Book Review: “Harry Potter and Beyond” by Tison Pugh
If you’ve ever been curious about the academic side of Harry Potter, Tison Pugh’s Harry Potter and Beyond: On J.K. Rowling’s Fantasies and Other Fictions is the perfect place to start. Providing a broad survey of the origins of and current trends in Potter scholarship, Pugh offers a gateway into established criticism and adds his own original analysis about the seven novels, the expanding wizarding world, and Rowling’s other work.
Using genre to guide his book, Pugh explores how Potter has been studied as a work of fantasy, children’s literature, school story, bildungsroman (or coming-of-age), mystery, and allegory. Still, he resists placing it in any one particular sphere, instead arguing that its hybridity in encompassing so many different genres contributes to its broad appeal and success. Classic literary theory is considered as well as more modern angles, including gender, sexuality, race, class, postcolonialism, and utilitarianism, offering a refreshingly contemporary take.
By challenging without dismissing, Pugh manages to skillfully balance praise and criticism. Rather than simply hailing Potter as a revolutionary bastion of liberal thought or disparaging it as woefully inadequate in its portrayal of diversity, he acknowledges how the doubts, failings, and blind spots of both the wizarding world at large and Harry himself allow readers to confront difficult issues themselves and develop their own beliefs. At a time when the progressivism of Potter – or lack thereof – is frequently debated, Pugh focuses on how the series provides us with opportunities to think deeply about social and political issues whether or not they are fully resolved within the books.
Pugh frequently cites Rowling’s background, interviews, and her own commentary on the books, but he does not allow his analysis to be limited by authorial intent. He demonstrates an appreciation for the insight that the author can shed on her work while also viewing the story as independent of its creator.
Pugh’s book is extremely up to date not only in terms of the perspectives he considers but also the material he includes, reaching past the Harry Potter series to discuss the Fantastic Beasts films, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, The Casual Vacancy, the Cormoran Strike mysteries, and even Rowling’s recent Twitter controversies. He dives into current questions of canonicity and the complex considerations that accompany it, from authorship to fan fiction.
Harry Potter and Beyond is an enlightening and enjoyable read, packing a wide range of scholarship into a short and readable format. It is an excellent introduction to the critical theory surrounding Potter as well as a worthwhile addition to the collection of a seasoned researcher.
Harry Potter and Beyond is published by the University of South Carolina Press and is available now. Get your copy today!