For millions around the world, the premier of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was truly an end to an era, with nothing new on the horizon for the first time in nearly 15 years. So, where does the legacy of J.K. Rowling’s epic tale go from here?
Boston College Professor Emerita Vera G. Lee says that Harry Potter will not disappear from the hearts of the series’ devoted fans anytime soon, and will forever hold its impact on the world of literature. Lee says Harry Potter is a literary classic
In her new book, On the Trail of Harry Potter, Lee analyzes all seven books in depth from Rowling’s intricate plot lines, to her many evolving characters and their relationships, to her humor and style. It also touches on the offshoots of the Potter series and compares the movies to the books.
“I think [J.K. Rowling] is extremely clever and she wrote [the books] so that both children and adults could enjoy it. She’s written it on more than one level,” said Lee. “She has humor that appeals to kids and extremely sophisticated humor as well.”
Lee, a former professor of Romance Languages and Literature, who has written about a wide variety of topics, from early jazz in the times of slavery to “how to flirt outrageously,” decided to write On the Trail as a way to stay involved in the Harry Potter world.
After reading the series “two times, possibly three, [I realized] I can’t just keep reading them over and over again, so why not write about them?”
When Lee started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 1998, she didn’t realize she was embarking on the beginnings of a literary classic. “I found myself laughing out loud, reading Sorcerer’s Stone. After reading the first one, I wanted to read the next one, and after that I wanted to read the next. I had no idea until I really studied it that it was a classic,” she said.
Lee acknowledged that it wasn’t until the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, that the plot took a more serious tone and upped the ante.
Goblet of Fire was the gateway from the lighter tone of the first three books to the decidedly darker tone of the latest three. Nearly double the length of Prisoner of Azkaban, Goblet of Fire was the true test for kids reading the books.
The culmination of the 700-plus pages was rewarding and ended with the return of Voldemort, which magnified the more adults themes of political corruption, prejudice, destiny, and death. It made the danger real and added more depth and richness to the plot.
Lee said that Harry, the character, reflects Gen Y “perfectly.” She said Harry is a more complex protagonist than in almost any other book she has read.
“He evolves. You don’t see other heroes evolve as he did throughout,” the series, said Lee. She talked about Harry’s evolution from the surley, angry-with-the-world, 15-year-old in Order of the Phoenix, to the mature 16-year-old who handles his destiny with dignity and maturity in Half Blood Prince.
“[Harry] was a very complex, human character, a no-nonsense person. Almost anybody of that generation could relate to him,” said Lee. “[Rowling] has done something quite unusual that other writers of children books had not done. She developed the characters in realistic ways.”
In her book, Lee dismisses the notion from some critics—many of whom only read the first book—that Harry Potter is a mere children’s series that will not outlast the hype. “Many people have said that [Rowling] had in inferior style, but was a style that was most suited to the story. It was one that drew you in,” she said.
Among those Lee called out was famed critic from Yale, Harold Bloom, who has decried Harry Potter as dumbing down readers.
On the contrary, Harry Potter has inspired an entire generation to not only read, but to clamor for more and obsessively discuss the various plot twists and character developments as they waited for the next installment.
“It did this wonderful thing which I call a miracle,” said Lee. “[It caused] so many to read when they would never have read before,” especially with the rapidly growing Internet Age. “The fact that they read this and couldn’t wait until others came out was just miraculous.”
Lee said that J.K. Rowling took many classic elements from different stories and made them her own. “Many books have the same elements, but they simply don’t do what she did.”