Harry Potter is not a masterwork from a literary point of view.

It has been claimed that Literary masterworks all possess magnificent prose, a figurative character, a mythic description, a mythic structure, and specificity.  Harry Potter (HP) falls short in a number of these criteria, particularly the last one; specificity.  Specificity means that a text must contain a rounded narrative, which ties off it’s plot in a way that makes sense and is perfectly explained, within the world of the novel.  A masterwork, therefore, should not include glaring plot holes and inconsistencies.  Clichés also create problems when looking into the figurative characters or the mythic description.

HP is a series of novels which have received many awards, both for success and quality of writing.  New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani has, in reviews for the sixth (HP and the Half Blood Prince) and the seventh novel (HP and the Deathly Hallows), stated that “Ms. Rowling has fitted together the jigsaw-puzzle pieces of this long undertaking with Dickensian ingenuity and ardor” and “It is a novel that pulls together dozens of plot strands from previous volumes, underscoring how cleverly and carefully J. K. Rowling has assembled this giant jigsaw puzzle of an epic.”

HP has become such a global phenomenon that, not only is it being compared to some of the greatest fantasy novel series of all time; Lord of the Rings for example, but the series is also being used in university curricula as examples of excellent writing and fantastic character studies.  However to call them excellent pieces of writing might be stretching it a bit.

Reading the novels as an adult may result in a very different conclusion, for those who do not read through rose tinted glasses.  HP is far from perfect, if it were, to borrow a metaphor, a jigsaw-puzzle, there would be several pieces missing.  HP is full of plot holes that could become crystal clear upon a multiple readings.

Among the most commonly discussed is one of the most important points of the final book, regarding wand ownership.  HP wins over Voldemort due to the Elder wand having recognized him as its true owner, because he stole Draco’s wand earlier.   This poses several unanswered questions since, throughout the course of the seven novels HP has disarmed and taken by force, several wands.  This means that Harry should be the true owner of scores of wands.  It is also established early in the seventh novel that another person’s wand will not work as well for the holder, as it would for its true owner.  Therefore Harry’s wand should not work for him perfectly since, in the fifth novel, Neville Longbottom disarms him of his wand.

There are many others which fans of the series have discovered and shared.  Some of the most prominent are; ‘Harry should be able to see the Thestrals from the first book since he watched his mother die as a baby’ and ‘James emerges from Voldemort’s wand before Lily even though he was killed first’  The simple fact is that HP has far too many of these plot holes for it to be considered as an example of writing excellence.

A plot hole that I have found personally begins in the sixth book.  The concept of Inferi (dead bodies reanimated by a dark wizard) is introduced.  These Inferi are shown to be extremely powerful, as revealed in the defense against the dark arts class, and only have a single weakness (fire), which has been shown, in the series, to be a difficult form of magic.  It is stated throughout this novel and the following one that Inferi have been and are being used by the dark wizards, but when it comes to the climatic battle between the dark wizards and the resistance (majority of which are students) there are no Inferi to be found.  For Voldemort to have not brought these creatures, which only have one weakness, that most of his opposition can’t create, seems illogical.

Plot holes are not the only problem with the writing in HP.  Occurring just as often are plot inconsistencies.  One of the most popular examples of this is found in the seventh novel.  On the 52nd page Hermione says “I’ve also modified my parents’ memories”.  However on page 88 after Ron says “I’ve never done a Memory Charm” she replies with “nor have I, but I know the theory”.  These two quotes completely contradict each other.  Hermione has already used the memory charm, to ensure her parents safety, so for her to then claim to have never done one before makes absolutely no sense.

Again as with the plot holes there are many more examples of these inconsistencies.  They exist within each book and the inconsistencies can change over the series.  Other examples of inconsistencies are; in the fifth book Tonks claims to have only been an auror last year, but then later in the same book professor McGonagall states that there have been no new aurors in the last three years.  Another in the very first novel in the series Hagrid says, “I’ll be takin’ Sirius his bike back.” But in the third book, it is made clear that Sirius told Hagrid to keep the bike because he (Sirius) didn’t need it anymore.  This inconsistency was later changed to Hagrid simply saying “I’d best get this bike away”.

