and respects her formidable magical abilities. She had a long-standing crush on Harry and a romance between them starts in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
  • Fred and George Weasley: Mischief and mayhem, in a good way. Which is which is irrelevant, they both play both roles with relish, but their mischief is never malicious. Identical twins who delight in confusing their own mother, they are the only students at the school that Peeves the Poltergeist actually respects. Loud explosions from their bedroom are considered normal in their house. The two live for pranks and eventually leave school before graduation to open their own joke shop, Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. They played beaters on their house Quidditch team until they left the school in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
  • Draco Malfoy: A pure-blood supremacist and member of Slytherin house known for his sharp tongue that often targets Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger. As Harry and Ron became fast friends, Harry and Draco quickly became enemies, with the two facing off in various confrontations, including Quidditch, on numerous occasions throughout the series. He's bravest when he has his two goons Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle to back him up, the true sign of a coward. He serves as the antithesis to the main trio, so enraging Harry and Fred in The Order of the Phoenix after losing a Quidditch match that the two beat him up in front of the school and faculty, infuriating Professor McGonnagall. Malfoy also harbours many weaknesses, which make him an easy and willing target for service to the Dark Lord.
  • Neville Longbottom: A rather clumsy boy in Griffindor who lives with his "gran" (grandmother) because his parents were tortured into madness by Death Eaters and institutionalised. He is very forgetful, always losing things, but has a great aptitude for herbology. Neville becomes friends with Harry, Ron and Hermione. His greatest growth comes in the fifth book, when he emerges as a superb fighter against the dark arts and holds his own against a group of Death Eaters. Harry is aware of the fact that Neville is the other "Chosen One" in the fifth book besides him.
  • Luna Lovegood: A strange girl in Ravenclaw nicknamed 'Looney Lovegood' by other students who believes in Nargles and Crumple-Horned Snorkacks. She often talks in a lazy, almost sedated voice and has a penchant for awkward honesty. Her father is the editor of the magazine 'The Quibbler', a publication with a reputation for far-fetched theories even by wizarding world standards. As a consequence of losing her mother at a young age (Luna was nine years old), she was raised by her father and consequently shares many of his odd beliefs and viewpoints. She often wears radish earrings and a butterbeer cork necklace and carries her wand behind her ear, like some people hold a pen. Luna is often the target of the other students' taunting, which completely rolls off her back. After going to the Ministry of Magic with Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville and Ginny to fight Voldemort and his Death Eaters, they become friends.
  • The Dursleys: These are Harry's vile Muggle (non-magical) family, and the only remaining relatives he has. His obese uncle Vernon is the manager of Grunning's, a drill company, while his bony aunt Petunia is a housewife. His cousin Dudley is utterly spoiled rotten by his parents and also obese like his father, but in the fifth book, Dudley is transformed into a more menacing presence when he takes up boxing and proves good at it. Throughout Harry's entire life they had mistreated him, but despite this, Harry must return to their home every summer, each holiday a torment, for a reason unknown to him until Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.


The novels are very much in the fantasy genre; however, in many respects they are also a Bildungsroman, a novel of education, set in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, 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, a "shrewd mystery tale"., 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 omniscient point of view; with very few exceptions (such as the opening chapter of Goblet of Fire 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 like 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 can be split into 6 general sections:

1. Summer at the Dursley's house: Harry spends most of the summer holiday from school with the Dursleys, in the Muggle world, enduring their ill treatment. This section ends with Harry going to a different location.

2. End of summer - just before school begins in the autumn: Harry goes to Diagon Alley, the Weasleys' residence or Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. It ends with the boarding of the school train at Platform 9 3/4.

3. New school session: New or redefined characters take shape, and Harry overcomes new everyday school issues, such as difficult essays, awkward crushes, and unsympathetic teachers; this usually ends around Halloween.

