Irvine Valley CollegeOnline Literature Study of the School of Humanities and Languages

Literature 110 - Popular Literature

Spring 2013 - Ticket #62740  // Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink, MFA, Instructor

Unit 7:  Fantasy Adventures


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J. K. Rowling


Many of you have surely been looking forward to reading and discussing a Harry Potter book with other avid readers!  Ahha! This is the Unit!

Harry Potter and Friends


Some of you have probably already read all the Harry Potter books - but even if you haven't read even one Potter book until this class, chances are you know the story of how this "franchise" became an overnight success.  If you have not visited the official Warner Brothers site for Potter, now is your chance!  It is very instructive to see how well this concept has been marketed.  That is not to say that J.K. Rowling is not a very talented and savvy writer - she surely is!  But even a great first book can flounder - and it's so rare to see what was intended as a young adult genre book have a following that supports numerous movies, games, t-shirts, and blogs!

 Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban

One of the elements of Harry Potter that is most striking is the continual and lavish references throughout the series to well-known fantasy adventure stories and motifs.  So, before we examine *The Sorcerer's Stone* and Rowling in detail - it is helpful to take a look at the genre of Fantasy and the mythic and folk motifs that are woven into every page of text!

Mythological and Folk Referents

Although Fantasy Fiction grows out of and uses many folk and mythical motifs, the uses of these motifs in Fantasy are often very different.  Here is a great essay on the differences between folk tale and Fantasy Fiction.  Please take time to read this - it is excellent.

fantasy literature and fairy tales

Evelyn Nesbit's *The Story of the Treasure Seekers* - 1897.  One of the first of modern Fantasy Fiction tales.


Stones and Sorcerers

 First of all, we can just look at the Title of the book we are reading - "The Sorcerer's Stone."  Hummm, where have we seen that concept before?  Well, stones and sorcerers have a long and rich history; however, the legendary reference that comes initially to mind is King Arthur.  So right away, Rowling has linked her hero to a figure who might just be the more popular British mythic (or real) figure.  

King Arthur and Merlin; Sword in the Stone Scene

One of the pivotal events in almost all of the versions of the Arthurian Legend recounts the elevation of Arthur to King - he achieves this by pulling a magic sword from a magic stone.  The person who brings him to do this (in several accounts) is Merlin the Magician.  And it is Merlin, in some accounts, who originally bewitched the stone, itself!  So, without even opening the novel, Rowling's readers have a sense of heroic history, sorcerers, wizards, and stones!  

Just as an example of how deep and wide the Arthurian/Wizard legendstock is in our culture:

A listing of just the A's and B's of books that have been written using the Arthur material--

Anderson, Dennis Lee. Arthur, King. New York: Harper, 1995.
Arthur follows Mordred to World War II to retrieve Excalibur and Merlin's book of prophesy. He becomes a Spitfire pilot while Mordred infiltrates the Luftwaffe.

Attanasio, A. A. The Dragon and the Unicorn. New York: Harper, 1996.
This third-person version of the saga begins in 422 and recounts the story of Arthur's conception, birth, and infancy. Many chapters begin with epigrams from the book of Job.

---. The Eagle and the Sword. New York: Harper, 1997.
This third-person (and present-tense) sequel to The Dragon and the Unicorn describes Britain through Arthur's childhood. Many characters are significantly unlike the usual accounts, for example the Furor (Odin) and Lailoken (Merlin). (Published in England in 1995 with the title Arthor.)

---. The Wolf and the Crown. New York: Harper Prisim, 1998.
The sequel to The Eagle and the Sword. This novel (also with third-person narration) begins when Arthur pulls Excalibur from the stone and describes the first year of his reign. Between many of the short, titled chapters Arthur's thoughts appear as prayers to "Mother Mary."

Barrron, Thomas. A. The Lost Years of Merlin. New York: Philomel, 1996.
Merlin narrates this story of his youth. ---. The Seven Songs of Merlin (Book Two of the Lost Years of Merlin). New York: Philomel, 1997. Merlin narrates this part of his story as he searches for the seven songs of wisdom that will allow him to realize his
potential as wizard and to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather Tuatha.

Barthelme, Donald. The King (@ ). New York: Harper & Row, 1990.
(With illustrations by Barry Moser.) This novel has a third person omniscient narrator who describes the presence of Arthur and other characters of the legends during World War II.

Berger, Thomas. Arthur Rex: A Legendary Novel. New York: Delacorte, 1978.
This novel treats the legend ironically, making Lancelot suicidal, for example.

Bradley, Marion Zimmer. The Mists of Avalon (**). New York: Knopf, 1982.
Whole saga told from the point of view of the female characters.

Bradshaw, Gillian. Hawk of May. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980.
First novel in a series of three concentrating on life of Gawain (here called Gwalchmai). The other two novels are Kingdom of Summer and In Winter's Shadow. Gwalchmai narrates.

---. Kingdom of Summer. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981.
Second in a series of three novels covering the life of Gawain (here called Gwalchmai). The first is Hawk of May,the last In Winter's Shadow. Rhys narrates.

Burgess, Anthony. Any Old Iron. New York: Random House, 1989.
Set in 20th century, this novel follows the history of Arthur's sword and the people who possess it (and those who want to). It refers only marginally to the usual characters and events of the legends


Again, that is just the A's and B's - the list is very long!  In the "real" tales of Merlin, too, he is seen as a "man of the forest" - which very much fits the setting of Hogworts School and the wilderness beyond.