HP suffers from falling into typical fantasy clichés as well.  Harry himself is just about the absolute epitome of cliché fantasy heroes; he is orphaned as a child by the evil wizard, raised in an oppressive household, a prophecy foretells his destiny to defeat the dark lord and many other things, which are examples of a cliché fantasy hero.  The evil Voldemort is another typical cliché; with his connection to the hero, constant presence being felt and his being an ugly, deformed being.  There are so many examples of cliches throughout the series from characters to plot devices and themes.  If the books were being described without referencing any details, it would sound identical to most other fantasy novels written for children.

HP is definitely a great success and wonderful children’s story.  However with plot holes, inconsistencies and cliches it is clearly not an example of a masterwork of fiction.

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7 thoughts on “Harry Potter is not a masterwork from a literary point of view.

  1. Hi there Sye,
    Your argument is starting to look really good I actually agree with your argument and you have good use of hyperlinks. I think that your argument could be stronger though as although you have said that Harry Potter isn’t a literally masterpiece you haven’t actually explained or defined what makes a book a literally masterpiece. I think if you did this it would be more convincing to state the different aspects to what makes a book a literary masterpiece then explain how Harry Potter doesn’t do or include these things. Also watch out for your rhetorical questions that you have at the end of some of your paragraphs as Frank said in Mondays lecture to avoid the use of rhetorical questions. Its a really good argument and I look forward to reading more.
    – Dominique

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    • hey thanks for your comments. You’ve actually pointed out a few things that I had noticed as well and plan on addressing. My problem is that I have to find a way to cut down my word count because I’ve already hit over 1000 words. Thank you so much for your feedback it’s really going to help me out a lot.

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  2. Hi Sye,

    You are very brave to say this but If you compare it with Lord of the Rings, that could be sensible. But if you read Beowulf, you might notice that it has so much influence in Tolkien’s writing. Also the dwarf’s names are actually came from Dvergata (the catalog of Dwarfs), a section of poem in Old Norse poem.

    What I read in Harry Potter and Narnia, they took many words from Old Norse and you might find many witch and words that has been used in those novels. Maybe these websites quite useful,

    http://www.omgfacts.com/lists/15560/Fan-of-the-Lord-of-the-Rings-You-need-to-learn-where-it-came-from-this-is-shocking?%2Fl%2F15560=

    https://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Old_Norse.html

    Keep try your best Sye, and I wish this helps.

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    • Personally I am not comparing it to Lord of the Rings, merely stating it has been done by others. Also I am not denying the effects of influences of other materials on a text. I do not say that is a bad thing to be influenced by other texts, in fact if writers weren’t influenced by others then there would be very few novels out there. I don’t actually mention influences at all. The comparisons between Harry Potter and LOTR that I am addressing are not so much on the similarities of the content but more on the style of writing and how accomplished the novels are in a literary point of view. Thank you for those links though. Norse mythology is actually a passion of mine so i found these very interesting.

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  3. Hi Sye,

    As one of those “I’ve read Harry Potter 74939575894 times and I still love it” people, I knew I would find your argument rather interesting.

    Firstly, in your introduction you state that “Literary masterworks all possess magnificent prose, a figurative character, a mythic description, a mythic structure, and specificity” and then you only go on to state the errors in the specificity of Harry Potter, which is fine for your argument, but because it (in your opinion) falls short in only one category, not all of them, does that actually justify it to not be a literary masterwork? Wouldn’t it have to fall short in every category?

    Your argument with the wands is a fair point. I agree that it should mean “scores of wands” belong to Harry and to many other wizards as well, but this is not denied in the novels. Also, for Neville disarming Harry, could it be possible that because it was friendly this rule does not occur? I’m also quite sure that after this occasion there would have been more disarming. But you make a very fair point, hard to argue with!

    I definitely agree with your point on the Thestrals, and this puzzled me for a while. However, throughout the first book, Harry can only remember a flash of green light, not the actual scene of his parents dying. According to Luna you have to have watched someone die, and Harry would not have been able to comprehend the situation as a baby or even remember it.

    For the fact of James coming out of Voldemort’s wand first, I seem to recall them coming out together, but it could just be my memory because it has been over a year since I last read the series 😛

    I also seem to recall the use on Inferi in the final battle, or plans from Voldemort to use them..

