"Folktale Structure as the Key to the Success of the Harry Potter Series"
By the time the fourth book in the Harry Potter series, Goblet of Fire, had been consumed by the masses in 2001, academe began to respond to the global Potter phenomenon and began to produce a significant body of secondary literature. Whilst this literature is multidisciplinary, the research more or less coalesces into two scholarly genera with their attendant questions: what sort of literary achievement is it and what is the meaning of its cultural phenomenon. In their own ways and with their own methods, the question that drives these investigations and persists into the present day is this: “Why has the Harry Potter series of books been so popular?” This is the explicit question I will try to answer with a particular set of empirical and inductive methods.
In Morphology of the Folktale (1928), Vladimir Propp finds that the magical folktales of his native Russia conform to a schema of thirty-one functions. I will present the results of a complete Proppian analysis, treating the Harry Potter series as a single book, as well as severally. Based on these results, I will argue that the Harry Potter series follows the uniform and repetitive narrative structure of folktales identified by Propp and that this is how Rowling successfully captivates her readers. Moreover, we find that readers' varying aesthetic satisfaction with particular books in the series correlate with those books' concordance with the folktale structure. From folktales and bedtime stories children and adults already have mental maps of the required dramatis personae and the sequence of actions that guide them through the “right” order in magical stories. These results are sufficient and necessary groundwork to understand why the Harry Potter series (and particular books within the series) are so popular.