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Essay: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone (Dissertation proposal)

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  • J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone (Dissertation proposal)
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This project is a critical study of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone with special focus on the element of fantasy, and with reference to the reason for the popularity of Harry Potter books in general. This study analyzes the first book of the Harry Potter series as the stepping stone to the historic success of fantasy tales in six more books and eight feature films. The study explores why the elements of fantasy in the first book made it so popular, what message the book gives to the reader, and why both children and adults enjoy reading the novels.

Keywords: literature, fantasy, Harry Potter, novel, message

1. Chapter One: Introduction

This study aims to find and analyze the elements of fantasy in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I chose the first book in the Harry Potter series, published in 1997, because it was immediately very popular and made Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling household names all over the world. The series has been translated into more than 75 languages. This shows that the book has attracted millions of readers.
Fantasy is defined as a story that shows a world of fiction and imagination where scientific or scary elements are the main theme. Often the plot of the fantasy is magic and takes place in another world, not in our real world. Also, the plot may involve mythical creatures, witches, or talking animals that may wear clothes and live in houses. Some of the most famous fantasy fiction is Narnia and the Lord of the Rings. The reason I chose Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is that it was the first book in the series and the first work that J.K. Rowling ever published. It is full of fantasy elements and is very popular all around the world. It has many lessons that both adults and children can learn.

About J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling is the author of the Harry Potter series of fantasy novels. Rowling was born in London in 1965. She lived with her parents and her sister. Her family was not rich. She was a quiet child and she did not get her education in a special school. When she was on the train in 1990 traveling to London she got the great idea of a boy who was studying in a school for wizards. In December the same year her mother died of suffering from multiple sclerosis. At the same time she was writing the first novel of Harry Potter. She didn’t tell her mother about it. Her death affected Rowling’s writing because she wrote a lot of details about Harry’s own loss in the first book because she knew the feeling of loss so deeply. She married for the first time in 1992, and in 1993 she had her first child Jessica. But on 17 November she and her husband divorced. Rowling finished her manuscript in 1995 with an old manual typewriter. She submitted this book to many publishing houses and they rejected it. Then after one year the editor Barry Cunningham who works at Bloomsbury publishing house in London accepted the book and published 1000 copies in 1997. The book won the first award and then won the second award of the Children’s Book of the Year. After that, six more Harry Potter books were published. In 2004 Rowling became the richest person in the world.

The Story of the novel

Harry Potter is a ten year old boy. He is an orphan who lives with the Dursley family: his aunt Petunia, loathsome uncle Vernon, and his cousin Dudley. The Dursley family doesn’t like Harry. One day Harry finds a letter sent to him. Before he opens the letter, uncle Vernon takes it. Then the letters come again later in huge numbers. But Vernon tears them all up. Finally he tries to escape from this letters to a miserable shack on a small island. On Harry’s birthday, a giant man named Hagrid tells Harry that he is a wizard and that he has been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He also tells him that his parents have been killed by Voldemort. He has a scar in his forehead during the battle.

When he goes to the school, the students are assigned to four houses: Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Slytherin and Hufflepuff. Harry is in Gryffindor. He becomes friends with Ron and Hermione. His enemy is Draco Malfoy (Slytherin). Then Harry becomes a member of the Quidditch team because he is skillful in flying on a broomstick. This time in one of their adventures they discover a dog with three heads guarding a trapdoor. Then Harry discovers that Professor Snape who teaches them about potions is trying to get hold of what is behind the trapdoor. Harry on his birthday receives his father’s invisibility cloak. He finds “Mirror of Erised”. In this mirror he can see his parents. Then Albus Dumbledore explains that the mirror shows the deepest desire.

Harry, Ron and Hermione discover that the treasure under the trapdoor is the philosopher’s stone, which can turn metal into gold. Also it can give immortality. Then they discover that Voldemort is killing the Unicorns in the Forbidden Forest and he is drinking their blood. After that, they discover that Hagrid knows the secret of how to make the dog with three heads sleep. They believe that the philosopher’s stone is in danger. They try to be covered under the cloak of invisibility to get the stone and protect it from Voldemort. When they reach the room they find the nervous Professor Quirrell there. Professor Quirrell doesn’t know how to get the stone from the Mirror. Then he forces Harry to try. Then he stands in front of the Mirror wishing to just to protect the stone and not use it for himself. Harry feels the Stone’s weight in his pocket but doesn’t tell Quirrell that he has it. Quirrell unwraps the turban showing Voldemort’s face on the back of his head. Harry, Quirrell and Voldemort fight to get the stone. Finally, Harry wakes up in the infirmary and learns that Dumbledore saved him and the stone is destroyed and Voldemort escaped.

