What lies behind the Harry Potter series? Where did J.K. Rowling get her inspirations from?
Harry Potter: historical fiction or more?With an estimated 450 million books in print worldwide it is easy to say that J.K. Rowlings Harry Potter series is one of the most popular book series ever written. Despite the magic and heroism, the story seems to contain many elements that most people can relate to. Themes such as love, friendship, loyalty, and facing adversity return time and time again in tales and legends dating as far back as Antiquity, and when taking a closer look at Rowlings work we can draw many parallels between the story of Harry Potter and classical legends and myths, not the least of which the famous tales of King Arthur. Although some may even consider the Harry Potter series an allegory of World War II, it does not belong to the genre of historical fiction due to the extensive and more prominent focus on the Arthurian legend and elements from Greek myths and legends. Rowlings most obvious inspiration for the Harry Potter series appears to be the legend of King Arthur. The first clear indication of this can be found in the very first chapter of the series. Both Harry and Arthur grow up without their parents, hidden from their world to remain safe. Similar to Arthur, Harry will only find out who he truly is much later in life when he meets Hagrid who explains to Harry that his parents were murdered and that they too were wizards, just like him. This revelation turns out to be the catalyst for Harrys quest to find his parents killer Lord Voldemort and take revenge as well as save the wizarding world from evil. This quest is comparable to Arthurs defeat of the Saxons resulting in the salvation of his people and ultimately being regarded as a hero. A second Arthurian element that can be found in the Harry Potter series is the concept of a prophecy. Merlin knows that Arthur will become king and save the British people from the Saxons and predicts that he will be murdered by his own son. In the Harry Potter series we meet the character Professor Trelawney, who teaches Divination. Before the birth of Harry, she makes a prophecy to professor Dumbledore that: The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives (Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 924). Moreover, when Merlin predicts to King Arthur that his own son will murder him, Arthur has all boys born on that day killed. This is comparable to the actions that Lord Voldemort takes after hearing about the prophecy. He identifies the person the prophecy was made about as Harry, and thus tries to kill him. Another striking Arthurian element in the Harry Potter series is the character of Dumbledore, who seems entirely based on the Arthurian character Merlin. Similar to Merlins guidance of Arthur, Dumbledore takes it upon himself to mentor Harry and prepare him for the battle he eventually must face against Lord Voldemort. Merlin leads Arthur to a lake where he receives the legendary sword named Excalibur. Dumbledore does a similar thing to Harry buy providing him with the sword of Godric Gryffindor, one of the four founders of the magical school Hogwarts (Rowling, Chamber of Secrets, 358). Through the entire book series, Dumbledore functions as a mentor and personal guide to Harry, a source of wisdom that helps Harry to ultimately fulfil his quest to find a way to end Voldemorts life. Furthermore, both Merlin and Dumbledore form their own group of loyal people. Merlin forms his famous Knights of the Round Table, and Dumbledore initiates the group named the Order of the Phoenix which is comprised of the most loyal and skilled wizards. Harry himself also rallies a group of young, loyal students whom he wants to teach ways to defend themselves from Lord Voldemort and his evil helpers, which he calls Dumbledores Army. Finally, both the legend of Arthur and the Harry Potter series contain a quest to find the grail. Chrtien de Troyes, who greatly influenced the current view on the Arthurian legend, wrote a text within the Arthurian canon in the 12th century named Perceval, le Conte du Graal and it explicitly states Ce est li contes del graal (Troyes, 5). This text is the first to incorporate the element of the Grail into the Arthurian myths and in the story it is prophesied to have magical and mythical properties. The Harry Potter series also includes a few prominent accounts of grails that have particular significance to the story. In the fourth instalment of the series, Harry has to participate in the Tri-wizard Tournament. The Tri-wizard Cup choses him to be one of the champions, and in the third round of the tournament, Harry even has to find his way to the Cup through an enchanted maze. This Cup takes the shape of a grail and functions not only as a prize, but also as magical portal (Rowling, The Goblet of Fire). Moreover, in the seventh book, he is searching for Hufflepuffs Cup. Hufflepuff was also one of the four founders of Hogwarts, and Voldemort turned it into one of his seven horcruxes. Harry has to find it to be able to destroy it and thus get closer to destroying his enemy Lord Voldemort (Rowling, Deathly Hallows). These quests that Harry must fulfil all involve the search for a grail. This is very similar to Troyess quest for the holy grail.Another mythical element in the Harry Potter series is the incorporation of mythical and classical beasts. One of the first real classical beasts the reader runs into is a Cerberus. In Greek mythology, Cerberus is the hound of hades, guardian of the underworld and the only way to get past him is to calm him down by playing music (Daly, 28). We later find out that Hagrid gave the Cerberus to Dumbledore to guard the entrance to a dungeon where the Philosophers Stone was hidden, so Fluffy (as Hagrid named it) in this case also guards the underworld the underworld of the dungeons. Moreover, he even mentions that he bought him off a Greek chappie (Rowling, Philosophers Stone, 209). Additionally, Rowling creates a fairly prominent character that we find in several of the books in the form of a Centaur. According to Daly, centaurs are creatures half human and half horse. [they] were expelled from their native Thessaly and took refuge on Mount Pindus (Daly, 28). Like the centaurs in from Greek myth, the centaurs in the Harry Potter series were sent to special grounds all over the country by the Ministry of Magic, virtually expelling them from their native grounds. Most of the centaurs in