“Potterversity” Episode 6: “The Hero with a Thousand Genres”
Are the Harry Potter novels fantasy, mystery, school story, bildungsroman, allegory, or something else?
Harry Potter’s blend of genres shapes reader expectations and creates fascinating intersections. In this episode, Dr. Tison Pugh (Pegasus Professor of English at the University of Central Florida) joins Katy and Emily to discuss the wide variety of genre conventions, patterns, and themes employed in the Harry Potter series.
Tison talks about his recent book Harry Potter and Beyond (University of South Carolina Press, 2020), which explores how J.K. Rowling’s novels use and also manipulate a variety of genres. Tison assures us that genre fiction can be high quality, innovative, and worthy of study. No one genre defines the Harry Potter books, and that allows Rowling to expand both plot and themes in surprising directions.
For example, we talk about how the fairy tale and hero’s myth genres influence the gender dynamics of the wizarding world in somewhat opposing ways. Reflecting on this intersection helps us to understand the balance of epic battles with personal, domestic moments in the books, including the much-maligned epilogue.
Wizarding world politics also fit within certain genre conventions. When we read the series, are we hearing Rowling’s politics, or are we absorbing the politics of certain genres? Although the novels play with the conventions of mystery fiction, Harry is not exactly a good detective, which inspires us to think critically about his heroism and Hermione as a supportive detective protagonist.
Rowling’s main allegorical subjects – the crucifixion and World War II – are violent and disturbing. Tison talks about whether the Harry Potter books sanitize those in troubling ways or make way for more sophisticated thinking about them and how this relates to Rowling’s quite gruesome Cormoran Strike books. We also talk about what constitutes the “canon” and where the movies, author statements, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child fit in our evaluation of the Harry Potter series.
How much should we consider Rowling’s own intentions and political ideas when we think about these books? Tison teaches a Harry Potter class at UCF, and in this episode’s Owl Post from listener Elise, we all consider how we might responsibly continue to teach these books given Rowling’s statements about trans people. Please join us for this lively yet deep exploration of the literary structure and value of the Harry Potter books.