I’ve been thinking about Harry Potter today in relation to writing my own novel. I dusted off my son’s battered old copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, abandoned now that my son is twenty and moved out into the muggle world as a young adult, and began rereading it, with an eye for what drives this little volume that started a worldwide reading frenzy.
After a few chapters, I caught up on a few things that I had seen before in many, many books happily read over the years. At the most obvious, this is a classic coming of age story.
Harry has the ability to grow, and the reader, if he starts reading this as a child, will mature right along with him, can relate to him from every aspect of what it is to be a kid. From what he is required to eat as opposed to what he wants to eat, from the tedium of studies, to happiness with professors he enjoys, and the schoolyard bullies, lurking around the corners, kids, and adults who remember being a child, can relate to him.
Then there are the friendships that develop as Harry gets to know Hermione Granger, Ron and the whole Weasley clan, and learns how to relate with the other students. He goes from a lonely child to a boy with close friendships.
Finally, there are the adult figures.
Harry has absolutely no experience with adult characters beyond the Dursleys, and he has no reason to trust any adults. But with the arrival of childlike, if intimidating Hagrid, Harry begins to see adults in a new light, and this will continue as he grows and meets Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall, and the rest of the cast, keeping in mind, he meets the not so nice ones as well, but chooses who he will associate with, once he has freedom of choice beyond the Dursley House. Thus, Harry Potter comes of age before our very eyes through his interactions with humanity, or rather Wizards and Half Bloods and Muggles who touch his life, and change him mostly for the better.
Next, Harry Potter is a rags to riches story. He sleeps in a cupboard, and lacks bedroom, pets, toys, friends, family and good inside or outside activity. He has no one who sees or cares what is happening to him at the Dursley’s hands. Creature comforts as simple as a decent bed and a good meal are denied him. Just a couple of chapters in, he is eating savory sausages, has a protector and companion in Hagrid, and finds a new place, richly vibrant and alive in contrast to his life with the Dursleys. The money wealth is only secondary with all that comes his way.
Last, but only because this is such an involved subject, the tropes available just endless, Harry Potter is the classic tale of Good against Evil, and the struggle of our protagonist to learn about himself, the sacrifices his parent made, the eventual knowledge that his father wasn’t always the nicest kind of guy, the ambition to push forward and become a leader, albeit reluctantly, and the battle against the Ultimate Foe, one who goes after children…well, the need to choose between the good and the ugly and the middling ground in between lay in at the door of this classic Genre series.
So, what to do with this deluge of information?
I take it as a lesson that my novel doesn’t have to fall into just one category or subject arena. Sure, it’s nice to bust out with something original, but the tropes laid down in stories past are still going because they are beloved familiars. I can twist and tweak them at will just like J.K. Rowling did and does. The good guys can become bad, the bad good. The rich can become richer, and the poor stay poor, or the poor can gain wealth to no good end. The lonely find a host of company, or just the reverse, find delight in the art of being alone. It’s all up to me, and to you, the writers.