What makes Harry Potter series a modern literature classic?

“The plot, the characters, the setting, and the genre are all vehicles to get readers to examine various aspects of their own day-to-day existence,” writes Sonali Bhatia.

It is very difficult to know how to review a series like the Harry Potter by JK Rowling. Where does one even begin?

The two quizzes I’ve had at Atta Galatta, and the one at Bangalore Literature Festival in 2014, have all been packed with participants of all ages and backgrounds. How does one comment on a series with such a wide appeal? The answer, perhaps, lies in asking why – why does it have such a wide appeal? Why is its enchantment not restricted to only children, or only readers of fantasy?

Harry Potter is, quite simply, about life. The plot, the characters, the setting, and the genre are all vehicles to get readers to examine various aspects of their day-to-day existence.

Take ‘parenting’. Anyone is interested in this theme, because everyone has parents. And many people are parents themselves. Harry Potter is packed with instances of successful parenting and unsuccessful parenting, popular parenting and unpopular parenting, appropriate parenting and inappropriate parenting. On the very first page, we come across a couple with one child, and the child, Dudley, is pampered silly and grows up to be a bully. Deeper into the book, we come across a couple with seven children, and all the sibling interactions that play out among them, including the littlest, and only girl, defying her brothers when it comes to practicing sport or going out with boys.

Then there’s the other universal theme of friendship. Lasting friendship, fickle friendship, friends who are trustworthy and friends who betray their pals. Friendship in the earliest years, friendship put to the test of time, friendship during peace, and friendship in the heat of battle. At the center of the plot are Harry, Ron and Hermione, the golden trio, the three friends. And yet, their friendship is tinged with speckles of resentment, of jealousy, of anger and frustration – in short, it’s a solid friendship that overcomes all hurdles. In sharp contrast, the trio on the other side of the fence – Draco Malfoy and his cronies, Crabbe and Goyle, who obey him only reluctantly and fail him as friends at crucial junctures.

Where there’s life, there has to be love – and the Harry Potter series is no exception. So we see love in all its manifestations. Parental love. Family love. And, yes, romantic love. Romantic love for the sake of being in love. Romantic love through pain and loss. Romantic love that is selfish, romantic love that is selfless. We see the gorgeous Fleur Delacour, engaged to the handsome Bill Weasley, declare her undying love for him even after he is attacked by a werewolf and loses his looks: “I am good-looking enough for the both of us, I think.”

And then there is society. Peer pressure. The pressure of authority. Politics. Gender, race, class… it’s all played out in these seven books. We see Hermione Granger fighting for the rights of slaves.  We see the power of the press, and the power of those who control the press. We see heroes being hero worshiped and villains masquerading as saviours. We see the power of unity and the weakness brought about by discord.

We ask questions, we seek answers, we clarify values. We debate, we agree, we argue… in short, we find life pulsating in a series of seven books that are the modern classics of English literature.

Sonali Bhatia is a Bengaluru based writer and storyteller.

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