4. Conflicts arise: Harry and his friends and classmates start to sense that something is going wrong, and begin to respond

5. Climax: Harry and his friends make an important discovery, and Harry makes a mad dash to a particular location for a major conflict, involving a battle against the villains. This tends to occur near or just after final exams.

6. Aftermath: Harry begins recovering from the battle, and learns important lessons through exposition and discussions with Albus Dumbledore. It ends with Harry boarding the Hogwarts Express, and heading back home with the Dursleys.

Themes and motifs

One of the most enduring themes throughout the series is that of love, portrayed as a powerful form of magic in and of itself. It is Dumbledore's belief that it was this power that allowed Harry to resist Voldemort's temptations of power during their second encounter, prevented Voldemort from being able to possess him during their fifth encounter, and will eventually lead to Voldemort's downfall.

In contrast, another major theme of the series is that of death. "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," said Rowling. In fact, Voldemort's name contains several possible meanings - 'mort' means 'death' in French and Latin, and the term 'vol' could be related to the French word for 'flight' or the Catalan word for 'steal'; 'volde' also looks or sounds a bit like certain Germanic words such as 'Volk' ("people"), and "Wald" ("forest"). Most tempting is the notion that "vol" is somehow related to the word "Will", which in Germanic languages is pronounced with a V; thus the word Voldemort could also contain the meaning "will to death" or "death wish". Note also that the Dark Lord deliberately renamed himself, replacing his birth name Tom Riddle; so choosing a name with so many possible meanings, all sinister, must have been just as satisfying for Rowling as it seems to have been for Voldemort himself.

The series pits good against evil, and love against death. Voldemort's pursuit to avoid death, seen by his drinking unicorn blood for a half-life and splitting his soul through the use of horcruxes, contrasts with Lily's sacrificial love for Harry and the extraordinary magic her act leaves to him through his scar that Voldemort can never understand or appreciate, as well as Dumbledore's constant love of Harry.

Prejudice and discrimination also feature prominently throughout the series. As Harry's education in the magical world continues he learns that there are wizards and witches who hate Muggles and view them as inferior because of their lack of magical ability. Furthermore, the magical world utilises a system of designations, Muggle-born, half-blood, and pure-blood, to indicate a wizard's heritage. The more prejudiced within the magical community take these designations a step further, viewing them as a system of ranking to illustrate a wizard's worth, pure-bloods being the preferred sorcerers, and Muggle-borns (alternatively known by the slur "Mudblood") as the most despised. In addition to prejudices held for fellow humans, there is also a common shunning of non-humans and even part-humans (commonly known by the offensive epithet, "half-breeds").

Another significant recurring theme is that of choice. In Chamber of Secrets, Dumbledore makes perhaps his most famous statement on this issue: "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." He confronts the issue again in Goblet of Fire, when he tells Cornelius Fudge that what one grows up to be is far more important than what one is born.

As it has been for many characters throughout the series, what Dumbledore termed the "choice between what is right and what is easy" has been a staple of Harry Potter's career at Hogwarts and his choices are among his character's most distinguishing traits from Voldemort's. Both he and Voldemort were orphans raised in difficult environments, in addition to sharing characteristics including, as Dumbledore points out, Voldemort's "own very rare gift, Parseltongue — resourcefulness, determination" and "a certain disregard for rules". However, Harry, unlike Voldemort, has consciously elected to embrace friendship, kindness, and love, where Voldemort knowingly chose to reject them.

While ideas such as love, prejudice, and choice 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. Friendship and loyalty are perhaps the most "organic" of these, with their main conduit being the relationship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione, which allows these motifs to naturally develop as the three age, their relationship matures, and their accumulated experiences at Hogwarts test their trueness to each other. These ordeals become progressively difficult, keeping in line with the series' increasingly darker tone, and the general nature of adolescence. Along the same lines is the ever-present theme of adolescence, in whose depiction the author has been purposeful in her refusal to ignore her characters' sexualities and leave Harry, as she put it, "stuck in a state of permanent pre-pubescence".

