The End of Harry Potter: A View from Britain
For people here in the UK, of course, their take on Potter is somewhat different than ours in the States. These are British stories, after all, as many British fans will proudly tell you. Joanna Rowling, O.B.E. (Officer of the Order of the British Empire, awarded by Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith) is very much a citizen of the United Kingdom: she was born in Gloucestershire, went to Wyedean Comprehensive School (half a mile from the Welsh border) where she was elected Head Girl as a Sixth Year, and she wrote the Potter novels in Scotland, where she lives now.
Harry Potter himself lives in a soul-killing suburb of London, of which there are many, unfortunately. Almost all of the other characters are British, the settings are almost exclusively British (for some reason, Rowling also seems to have a jones for Albania), and the social milieu is extremely British. While the Potter films and books are indeed an international phenomenon, they began life as an entirely British story, and so it's only appropriate as we come to the end of Pottermania to reflect on what that Britishness might teach us, since there are things Americans might miss or gloss over.
In The Independent, Kate Youde tallied up ways the Potter epic has had an impact on Britain, some of them obvious—the British film industry has benefited from the great success of the films, and the publishing industry from the books—some of them less so, at least to us. Fans come to the UK from all over the world, for example, to see film locations like King's Cross Station in London, or the Great Hall at Christ Church, Oxford, the model for the dining hall at Hogwarts, while the depiction of a British boarding school—in the books, Harry's Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry—has given good P.R. to a struggling British industry:
Richard Harman, headmaster of Uppingham School in Rutland, said the image the films presented of boarding schools—the "sense of community, activity and excitement"—was helpful. Shots of children dining together, their friendships and the "opportunities for excitement and learning" were positive, he added.
Boarding schools are alien to many Americans, as are ministers and cabinets (about which more next week), villages, parish cemeteries, and train travel. All of these make their appearances in the books and films, but these are stories that are also quite British in their form and themes. Dickens, for example, to whom Rowling is often compared, loved to write about child heroes, particularly orphans, who find a home and a place to be and people who love them. It's not the Horatio Alger story of an orphan who through hard work and application makes himself rich. Unlike great American novels (and films, and videogames, and so on), the Potter books don't feature a single dominant hero who wins through force or individual achievement. While the books all bear Harry's name, and he is quite a good Quidditch player, he's neither the best student nor the most powerful sorcerer. If he were left to his own devices like most American heroes, there would never have been a second book!
Greg Garrett is the author of works of fiction, criticism, and theology, including Faithful Citizenship from Patheos Press. He is Professor of English at Baylor University, and a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.
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