Vivien and Merlin by the nineteenth-century French artist Gustave Doré.  In legend Merlin was a wizard, King Arthur's mentor, and the guardian of the Holy Grail.  Already, we see a relationship between old Wizards and Arthur.  Potter is the Young Arthur, of course!


Miraculous Birth

Another important myth that figures in all of the books in the series is the Miraculous Birth.  Since each of the books starts at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, Privet Drive, Rowling has a chance to remind us each time about the birth of Potter and the strange events which surrounded it (and make him again sympathetic because he is so under-appreciated at home!)

Arthur, for one, was known for his miraculous birth - 

here is one account:  From a good site on Tingtagel Castle Ruins - Arthur's Birthplace?

Geoffrey of Monmouth first told us of King Arthur's association with Tintagel Castle in 1139 when he wrote his History of the Kings of Britain. Duke Gorles of Tintagel lived at the Castle. One day, he brought his young wife, Igraine, to the court of his High-King, Uther Pendragon of Britain, in London. Uther fell deeply in love with the beautiful Igraine and determined to have her for his own. Gorles noted the attention paid by the King to his wife and returned to Cerniw. Upon being summoned back to court, Gorles refused to return and quickly found his lands invaded by his overlord. Igraine was hidden away in the impregnable Tintagel, while Gorles himself defendedNote deep ravine between the mainland and Tintagel the nearby stronghold of Dimilioc. Uther, meanwhile, persuaded his magician, Merlin, to turn him into the likeness of Gorles. Using this diguise, he slipped into Tintagel Castle unhindered and seduced Igraine. That night, their son, the future King Arthur was conceived. Gorles was killed the next day and Uther and Igraine quickly became husband and wife.



The Real World and the Fantasy World - Created Worlds

Not only does magic play a part in the birth of both Arthur and Potter, Potter's birth brings about a strange gathering and and activity by an unseen but quite well organized group of wizards who live just out of sight of the normal folks.  They live in what we might call a "created world" - that is, the magic world created by the writer that exists in some relationship to the Real World we know.

Wikipedia describes the difference between the Wizarding World and the Muggle World:

The fictional universe of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series of fantasy novels comprises two separate and distinct societies: the wizarding world and the Muggle world. The Muggle world is the series' name for the world inhabited by the non-magical majority, with the wizarding world existing coextensively with it but hidden from the awareness of the non-magical "Muggles". The plot of the series is set in contemporary Great Britain, but in a veiled and separate shadow society in which magic is real, and those who can use it live in self-enforced seclusion, hiding their talents from the real world. The term "wizarding world" refers to the global wizard community that lives hidden in parallel with the Muggle world; the different terms refer to different communities within the same area rather than separate planets or worlds.

The Potter double-world scheme seems to be quite innovative, but that sense probably comes from the fact that we seem to be in a kind of fantasy-but-contemporary world.  That is, Potter rides on trains and lives in what might be termed a passable 20th Century English town.  The idea of the magic world and the "depicted" fictional world co-existing, though, is a staple of fantasy stories.  In fact, one of the most necessary of fantasy features involves the way in which the fantasy world projects into the "real" world - and, even more important, the manner in which the main character can travel between these two worlds!  


Dorothy, her Pals  - and the Ruby Slippers

Think, for example, of *The Wizard of Oz.*  Here we also have a "real" world and a fantasy world - Oz.  In the case of Baum's book, there is limited interchange between the two worlds - but the worlds are, to a great extent, mirror images of each other (this is less clear in the movie than it is in the book).  Even the travel between Kansas and Oz has to happen in particular ways, this is the logic of fantasy.  The tornado starts it all - Dorothy is swept away.  And, she can only get back to Kansas by clicking her heels in the Ruby Slippers.  [Note, as you read Potter, the way that the fantasy world can penetrate the real world - but not vice-versa!]

Another good example of the "transition" from the real world into the fantasy world is provided by the ubiquitous *Alice in Wonderland*!  Whether it be through magic mushrooms or down the rabbit hole, Alice needs to have a specific way to travel between two worlds!  These two are just the most prominent examples of transition mechanisms that you already know about - you are encouraged to think of others you know and post them in the Discussion List!

Alice is Very Big here!

Continue to next page -  to Unit 7b

More about *Harry Potter*

"Readable" Characters

Patterned Structure

Reassuring Plot

Clear-cut Value System

Intimacy of Style and Tone



Return to Lecture Schedule


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone:  be sure to see J.K. Rowling's Official Website.

A favorite among fantasy fiction readers for years has been The Lord of the Rings - and the entire series by J.R.R. Tolkien(Note, here, the similarity of naming of "JRR" and "JK" - just another of Rowling's "slant reverences"!)

C.S. Lewis blends fantasy and his own brand of Spiritual Humanism - many people are familiar with his Narnia series which has created a whole classic strain in fantasy literature.

I do realize that there are many other sub-genres in fantasy fiction - and I will leave it to the students who have particular expertise in this area to help me fill it in!

To see the amount of overlap in our "categories", we can take a good look at the 100 best Fantasy Fiction Books published by Fantasy 100 <>.  On this list you will find not only Tolkien and Lewis, but others that we have in different categories such as Stephen King, Anne Rice (Interview with a Vampire), Bram Stoker (Dracula) [all in our Horror category], and Ursula K. LeGuin and Ray Bradbury (who we will find in our Science Fiction Category but also write Fantasy Fistion.  There are some amazin authors here!  Take a good look for your Research Paper!



Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink:  write to me with questions!

Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink, MFA, your Instructor, is a Professor of English in the School of Humanities and Languages, Irvine Valley College, Irvine, California.

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