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About Harry-Potter-series

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The Harry Potter novels proved themselves to be top-sellers across the world. Movies have been made, bookshops organize special events for the release dates of sequels and the internet is full of fan articles and even illegal pirated copies. Children, adolescents and adults; they all read Joann K. Rowling’s novels with great enthusiasm and there are countless fan-forums in which the different interpretations of the Harry Potter elements are being eagerly debated.

So what is the recipe for the Harry-Potter-series’ success? Of which “ingredients” do the novels consist? From a literary point of view, the genre of the Harry Potter novels lies somewhere between fantasy literature, adventure story, crime/mystery novel and teenage-novel (Bak, p.88). Sometimes, but rather rarely, fairytale influences are stated as well. The goal of this term paper is to find and critically scrutinize these fairytale elements. Nevertheless, there is no intention of proving that the Harry Potter novels belong to the fairytale genre. The term paper focuses only on the first volume “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” since an analysis of several volumes would go beyond the scope of this assignment.

After the introduction, the first chapter will clarify the fundamental characteristics of the fairytale and differentiate the literary tale from the folk tale. The following part will determine whether the categories of the literary- and folk tale can be applied to the primary text. Chapter three will consist of a comparison of the primary text with the exemplary storyline of a fairytale, while chapter four deals with the fairytale elements concerning the characters within the primary text. The fifth chapter consists of the search for typical fairytale themes and motifs throughout the primary text which will be critically analyzed. The sixth and last chapter will sum up the obtained results and correlate them while giving an outlook on their significance.



Fairytales are in part orally passed on, mostly formulaic prose stories in which one encounters “natural” miracles (Rölleke, p.508). The roots of the word fairytale, or rather the German term “Märchen”, lie in the old German word “Maere” or “Mär” which translates to “story” or “message” (Lüthi, p.1). The diminutive “Mär-chen” does not only indicate the shortness of the story, it also refers to the content of the message. During Romanticism, the term’s meaning improved from the “incredible” to the “fantastic” content of the fairytale (Lange, p.8). Furthermore the category “fairytale” includes a large number of folklore tales, such as myths, legends and sagas (Zitzlsperger, p.12). Only through Antti Aarne’s and Stith Thompson’s register of all fairytale-types within the European area, called the Aarne-Thompson-Index, it was possible to talk about fairytales in a narrower sense.

The following secondary generic characteristics are to be determined: place- and timelessness, a liking for certain requisites, colors and numbers as well as a narrative style prone to deliberate repetition (Rölleke, p.509). In addition there is the namelessness of the characters, nevertheless there are several exceptions in which one encounters evocative names or nicknames (Klotz, p.10). The typical European fairytale consists of the following features: One-dimensionality signifies the merging of the realistic and fantastic world, Planeness describes the depiction of the characters in a psychological sense, and the abstract style expresses an excessively contrasty and polarizing relationship of the figures within the fairytale, for example one is either “good” or “evil”, there is nothing in between (Klotz, p.18). Isolation stands for the separate actions and teachings of a fairytale; the characters only develop within that one tale and start at zero in the next one.

Interconnectedness enables the protagonist to communicate with all figures and things in the fairytale world. Sublimation entails an unrealistic depiction of events and objects, while Worldliness implies that the themes and motifs reflect the whole spectrum of human and interpersonal relationships (Lange, p.14). Thereby, especially human wishes and motifs of the wonderful play a significant role (Lange, p.232).


From a morphological perspective fairytales have a three- or five-part form (Lange, p.232). At first, there is a situation of deficiency or conflict. The world order of the story is disturbed and needs to be restored. The hero has to leave his home in order to solve the conflict. Dangers and tasks have to be overcome in foreign kingdoms; thereby the place of solving the problem is often the forest (Lange, p.21). This act can be described as a quest in which the protagonist not only searches for a way to overcome the conflict; in a metaphorical sense, the hero also begins an inner search of himself. On his way the protagonist encounters supernatural powers which either support his doings or prevent him from reaching his happiness. This can also be interpreted as an aspect of the maturing process. In this context, it is important to point out that, originally, fairytales were told by adults and for adults (Wienker-Piepho, p.74). Furthermore, there are “naive aesthetics” created in the story, meaning that the “good” are being rewarded while the “bad” are simply being punished (Klotz, p.17). Finally, the story ends with a Happy Ending and the narrator withdraws with a formulaic phrase.


