I’ve waited on lines at midnight. I’ve won trivia competitions. I’ve debated theories on the internet and I hate most of the movie adaptations. I’ve been told I qualify as a huge Harry Potter fan. Unlike those who credit Harry with getting them into reading, I was always a voracious reader. I didn’t love the books because I had never read anything like them before, on the contrary, J.K. Rowling’s books sat on my shelf next to well-worn favorites by J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and L. Frank Baum. I was no stranger to intricate mythical worlds, precocious teenage heroes and magical adventures, and for many years, the Harry Potter series was simply that, an enjoyable fairytale.
As I got older, however, the books got progressively darker, and I began to suspect there was more to the series than just an exciting plot. The tension between magical and non-magical people looked suspiciously similar to race and class divisions in our reality. Both the “good guys” and the “bad guys” could rightfully be called terrorists or freedom fighters, depending on a character’s allegiance. The magical government seemed to have eyes and ears everywhere…almost as if authorized by a Patriot Act of their own. The parallels to our own society were impossible to ignore, but I was content to acknowledge J.K. Rowling’s political subtext without wondering how or why she was able to seamlessly integrate social critique with the adventure story of Harry’s life.
The last book was released in 2007, just a few months after I graduated from high school. Although I was still active in the online fan community, I went to college with a sense of closure – no more wondering which characters would live and which would die, who would be betrayed and who would do the betraying, or if Harry and his girlfriend would ever get beyond the occasional kiss. (They had three children.) I moved into the dorms and on with my life, not really expecting to get caught up in the series again until I read it with my own kids. I certainly didn’t expect a class I took in my junior year of college to inspire me to dive back into Harry’s world in the name of academia, instead of leisure.
Doomsday was an honors seminar dedicated to examining our culture’s fascination with apocalyptic belief. We read a variety of apocalyptic fiction and analytic nonfiction about the pervasive effects of millennial electism on our society. The Harry Potter series, with its emphasis on the triumph of good over evil, explores many of the social and political consequences of this hierarchical worldview. The series borrows heavily from the traditional apocalyptic myth and narrative established by the Book of Revelation. I chose to do my thesis on apocalypticism in the Harry Potter series because I want to study how J.K. Rowling appropriated John of Patmos’s text to create a hugely popular book series and further her own social agenda. I want to help the readers of my research come to a better understanding of the social significance of the Harry Potter series as more than just an exciting story about a boy wizard.
I expect my readers will be generally familiar with both apocalyptic belief and the Harry Potter series as cultural phenomena. Since apocalypticism is so pervasive in our society and Harry Potter has become a household name, I hope to incite readers’ curiosity by combining two such popular subjects. I want to explore how the books portray specific themes within the apocalyptic belief system (i.e. “us” vs “them” mentality, gender panic, authoritarianism, etc.) and support a general discussion of these themes with specific examples of symbolic details in the books.
I’ll be the first to admit I grew up with Harry Potter. He was eleven in the first book and seventeen in the last; I was nine when I took my first ride on the train to Hogwarts and eighteen when the series ended. I’ve been a member of the online fan community since I was twelve, going to Wizard Rock concerts since I was fifteen, and this past summer, at twenty-one, I went to Orlando to attend a fan convention and visit the new amusement park. Obviously, my story continues as I enter my senior year and start thinking about graduate school. There will not, most likely, be any more books following Harry through his twenties and beyond. Nonetheless, I’m not leaving him behind just yet. Through my research, I hope to join the small-but-growing community of scholars who have started studying this series at the university level.