1.1. Background study

The research topic is a critical study of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone with special focus on the elements of fantasy. She wrote about a magical world in a wonderful and amazing way and whoever reads her novels falls in love with reading Harry Potter novels. But the question is why did this novel become and remain so popular? And because it is fantasy fiction genre I will focus on the element of fantasy. Furthermore, when J.K. Rowling wrote the first book she meant it for children but everyone loves to read it, both adults and children. Therefore, does this book convey any special messages for the readers?

1.2. Problem statement

My study focuses on the element of fantasy in the book and why it makes it so popular, and what message the readers can receive from the book.

1.3. Research objectives

1- To study the main themes of the novel of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
2- To explore the elements of fantasy in the novel.
3- To find out why adults and children enjoy the book.

1.4. Research question

1- Why is Harry Potter is so popular among both adults and children?
2- What is the particular attraction in the elements of fantasy in the novel?
3- Does the book give any special messages to the reader?

2. Chapter Two: Literature Review

2.1. Introduction

In this chapter, the researcher reviews previous studies to evaluate articles relevant to the research. In addition, the researcher uses the literature review to collect more information about the research topic and to find relevant research methods or a new conceptual framework.

2.2. Literature and concepts review

Nah (2012) finds that there are scientific elements or horror elements at the center of the visual imagery in films. This study is not just focused on the fantasy narrative but on the imagery of the fantasy work. He looks at the fantasy images among internationally popular films and finds there are common themes presented in different ways. He says that the fantasy image is revealed through reality reconstruction, symbolism, desire, and deconstruction and transformation. Fantasy is often created when figurative expressions take literal meanings.

Kotarba (2003) examines the plot of the first Harry Potter book and finds that the narrative is not original and that there are many children’s books with the same story but different characters. Something incredible is the unusual length of books that children read. There are more than 800 pages in some novels. This suggests that the books have a great effect on the reading ability of children by capturing their imaginations. Sales of the Harry Potter books show that the series never diminished in effectiveness. The popularity of books has continued since their first publication. Kotarba explores the Harry Potter phenomenon with his students. He compares the Harry Potter series with a similar book of fantasy to find if they are linked or not. For example: there are many books that feature mysterious wizards flying brooms and brave young adventurers. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone serves as an introduction to the series of The Lord of the Rings. Another children’s fantasy tale, Narnia, is about a group of kids who enter a hidden world behind their closet. Alice in Wonderland is about a girl who finds a magical world down a rabbit hole. There is a common theme in many fantasy books that involves the main characters in fighting the forces of evil. Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone has this concept. Furthermore, Kotarba explores the Harry Potter phenomenon of books and movies with his students to see if any of the magical illusions in the stories can be explained scientifically. Hefinds that some of the story events do have a basis in science. For example, the giant creatures found in the book, such as Hagrid, Harry Potter’s Friend, was a giant because his mother was a giantess, and that shows us that we inherit genes from our parents that can affect our size. Each creature is controlled by these genes, and monsters result when the normal process of cell division is deviated from. He also discusses the story’s impacts on children’s literature as a fantasy genre. Children love to use their imagination and love to believe the magic. Finally, in his research he shows us that his students like to pretend to be one of the main characters. The students enjoy reading these books in a loud voice to express the particular features of each character.

Bártová (2014) shows the importance of reading and how it affected culture when the Harry Potter phenomenon started. He shows that reading is a valuable activity with social and cultural importance. This article discusses the reading itself and the importance of reading and the development of reading in Britain in the 20th century. Also, it discusses the genres of fantasy and fiction and deals with children’s fantasy literature as a genre. In the second chapter he analyzes a Harry Potter novel. He looks at the most important aspects and themes. He also explains the Harry Potter phenomenon and how it affects the readers. Reading can influence their society lives, personal development and of course the way of thinking. All this can help the children to become successful readers and learners with better use of language and with a large of vocabulary, then after reading they will be better in writing. Harry Potter books are used in children’s literature to study in schools and to teach children the ethics and politics and sociology. Finally he believes Harry Potter novels should be included in a school curriculum to support reading in schools and that the book is very important for children’s literature.

Simpson (2017) explores how Harry Potter books affect the millennial generation that grew up on reading them. He analyzes the conformity of the books and their connections with literary traditions. After explaining the importance of the novels, he studies the successful effect of the Harry Potter books on the millennial generation by three important methods. First, the series of novels led a generation to gain knowledge about reading and writing with each successive book. The Harry Potter phenomenon is different from anything that we have known in our time. There are many reasons for its success, but Rowling basically took the idea from other traditional stories to create this series and reworked it to make it attractive and impactful. Harry Potter novels have inspired millions of readers to read lifelong. The millennial is the most knowledgeable of any other generation and reads more literature than any other generation. Also, Harry Potter novels teach readers to reject violence and support equality, along with many other morally lessons.