    Your statement “HP is full of plot holes that could become crystal clear upon a multiple readings.” Is one I absolutely agree with, although I would not call them “holes”. This is one of the many great things that makes Harry Potter so great to read over and over again. So many more things become clearer upon a second, and multiple readings. I do not think these are “holes”, I think they are purposely added by J.K. Rowling to make the book more, to use the word, “magical”.

    I never realised Hermione’s memory charm fail, and I have to agree with you there, that makes absolutely no sense.

    For Harry being your “typical cliché”, I find this hard to agree with. Yes the setting could be considered cliché, but I find it hard to think of any other characters with the same circumstances. Also, the typical “wizard” we all thought of was, unfortunately, Dumbledore and Gandalf style. But the world of Harry Potter has opened up the term “wizard”. A “wizard” can now be an any-age, any-personality and look like any boy or man in the world, and the same goes for “witch”. They are no longer evil, ugly, old hags, but can be whichever girl or woman you can think of! Furthermore, magic is no longer pulling a bunny out of a hat and making a coin disappear. Harry Potter has opened up this whole world of magic and wizardry, which was barely considered before, and to me that is hardly a cliché.

    Overall, you have produced a very consistent, well-written and strong argument, but I am just too much of a Harry Potter fan to be convinced.
    Well done ☺

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    • Thanks for your comment. I feel I must start with I too am somewhat of a fan of HP however I am merely trying to hold it to a higher level of literary accomplishment. Perhaps it isn’t overly clear but in my introduction I mention that clichés are problems with mythic structure and figurative characters. I wanted to go into more detail on the ways that HP actually doesn’t meet the criteria for most of the points not just specificity but thanks to the word count I chose to focus in on that. Also the claim that I am using as the description says that masterworks must contain all 5 so to miss 1 is to fail to make the grade.

      The time Neville disarms Harry, while it is in the context of teaching, it also takes Harry by surprise and thus is taken against his will. I think the whole wand issue was just poorly thought out and could use with a great deal more explanation. It is through fans speculating and trying to explain away issues like this that is what comes to be accepted as fact though it is never stated within the text or by the author.

      Now regarding the Thestrals Harry actually did see his parents die as shown in the final book when harry sees the instance through Voldemort’s eyes. This means that Harry has ‘seen death’ and therefore should be able to see the Thestrals. Again another problem that needs a little explaining and could easily be done with a single line, but since it isn’t it becomes a plot hole.

      James comes out first and tells Harry to ‘hold on’ and that ‘she’ll be here soon’. He definitely emerges first so again just another thing in the canon that doesn’t make sense.

      I have read and reread that final battle sequence a million times because this particular issue drove me nuts. There are no Inferi to be found period. He has giants and the giant spiders come out of the forest but there are no Inferi. But you see what I mean though right? it feels like there should be Inferi there. Thus what drives me nuts.

      Leaving things unexplained or making no sense as a way to make things more magical to me personally seems like lazy writing. It feels like she couldn’t think of an explanation that made sense and so she just did it and then caulked it up to magic.

      The fantasy clichés I talk about are long standing tropes that extend back to the classics of fantasy like sword in the stone where Arthur is an orphan, who has a prophecy about his destiny as the chosen one and he was raised as a squire to an abusive want-to-be-knight. Frodo in lord of the rings is also an orphan, it has become a cliché that is so prolific that it is hard to avoid in most modern fantasy. Some of my favourite moderns light ‘the name of the wind’ and ‘the lies of locke lamora’ both have protagonists that are orphans. Again Voldemort being an ugly deformed being is another cliché, again I will liken it to sword in the stone and madam mim who is an ugly deformed evil witch who opposes merlin.

      I am not saying that these things make HP a bad series or anything of that kind. I truly think that it has done great things for the world of books and has made reading fashionable again. I am merely saying that the quality of the books does not warrant it to be called a masterwork. This most likely stems from the fact that the are primarily a children’s series.

      I thank you for your comment it was really fun. I understand I’m not likely to change your mind but at least it opened the floor for an interesting discussion. Thanks 😀

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