Also recurring throughout Harry Potter are literary motifs, namely Rowling's frequent use of irony, satire, wordplay, and folklore. Discussing Rowling's use of names could occupy its own book. From the first page onward her writing has displayed an ingenuity in finding the absolutely right name for people, places, things, spells, etc., a strong grasp of irony. From the multilayered sobriquet "Voldemort" through the onomatopoetic "Grawp" (Hagrid's bestial giant half-brother) through the very knowing pun hidden in the killing spell Avada Kedavra, Rowling creates names that usually contain several meanings. All the books are stuffed with these names and they provide some of the series' greatest pleasures for adult readers.

Criticism and praise

Early in its history, Harry Potter received overwhelmingly positive reviews, which helped the series to quickly grow a large readership. Following the 2003 release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix however, the books received strong criticisms from a number of distinguished authors and academics. A. S. Byatt authored a New York Times editorial 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". Byatt went on to analyse the series' widespread appeal and concluded that this "derivative manipulation of past motifs" is for adult readers driven by a desire to regress to their "own childish desires and hopes" and for younger readers, "the powerful working of the fantasy of escape and empowerment, combined with the fact that the stories are comfortable, funny, just frightening enough". The end result being the levelling "of cultural studies, which are as interested in hype and popularity as they are in literary merit". Likewise, author Fay Weldon took issue with the series saying that it was "not what the poets hoped for, but this is not poetry, it is readable, saleable, everyday, useful prose". Literary critic Harold Bloom also attacked the literary worth of Potter, saying “Rowling's mind is so governed by clichés and dead metaphors that she has no other style of writing." Moreover, Bloom disagreed with the common notion that Harry Potter has been good for literature by encouraging children to read, contending that "Harry Potter will not lead our children on to Kipling's Just So Stories or his Jungle Book. It will not lead them to Thurber's Thirteen Clocks or Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows or Lewis Carroll's Alice."

Charles Taylor of Salon.com took issue with Byatt's critcisms 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 resulting psychological wounds and social isolation each causes. Taylor also pointed out that Philosopher's Stone, said to be the most lighthearted of the six published books, disrupts the childhood reassurances that Byatt claims spurs the series' success: the book opens with news of a double murder, for example. Taylor specifically cites "the devastating scene where Harry encounters a mirror that reveals the heart's truest desire and, looking into it, sees himself happy and smiling with the parents he never knew, a vision that lasts only as long as he looks into the glass, and a metaphor for how fleeting our moments of real happiness are", then asks rhetorically if "this is Byatt's idea of reassurance?" Taylor concludes that Rowling's success among children and adults is "because J.K. Rowling is a master of narrative".

Stephen King agreed with Taylor calling the series "a feat of which only a superior imagination is capable", along with declaring "Rowling's punning, one-eyebrow-cocked sense of humour" to be "remarkable". However, he does write 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 each of the six books published to date. King has also joked that "[Rowling]'s never met an adverb she didn't 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." However, Harry Potter 'and the sorcerers stone' was published in 1997, and almost a decade on, J.K.Rowling's books continue to inspire with large dedicated fan bases and rumour mills all lively anticipating future releases such Book 7 or Movie 5 within the series.

Yet another vein of criticism comes from some feminist circles, Christine Schoefer prominent among them, who contend that the novels are patriarchal and chauvinistic. According to Schoefer the series presents a world filled with stereotypes and adherence to "the conventional assumption that men do and should run the world." Schoefer cites Harry's courage in dangerous situations in contrast to Hermione's apparent emotional frailty when confronting the same, along with her need for Harry and Ron's approval. Similarly, she contrasts the female Professor McGonagall and her similar frailty under stress compared to the composed and farsighted Dumbledore. In addition to this is the attachment of fraud to females ( Professor Trelawney, Professor Umbridge), immaturity (constantly giggling, naïve and catty school girls), and a general lack of daring, bold heroines. It is worth noting that, by the end of the sixth novel, Ginny Weasley has emerged as a very confident and bold female character.