Louisa (2011) examines why Harry Potter books are so popular, what messages they hold, and how people can benefit from reading them. She finds that reading is very important and that Harry Potter books help readers in their lives and give encouragement and hope. It helps us to find our “inner child”. It makes us live and think like children and we don’t bother about adult things but just live in the world without sadness or worry. Also, the books can help children to learn values such as loyalty, equality, love and respect for friendship. These values are reflected in the friendship between the three main child characters. This research was done by examining different research papers written about Harry Potter books from a physiological perspective.

Louisa also analyzes the representations of childhood and adulthood in the novels of Harry Potter. She explores the relationship between childhood and adulthood against the background of the changes in society today. We can use Harry Potter books to follow the development of a young boy from 11 years old to adulthood in order to study the tension and instability between childhood and adulthood. It starts with the reflexivity of childhood and adulthood in Harry Potter novels through Aron Hicklin’s idea that Harry Potter restores the reader’s childhood. Society encourages the child to act like an adult. In Harry Potter novels, the adult characters are represented as inefficient, unsafe, unstable or even corrupt. They fail to learn the lessons that children learn. As a result in reality, adults may escape from their lives by drinking alcohol. In Rowling’s fiction the children do not enjoy perfect childhoods. They have to deal with internal and external stress which increases when the characters enter adulthood. Both children and teachers feel stress, and some of them resort to medical treatment to relieve the pressure. However, Harry Potter books show how the growing and changing children deal with such stress by adopting important values.

Helgesen (2010) explores friendship, love, truth and death in the Harry Potter series. She says that these are the most important moral topics in the texts. This study shows that Harry Potter’s morality is politically correct for a modern day setting. Bravery is the basic value, and friendship is important for greatness, and love is the true power. Friendship and bravery are at the centre of the stories. An analysis of the concepts of love shows conflicting thoughts about destiny and choice. Furthermore, death is the ultimate expression of truth, but there are also conflicting thoughts about the existence of an afterlife. Rowling as a speaker in the name of morality makes it clear that there are things in our world that are morally wrong. Also, Rowling uses her writing to express the existence of evil.

2.3. Conclusion

The literature review gives us some examples of fantasy elements that take a powerful role in fantasy novels. All the research shows that the main elements are magic and adventure. Other secondary elements are love, friendship and death. Also, many articles discuss why Harry Potter is so popular in our world and that is because it is very entertaining for children. They like to read it because it is near or similar to their world and the way they perceive things. Some of the articles discus the ways J.K. Rowling uses to engage children’s attention. Although she wrote them for children the novels also attract adults. She makes both children and adults enjoy reading even if the books are more than 500 pages long.

Finally, the research has often considered the message that Harry Potter novels give to the reader. This novel has strong messages that teach the readers several morals, such as the importance of good behavior, of helping and loving others, and of sacrifice and friendship. Harry and his friends will never leave each other no matter what happens. Many universities have started teaching these novels in children’s literature because of their influence on a new generation of readers growing up through cultural change.

3. Chapter Three: Methodology

3.1. Theoretical Framework

A qualitative and analytical approach will be used for this project. Inductive and deductive methodologies will also be used.

3.2. Materials

The material used in the project is a fiction and fantasy novel in children’s literature, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – the first book in a series of seven Harry Potter books. I chose the first book because it is the one that started the Harry Potter phenomenon which has become the subject of several academic studies.

I collected some information from websites and books that helped me in writing an analysis and answering my research question: How do the elements of fantasy work? I answer the question of why the novel of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is very popular. The last question is does the Harry Potter novel give meaningful messages or lessons to the reader?

The definition of fantasy applied to the study is taken from The Oxford dictionary:

“a genre of imaginative fiction involving magic and adventure, especially in a setting other than the real world.”

4. Chapter Four: Results

The key feature in many novels contains adventure and some characters lead us to a magical and amazing world, or discover hidden surprises. In the Harry Potter series the author J. K. Rowling presents an imaginary world of mythical animals and characters, power-seeking tyrants and much more.

These novels of magical worlds are where the impossible is possible. The “impossible” is a common element in fantasy. A magical spell made by a wizard waving a wand may challenge the laws of physics as we know them. The authors of fantasy connect unrelated ideas with scientific laws. They swim in their imaginations by creating their own world where strange creatures live alongside humans either on Earth or in a hidden magical world that humans cannot see.

4.1. Example Elements of Fantasy


The word ‘magic’ comes from the Greek ‘maikos’. Magic in some famous books has many forms. In J.K. Rowling novels the wizard has a duel with wands, and there are dragons and flying cars, magic potions, evil power, invisibility cloaks and unicorns. In “Narnia” by the author C.S. Lewis, a witch casts a spell on the kingdom of Narnia to sink it in eternal winter. It is also destroys the world simply by saying “the deplorable world”, which reflects an author’s belief that words have amazing power, because an author’s tools are words. The interpretation of magic in the stories is not straightforward. There are dangers in using magic. In the Philosopher’s Stone the devil uses a killing spell but it is forbidden and it rebounds on himself..

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