Written by Breanna Totzke, Senior, Teaching Communication Arts and Literature
The genre of children’s fantasy literature has been said to follow a pattern where the main character or characters start in a world of reality, go to a world of fantasy, and return to their original world. This circular structure is telling the reader that the characters return to their reality the same as when they left for the fantasy world. But this cannot be true because once these characters gain knowledge of another world their reality becomes a dual reality. The circular structure is altered because the characters start in their own world of reality, enter the world of fantasy, but they return with a new found knowledge of this new world that is out there. The characters return to their new reality, one that contains both worlds, a dual reality. Examples of this new structure can be found in multiple children’s fantasy books. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling is a prime example of how the characters understand and use their knowledge of this other world in their dual reality. The circular structure of the past is altered when the characters cross over from their reality to fantasy; these characters can never return the same as they were before, their reality is now a dual reality.
Hermione Granger is a good example of a character that experiences this new structure from the beginning. She grew up in a Muggle home and had no knowledge of another world until her letter from Hogwarts came. She says so at the Welcoming Feast in the Great Hall at Hogwarts that “it was ever such a surprise when I got my letter” (105). Hermione enters the magical world from the Muggle world, her reality, with no previous knowledge and is eager to learn all she can about this new world. Because of her reality, she enters the magical world not understanding taboos and customs of the wizarding community. But as she adapts to this fantasy world she starts calling Voldemort “You-Know-Who” (260). This signifies the blending of her two worlds into one. And when Hermione and Harry are facing Professor Snape’s protection test she uses skills from her experiences from the Muggle world in the world of fantasy. She knows that “the greatest wizards haven’t got an ounce of logic” (285), but she does because of her Muggle upbringing. This is where her two worlds become completely blended together to form her dual reality. When she returns to her parent’s home for the summer she has this knowledge of another world that will affect her. Hermione is an example of a character that experienced the discovery of the magical world and then had it result in creating her dual reality.
Another example of characters being affected by this new structure is the Dursleys. They are living a dual reality from the beginning of the novel because they are already aware of the magical world. Right away the reader is clued in that the Dursley’s “[have] a secret, and their greatest fear [is] that somebody would discover it.” This family is an example of how having a dual reality, the knowledge of another world, can negatively affect someone. They choose to have fear at the very idea of this other world because it is not considered “normal.” The moments before Harry comes to live with the Dursleys are filled with odd events that are “normal” in the magical world. If Mr. Dursley was paying attention to what was happening around him, “fear [would have] flooded him” (4) because he knows the signs of the magical world. His family cannot stand differences; they believe that they are better than the other world. When Harry comes to live with the Dursleys they decide that they would do everything they could to keep the magical world hidden from Harry. They choose this from their previous experience with the fantasy world and their resulting dual reality. Past experiences with the magical world that Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia include being exposed to Petunia’s sister Lily and her husband James Potter, Harry’s parents. Vernon and Petunia’s only view of the magical world is negative because Lily “went and got herself blown up” (53) since she and he husband were “mixed up with [those] wizarding types” (56). Instead of realizing that bad people are going to be in any world someone is in, Vernon and Petunia associate Lily and James’s death to the magical world and they learn to fear the “abnormal” (53).
As Harry grows, Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia punish him for anything that is out of the ordinary because of their fear of the magical world. Multiple times before Harry finds out he is a wizard, strange events happen around and to him including: growing his hair “back so quickly” (24), shrinking sweaters (24), “sitting on a chimney” (25), and dreaming of flying motorcycles (25). When the letters from Hogwarts start coming Vernon tells Petunia “I’m not having one in the house!” and he goes on further saying that he would “stamp out that dangerous nonsense” (36). Their knowledge of the other world results in a negative reaction. Since the Dusley family has such a negative reaction to the magical world Harry is being punished because of their fear. They attempt to keep Harry from encountering the magical world and keep him in reality only.
A final example of a character going through this new structure is Harry Potter. What the Dursleys do not know is that Harry is already living a dual reality because he was born to magical parents Harry entered the magical world right away. But since he was taken away from the magical world at such a young age his reality has a pinch of dual reality from the start. This is noticeable from the dreams he has including “a flying motorcycle” and Harry has the feeling he has “had the same dream before” (19). When in all actuality he lived that dream because Hagrid brought him to the Dursley’s house on a motorcycle. He thinks that this memory is a dream which makes his dual reality become his reality. Harry takes this new world as his reality and takes the magical world as the other world. He even considers the magical world as a new world because Harry notices that many of his classmates “had come from Muggle families…like him” (134). And right away when Hagrid tells him that he is a wizard Harry does not believe him saying “I’m a what?” (51). Even though Harry starts the novel in a dual reality, he is really starting in the same reality as other Muggle characters. Harry returns to his dual reality more confident than before he learned of this other world. He is not affected negatively by the knowledge of the magical world. Harry is better off because he knows of this other world. His dual reality results in happier person who knows how the world works. He realizes that not every person will have the same knowledge that he does, but he can use what he knows to make his life better.
The characters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone show the new circular structure. Hermione, the Dursleys, and Harry all go through the structure where they start in their reality, go to fantasy, and end up in a dual reality. They all have different understandings of their resulting dual realities since they all have different experiences of the magical world. But there is no denying that they return the same as when they left. They all gain something new from their experience that they bring back to their previous reality. The significance of this reading of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is that it alters our reading of this novel and other children’s fantasy literature. The reader becomes aware that the characters know of both worlds once they return to a dual reality. This new structure is not only applicable to Harry Potter, but to many other children’s fantasy also can fit this too. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit also fits this structure. This altered structure helps the reader understand the text better because the reader can understand the characters better. Since the reader can see what the characters are experiences it connects the reader closer to the text. The new structure of reality, to fantasy, to dual reality allows for a better understanding of the characters’ experience.