Allegations of copyright and trademark infringement

In 1999 N.K. Stouffer quietly began to allege copyright and trademark infringement by J.K. Rowling of her 1984 works The Legend of Rah and the Muggles and Larry Potter and His Best Friend Lilly.

The primary basis for Stouffer's claims lie in her own invention of Muggles, non-magical elongated humanoids of sorts and the title character of the second work, Larry Potter, a bespectacled boy with dark, albeit wavy hair (Rowling's Potter is characterised as having all of those, though with unruly instead of wavy hair). Stouffer contended (and still does to this day) that it is not just these examples and similar names but that it is "the cumulative effect of all of it combined" with the other comparisons she lists on her real muggles website.

Rowling, along with Scholastic Press (her American publisher) and Warner Brothers (holders of the series' film rights), pre-empted Stouffer with a suit of their own seeking a declaratory judgment that they had not infringed on any of Stouffer's works. Rowling, through the use of expert witnesses who brought into question the authenticity of Stouffer's evidence, won the case with Stouffer's claims being dismissed with prejudice and Stouffer herself being fined $50,000 for her "pattern of intentional bad faith conduct" in relation to her employment of fraudulent evidentiary submissions, along with being ordered to pay a portion of the plaintiffs' legal fees.

In 2002, an unauthorised Chinese-language "sequel" entitled Harry Potter and Leopard-Walk-Up-to-Dragon appeared for sale in the People's Republic of China. The work of a Chinese ghost writer, the book contains characters from the works of other authors, including Gandalf from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and the title character from L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz. Rowling's lawyers successfully took legal action against the publishers who were forced to pay damages.

Religious opposition to witchcraft themes

Rowling has had to contend with considerable backlash, particularly from fundamentalist Christian groups who believe the series’ supposed pagan imagery is dangerous to their children. Since 1999, the Harry Potter books have sat atop the American Library Association’s list of most protested books, with some American churches banning the books altogether.

"It contains some powerful and valuable lessons about love and courage and the ultimate victory of good over evil," said Paul Hetrick, spokesman for Focus on the Family, a national ultra-conservative Christian group based in Colorado Springs. "However, the positive messages are packaged in a medium — witchcraft — that is directly denounced in Scripture." Accordingly, Harry Potter has been the subject of at least one book burning. Continuing with the same line of reasoning, in 2002, Chick Publications went so far as to produce a comic book tract titled "The Nervous Witch" that claimed "the Potter books open a doorway that will put untold millions of kids into hell". Chick Publications also released a DVD entitled Harry Potter: Witchcraft Repackaged which made claims that "Harry's world says that drinking dead animal blood gives power, a satanic human sacrifice and Harry's powerful blood brings new life, demon possession is not spiritually dangerous, and that passing through fire, contacting the dead, and conversing with ghosts, others in the spirit world, and more, is normal and acceptable." This religious fear was lampooned in an article in The Onion, that claimed the High Priest of Satanism had said, "Harry is an absolute godsend to our cause." The spoof was e-mailed as proof that Harry Potter books were causing children to turn to Satanism, and garnered many believers, apparently oblivious to the irony of a Satanist using the word "godsend."

The Vatican has presented a mixed view on the books. In 2003, Monsignor Peter Fleetwood, a Vatican priest, claimed during a press conference on inter-religious dialogue that, "If I have understood well the intentions of Harry Potter's author, they help children to see the difference between good and evil. And she is very clear on this," and that Rowling is "Christian by conviction, is Christian in her mode of living, even in her way of writing." This comment was seized on by the media as an endorsement of the novels from the Catholic Church, and by extension, the then Pope, John Paul II. However, there is no evidence that the Pope, or the Vatican hierarchy, officially approved of the novels. When Pope Benedict XVI was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he condemned the books in a letter expressing gratitude for the receipt of a book on the subject, stating they are "a subtle seduction, which has deeply unnoticed and direct effects in undermining the soul of Christianity before it can really grow properly". Fleetwood wrote in response that these remarks were misinterpreted, and that the letter was likely to have been written by an assistant of the then-cardinal.