the Harry Potter world are not on friendly terms with humans, apart from one centaur: Firenze. Firenze encounters Harry in the Forbidden Forest during Harrys first year at Hogwarts and helps him get to safety from Lord Voldemort (Rowling, Philosophers Stone, 277-281). Firenze also gets offered a position at the school to teach divination during Harrys fifth year. This is not received well by the centaur community, so they ban Firenze from their grounds (Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 661). In Greek mythology one encounters the centaur Chiron who is half human and half horse, [and] represented ancient wisdom. He was the symbol of the wild horse, full of strength, tamed to be of enormous help to humans (Daly, 31). Like Firenze, he was regarded as the good centaur who helped and befriended humans. It is clear to see that the character Firenze is based off the myth of Chiron. A final beast from the Harry Potter series that has its roots deep in Greek mythology is the Basilisk. As a symbol of the evil Lord Voldemort and the House of Slytherin, snake-like creatures feature often in the series, but non so memorable as the giant Basilisk that Harry encounters in his second year at Hogwarts. The Basilisk usually represents evil and is a symbol of death. Christianity employed the symbol of the basilisk at times, and as with a number of other serpents, immediately cast it as a demon or representative of the devil itself (basilisk New World Encyclopedia). Rowlings choice of patron animal for the House of Slytherin (which was also the House in which Lord Voldemort was sorted as a child) is not at all coincidental. Representing the embodiment of evil, snakes and snake-like creatures are always tied to Lord Voldemort, whether it is the Basilisk, Voldemorts pet snake Nagini, or even the snake language that both Harry and Voldemort master and allows them to speak to the Basilisk. Similarly to Rowlings inspiration for the fauna in the Harry Potter universe, she also used Greek mythology to give hints to character backgrounds in the form of their names. A great example of this is the character Merope Gaunt. Merope is Voldemorts mother and during Harrys sixth year at Hogwarts he is introduced to her by visiting Bob Ogdens memory. Harry learns that Merope was a witch, and a descendant of the great wizard Slytherin. Her family, like Slytherin, was very much against the breeding between magic and non-magic people. However, Merope fell in love with a non-magic person, Tom Riddle. Tom was not interested in Merope, but being a witch, see bewitched him with a love potion. They had a child (who will later turn out to become Lord Voldemort) but she felt ashamed of her lies, so she ceased giving Tom the potion. Merope then runs away and goes into hiding (Rowling, The Half-blood Prince). This story is incredibly similar to one described in Ovids Fasti about one of the seven Pleiades; Merope: The seventh, Merope, was married to a mortal man, to Sisyphus, and she repents of it, and from shame at the deed she alone of the sisters hides herself (Frazer, p. 201). Both the elements of falling in love with the wrong person and the shame that comes with it are very much present in both. Aside from Merope, there are two more characters whose names Rowling derived from legend, namely that of Albus Dumbledore. As the avid Harry Potter reader may know, Dumbledores second name is Percival. This once again harks back to legend of King Arthur. According to Crtien de Troyes, Percival was one of the knights of the round table, a chivalric order erected by King Arthur to protect the lands. Albus Dumbledore is one of the members of the Order of the Phoenix, a group of wizards who fight the evil Lord Voldemort. Lastly, the origins of the character Sirius Black can be found in Greek mythology. The hunter Orion owns a dog names Sirius, which is incredibly loyal to Orion. When the goddess Artemis accidentally kills Orion during the hunt, she places Orion in the night sky. However, his dog Sirius becomes hysterical and will not stop looking for him. Artemis then places Sirius next to Orion in the heavens (Garza). During Harrys third year at Hogwarts, he meets Sirius. Sirius used to be Harrys fathers best friend but was convicted of betraying Harrys parents to Voldemort, which resulted in their deaths. Nonetheless, it soon becomes clear that Sirius was wrongly accused and has always remained loyal to his old friend. Harry also learns that Sirius is an animagus, which means that he can turn into an animal. Sirius Black can at will take the form of a dog (Rowling, Prisoner of Azkaban). This is a clear reference to the loyal dog Sirius and his friend Orion. Some may claim that the Harry Potter series belongs in the Historical Fiction genre because of the clear parallels to World War II. Indeed, the resemblances between Hitler and Lord Voldemort are there. Both have an incredible hatred for anything but pure-blood. Lord Voldemort feels that the magical people are far superior than the non-magical people, and Hitler preferred the Arian race over all others. Dividing people into pure-blood and mixed-blood groups is something that both Hitler and Lord Voldemort do. Rowling herself says that: there were parallels in the ideology. I wanted Harry to leave our world and find exactly the same problems in the wizarding world. So you have the intent to impose a hierarchy, you have bigotry, and this notion of purity, which is this great fallacy, but it crops up all over the world. People like to think themselves superior and that if they can pride themselves in nothing else they can pride themselves on perceived purity (J.K. Rowling at Carnegie Hall). This, combined with all the references to Arthurian and Greek mythology leads to the conclusion that the Harry Potter series is not Historical fiction because it has got so much more going for it than just a reference to a war.In conclusion, the Harry Potter series incorporates a plethora of myths and legends with interesting parallels such as the one between Merope Gaunt and Greek mythology, as well as more overt ones such as the resemblances between Harry and Arthur. Moreover, it blends these myths and superhuman legends with a very human aspect: war. Whether that is World War II or simply the concept of war itself. Therefore it can be said that Rowlings Harry Potter series does not belong to the Historical Fiction genre. It is so much more than that.
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