The protagonist has no differentiated character traits. Usually, he is rather carefree, innocent and energetic (Klotz, p.18). In addition to that, he often stands out due to certain weaknesses and seems only poorly adapted to his environment. It is also evident that the protagonist stands in the focus of the events and that the other figures serve as function holders by appearing as either his supporters or opponents. These function holders often belong to an extra-human world and have no concrete social affiliation. They are powers disguised as figures that face the protagonist in a certain way. Furthermore, their behavior portrays several fundamental ethical values such as friendship, loyalty, trust and reliability as well as a gentle handling of nature and animals (Zitzlsperger, p.15).


Literary tales are fairytales with fantastic elements. Their period of prosperity was the Romanticism. During that epoch several elements of the folk tale were taken up, though in different intensity and manifestation (Klotz, p.8). Thus, there is now an author known by name and the constitutive wondrous develops only in the confrontation with the rationalistic world view (Apel, p.25). In addition, there is concrete information on time and location. The wondrous elements now do not only serve the purpose of entertaining, they also have the task of teaching (Mayer, p.3). Besides, literary tales do not possess the high degree of abstraction and planeness as do the folk tales (Zitzlsperger, p.87). Nevertheless, it is generally debatable whether the literary tale is an independent genre since, on the one hand, the parallels to the folk tale are strongly pronounced but, on the other hand, a wealth of very different texts is being claimed to belong to this genre. According to Dieter Richter the fairytale adapts to its time just like a chameleon adapts to its environment, so it constantly changes. Therefore, calling fairytale a genre is wrong since it is rather a medium of confrontation with reality in many forms and types (Richter, p.24).


The most obvious attribute of the literary tale is an existent author and, therefore, a fixed literary text. The author of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” is the well-known novelist Joanne K. Rowling and the text exists in a single form and has not been passed on orally. The magical world, in which Hogwarts is located, is clearly separated from the realistic world of the muggles by means of a secret passage and a train ride (Rowling, p.98-99). Here, the folk tale feature of one-dimensionality is debunked. Also, Rowling’s magical world seems like an alternative draft compared to the realistic world, which is another proof for the feature of multidimensionality of the literary tale (Karg, p.209). Even if one perceives “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” as a self-contained work instead of the first part of a seven-part book series, the characters are being depicted multifariously and with a psychological inner life. Thus they are not only mere function

holders and therefore contradict the feature of planeness in folk tales. Place and time, namely London/England and exact datings, are given just like a stylistic counterpart of the fairytale preambles and closing phrases, such as “once upon a time…”. Concluding, it seems appropriate to search for elements of the literary tale, since several primary features of the folk tale are already to be excluded after a superficial observation of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”.



In the beginning of every fairytale there is a situation of deficiency or conflict which forces the hero to leave his home and his daily life in order to solve the situation somewhere in a foreign place. At the start of the novel Harry Potter lives with his foster parents, who are his aunt and uncle, in the muggle world, not yet knowing about his magical talents. The Dursleys, as well as their son Dudley, humiliate Harry, treat him badly and constantly make him feel that he does not belong to their family. Harry succumbs to the taunts and the unfair treatment and stays humble and inconspicuous, but already at the beginning of the novel there is a flashback indicating Harry’s true destiny. While still a baby, Harry is being left at his foster parents’ house by “wondrous” people, namely Albus Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall and Rubeus Hagrid. What they have to say about Harry is the following:

„These people will never understand him! He’ll be famous – a legends – I wouldn’t be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter Day in future – there will be books written about Harry – every child in our world will know his name” (Rowling, p.14).

Here, the first big conflict becomes evident. In the wizarding world Harry is famous and has a strong reputation; he is prophesied a great future. In the muggle world, on the other hand, he is being kept like an animal and has to sleep in a cupboard under the stairs (Rowling, p.20). Since his

“family” treats him badly and he has no friends, Harry takes the role of an outsider. Additionally, another problem is raised. The Dursleys falsely tell Harry that his parents died in a car accident, even though they died fighting the evil antagonist Lord Voldemort.