Harsh criticism against the books also comes from the official Roman Catholic exorcist of Rome, Father Gabriele Amorth, who believes that, "Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of the darkness, the devil." He further told the Daily Mail that the Harry Potter books make a false distinction between black and white magic, when in reality, the distinction "does not exist, because magic is always a turn to the devil". Amorth believes that the books can be a bad influence on children by getting them interested in the occult.

Book challenges

The series has been frequently challenged for alleged inappropriate content. In the United States, the series was seventh on the list of books that were most challenged in American libraries between 1990 and 2000 despite having been first published in the United States in 1997. However, it is not clear how often libraries actually do restrict access to the books, and there have been several high-profile failures to do so.

Legal injunction

The series garnered more controversy with its most recent release, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, when a grocery store in Canada accidentally sold several copies of the sixth Harry Potter book before the authorised release date. The Canadian publisher, Raincoast Books, obtained an injunction from the Supreme Court of British Columbia prohibiting the purchasers from reading the books in their possession. This sparked a number of news articles questioning the injunction's restriction on fundamental rights. Canadian law professor Michael Geist has posted commentary on his weblog. Richard Stallman has posted commentary on his weblog calling for a boycott until the publisher issues an apology. Some versions of this creed have been circulated by email including a spoiler for one of the major plot points in the novel. Whether this was actually the original posted version, modified by Stallman, is yet unclear, though the tone of the sentence is substantially the same as that of the rest of the message.


In 1999, Rowling sold the film rights to the first four Harry Potter books to Warner Bros. for a reported £1 million ($1.9 million US, or ca. 1.4 million €). Her major demand was that the principal cast be kept strictly British. Although Steven Spielberg was initially in negotiations to direct the first film, he would later decline. He wanted the movie to be an animated film, with Haley Joel Osment to do the voice of Harry Potter. For a while, it was speculated that this was due to Rowling's heavy involvement and Spielberg's dislike of an all-British cast. However, Spielberg contended that, in his opinion, it would be like "shooting ducks in a barrel... It's just like withdrawing a billion dollars and putting it into your personal bank accounts. There's no challenge."

The Harry Potter movies have since gone on to even eclipse such giants as the Star Wars trilogy in worldwide box office gross receipts, finishing second all-time to only The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.

In the Rubbish Bin section of her website, Rowling maintains that she personally had no role in Spielberg's choice saying, "Anyone who thinks I could (or would) have 'veto-ed' him needs their Quick-Quotes Quill serviced."

In the end, Chris Columbus directed the first two films, Alfonso Cuarón, the third, and Mike Newell, the fourth. The fifth, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, is currently in production and is being directed by David Yates. Columbus also worked as producer on the first three films.

Rowling's first choice director was originally Terry Gilliam, but Columbus' involvement as screenwriter on the 1985 film Young Sherlock Holmes encouraged Warner Bros. to select him in preference. Reminiscent of the Harry Potter series, Young Sherlock Holmes includes three leads who bear a strong resemblance to the Harry, Ron and Hermione of Rowling's description (as does a character named Dudley to Draco Malfoy). They investigate a supernatural mystery in a Gothic boarding school, where staff include the Professor Flitwick-like Waxflatter, and sinister Rathe. Scenes from the film were used to cast the first Harry Potter film.

In 2000, the virtually unknown British actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint were selected from thousands of auditioning children to play the roles of Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley, respectively. They are scheduled to return in the fifth film. Other notable Potter character portrayals include Robbie Coltrane's Hagrid, Alan Rickman's Severus Snape, Tom Felton's Draco Malfoy, Maggie Smith's Minerva McGonagall, and Richard Harris and Michael Gambon's Albus Dumbledore (Gambon took over for the third film following Harris's death in 2002). Each will reprise their characters for Order of the Phoenix. along with Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy, Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, and Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort.

