Harry Potter and the Protocols of Faerie

Part of the appeal of HARRY POTTER is the sympathy for the main character: an orphan, who secretly has a special power, but who is unjustly picked on. He has all the disadvantages of fame but none of the perquisites. Think of Clark Kent and Jommy Cross.

Part of the appeal is that the book is wholesome and good-natured. School chums have to outwit or endure school bullies and mean teachers, but also fight the Dark Lord, in whose existance hapless grown-ups do not believe. Think of TOM BROWN’S SCHOOL DAYS, or any of those School Boys Versus Spies adventure stories that had once been popular.

It is also full of whimsy. You have little wizards and witches flying on broomsticks playing soccer. The kids crack jokes. Things are funny. It is also serious: people die, evil folks do real evil things, and not everything is going to be set right by the end. The characters are appealing, and one need only look over the great cesspool of Modernism to see how appealing being appealing can be, and how rare.

The fame, however, I think mostly due to the accessability of the world and its characters. Anyone can pick up and read this book. You do not have to be a fan of fantasy, you do not have to be a fan of schoolboy adventure stories.

Let me dwell on this point for a moment. Most Fantasy has a set of assumptions, a protocol (if you will) that the readers and the author all take for granted. Those who are outside our genre, the muggles, do not understand and have no taste for our protocols. We simply understand why throwing a magic ring into a volcano can destroy the fallen angel who rules The Dark Land. Most mainstream readers do not or can not: to them it looks arbitrary, or childish, or allegorical.

Harry is not inside our protocols, however. It is a mainstream book, not a book meant only for us. Anyone who has ever celebrated Halloween knows as much as he needs to know about Harry Potter’s world: wizards wear pointy hats and carry wands, witches ride on broomsticks, spells are cast in Latin. It is not Speculative Fiction any more or any less than BEWITCHED or I DREAM OF JEANIE.

Harry Potter does not take place in Middle Earth, or Earthsea, or Poictisme, or Pern, which are secret countries of Faerie where few mortals go. It takes place in Halloween-land, a place no more mysterious or faraway than Disneyland.

I submit that the great secret of the success is that nine people out of ten can pick up HARRY POTTER and get some pleasure out of it. Much as I admire, even idolize, LORD OF THE RINGS or DUNE or NINE PRINCES IN AMBER or THE DYING EARTH, only one out of ten can pick it up can get something out of these books.