Harry is being haunted by memories of his parents’ death and starts to question his foster parents’ explanations (Rowling, p.31). Additionally, there are several inexplicable things happening around him. First, Harry suddenly finds himself on the school’s roof after being chased by his cousin Dudley (Rowling, p.26) then, during a zoo visit, a window mysteriously disappears, enabling a boa constrictor to escape (Rowling, p.30). Already in the beginning of the novel, there is enough conflict potential for Harry to leave his home. He seems to be chosen, but he is being treated unkindly and unjustly. He also wants to know more about his parents and the circumstances of their deaths. In this case one can say that this is one of Harry’s first quests which stands for his search for his own self. So the fairytale-hero Harry is ready to leave his home and set out into the foreign. He even has an opportunity, in the form of an invitation by letter, in which he is asked to enroll in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry but his foster parents refuse to hand him the letter. This is another conflict situation which the hero has to overcome in order to move on. The number of the letters doubles everyday, until the Dursleys decide to leave their house and seek shelter from the daily deliveries. The unrealistic number of letters, the odd way of delivery (namely being brought by owls or sent through the chimney) and the Dursleys’ reaction can be interpreted as the fairytale feature of sublimation. According to Günter Lange, one of the reasons for the hero to leave his home is a conflict between the parents and the child. The hero often has to solve a certain task in order to be able to break free from home; nevertheless Lange establishes this feature specially for the adolescence-fairytale (Lange. p.21).

Additionally, the hero usually has certain supporters who assist him in case he is unable to solve the task. When Harry fails to get hold of one of the letters Rubeus Hagrid, a half-giant, appears. He not only hands Harry the letter, but also explains that he possesses magical talent (Rowling, p.55). Therefore Hagrid is one of Harry’s (supernatural) supporters who helps him in solving his task. According to Lange, the hero has gone through a process of development and has matured into a new person after solving his assigned challenge. Thus he has reached a higher level of his existence (Lange, p.22). The same goes for Harry Potter; after solving the task he leaves to buy his equipment for the wizarding school and, thereby, reaches a new level of his existence.


Now the hero leaves home and goes into the world where, in diverse forms of isolation, he encounters the numinous with whose help, or against whose resistance, he reaches his final happiness (Rölleke, p.509). The protagonist’s process of transformation is often depicted symbolically. The same happens with Harry; in order to enter the wizarding world and Hogwarts he has to take the train on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters at the King’s Cross Station in London. Once more he receives help, this time by the wizarding family Weasley, hence again he is assisted by supernatural helpers who show him the way to the train and how to enter the foreign wizarding world (Rowling, p.99). Having arrived there, Harry takes the train to Hogwarts in which he makes his first acquaintance with his future companions and best friends. One could argue that this is where one fairytale ends and another starts, since Harry’s process of self-discovery is completed. He is aware of his true calling and knows exactly where he belongs. Just like in the case of several animal fairytales, the hero has found a way of taking off his animal skin in order to appear as a new individual and to externally visualize his self-discovery (Lange, p.22). This thesis is supported by the fact that, up to now, Harry hardly knows anything about his evil antagonist and the hero’s primary task of defeating the villain has not been given yet. This again refutes the aspect of Isolation, but then again it is already debunked due to the existence of the following novels. Ideal-typically the hero, after having found his happiness and fulfilling his tasks, should return home. Harry eventually does so by returning to his actual home, the wizarding world, where he actually belongs. If one assumed that Harry has not yet finished his journey, one would find that the fairytale-elements decline throughout the further course of action.

Having arrived in Hogwarts there are further, partially complex tasks to be completed and dangers to be overcome. Even though Harry keeps being the center of the storyline and the fight of good versus evil further remains characteristic for the plot, there are several side scenes opened up such as the Quidditch game (Rowling, p.199ff.), despite Klotz’ claim that the storyline of a fairytale is simple and straightforward without any subplot (Klotz, p.12). While Harry’s first encounter with his biggest opponent Lord Voldemort takes place in the, for the fairytale typical, Forbidden Forest (Rowling, p.275), the final battle is set in the school’s basement (Rowling, p.316-318). Harry faces his rival on his own, though he could solve the previous traps only with the help of his friends. This again is a typical pattern for a fairytale.


Lord Voldemort is beaten but it becomes clear that he is not defeated for good. Though even if this was not the case, Harry’s happiness cannot be seen in his opponent’s defeat, but rather in his friendship with Ron and Hermione and the winning of the House Cup. This success is being celebrated adequately in a ceremony which involves all of the students and professors. Harry’s in-house rivals are therefore being publicly punished and ridiculed, which is yet another typical element of the fairytale. Ultimately Harry, despite his aversion towards his foster family, returns back home. This aspect of the novel can be interpreted as an enforcement o

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