The first four films were scripted by Steve Kloves with the direct assistance of Rowling, though she allowed Kloves what he described as "tremendous elbow room". Thus the plot and tone of each film and its corresponding book are virtually the same with some changes and omissions for purposes of cinematic style and time constraints. Despite these changes, Rowling has characterised Kloves and his adaptations as being "faithful to the books."

The fifth Harry Potter film, Order of the Phoenix is scheduled by Warner Bros. for release on July 13, 2007, and the sixth, Half-Blood Prince is scheduled for November 21, 2008.

Further information: Differences between book and film versions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,   Differences between book and film versions of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,   Differences between book and film versions of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,   Differences between book and film versions of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and  Differences between book and film versions of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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), and 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 shortlisting 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

The popularity of the Harry Potter series has translated into substantial financial success for Rowling, her publishers, and other Harry Potter related licence holders. The books have sold over 300 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 list of all time highest-grossing films and the other three each ranking in the top 25. 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 dollars and J.K. Rowling a US dollar billionaire, making her, by some reports, richer than Queen Elizabeth II.

Cultural impact

Since the publishing of Philosopher's Stone a number of societal trends have been attributed to 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 dates of the two most recent book releases of the series) found that only 36 children needed emergency medical assistance for injuries sustained in accidents, as opposed to other weekends' average of 67. Anecdotal evidence such as this suggesting an increase in literacy among children due to Harry Potter 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.

Notable also is the development a massive following of fans. So eager were these fans for the latest series release that book stores 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" (or fangirls and fanboys), similar to the trekkies of the Star Trek fandom. Besides meeting online through blogs and fansites, Harry Potter super-fans can also meet at Harry Potter symposiums. These events draw people from around the world to attend lectures, discussions and a host of other Potter themed activities. See Harry Potter Fandom for further details.

Crowds wait outside a Borders store in Delaware for the midnight release of the book
Crowds wait outside a Borders store in Delaware for the midnight release of the book

Harry Potter has also wrought 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.


There are currently three more Harry Potter films yet to be released. On April 5, 2006, Warner Brothers announced that the fifth film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, will be released in cinemas on July 13, 2007.

On August 4, 2006, Box Office Mojo reported the sixth adaptation, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, would be released on November 21, 2008. WB has since confirmed this release date.

In December of 2005, Rowling declared on her web site that " 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 this the seventh Harry Potter book, though a title and proclamation of completion have not accompanied them. Many fans speculate that the book will be published in 2007, with a particular fixation on the numerologically-significant July 7, 2007, but as of November 26, 2006 there had been no confirmation of a release date from either Rowling or her publishers.

Rowling herself has stated that the last chapter of the seventh book was completed some time ago, before writing the third book. According to her, the last word in the book is "scar". 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 mentality in killing Harry to stop other writers from writing books about Harry's life after Hogwarts.

Regarding the existence of Harry Potter novels beyond the seventh, Rowling has said that she might write an eighth book some day, but it will not continue the life of Harry and his friends. If she does, she intends it to be a sort of encyclopedia of the wizarding world, containing concepts and snippets of information that were not relevant enough to the novels' plots to be included in them. She has also said that she will not write any sort of prequel to the novels, since by the time the series ends all the necessary back story will have been revealed.

Another question for the future is whether Emma Watson who plays "Hermione Granger" will appear in the next film in the series. She said, "I love to perform, but there are so many things I love doing."

The Harry Potter series

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone ( June 26, 1997) (titled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the United States)
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets ( July 2, 1998)
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ( September 8, 1999)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ( July 8, 2000)
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ( June 21, 2003)
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ( July 16, 2005)
  • Untitled seventh book (not yet released)

Supplementary Books

  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2001)
  • Quidditch Through the Ages (2001)

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