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I originally wrote this essay in 2010 for a university course entitled Popular Narratives in response to the question: ‘Does the popularity of children’s stories with adult readers in the twenty-first century indicate only a ‘dumbing down’ in our culture?’ by Philip Pullman have found an eager audience of both children and adults.English Fantasy fiction, In library, History and criticism, Harry Potter, Wizards in literature, Magic in literature, Children's stories, English, Criticism and interpretation, Books and reading, Characters, Children, Harry Potter (Fictitious character) J. Rowling achieved astounding commercial success with her series of novels about Harry Potter.
Maria Nikolajeva names several examples of the supposed simplicity of children’s literature such as it having ‘a clear and unambivalent address’, it being shorter than adult novels, having a chronological narrative, and often having a ‘distinct narrative voice, often an omniscient, didactic (presumably adult) narrator.’ It follows logically that were children’s literature as complex as adult literature than its popularity with an adult audience would not be an indicator of this so-called ‘dumbing down’ in contemporary culture.
Both the Harry Potter series and , whereas in the Harry Potter series there are more subtle, although no less interesting, references.
On the surface, the narration in the beginning of both series is deceptively simple, even if there is no omniscient narrator. As Nikolajeva argues; because the child protagonist is focalized internally, the reader ‘perceive[s] the events and other characters exclusively through [the child’s] naïve, immature and often biased mind.’ The result is that the reader receives only limited and distorted information, but ‘a keen reader may make inferences beyond the protagonist’s ability’. Only infrequently in does Lyra not function as the focalizer.
An example is the conversation between the Master and the Librarian where the Librarian is the focalizer. The importance of this episode is that the reader is given essential information about both Lyra’s world such as the totalitarian regime of the Church, ‘the Church’s power over every aspect of life [was] absolute’, and in addition, the reader is made privy to information that need necessarily be concealed from Lyra, for instance the fact that she will experience a great betrayal and most importantly: ‘, this first chapter sets Harry up as being a special child who will have an important role to play in the upcoming story; a role that he is unaware of.
Interestingly, even though the text validates both approaches, at the end of when Lyra loses her intuitive ability to read the alethiometer, she can regain it by work and her reading ‘will be even better then, after a lifetime of thought and effort, because it will come from conscious understanding.’ In conclusion, both continues to use Harry as the principle focalizer, Rowling creates a complex narrative to allow for a hermeneutic narratee and encourages the reader to engage in a re-reading of the narrative in order to see how seemingly small details take on a different and highly significant meaning once the reader is aware of the fabula.
In comparison, Pullman increasingly uses polyfocalization which complicates his narrative because it allows for a multitude of perspectives and storylines.
Despite the limited and distorted information that the reader receives inherent to having Harry as the focalizer, the reader should, like Hermione, in the earlier quoted words by Nikolajeva, ‘make inferences beyond the protagonist’s ability’ An interesting aspect to the concept of the hermeneutic narratee is the importance and allure of re-reading.
As Fife points out, Rowling has a ‘simple, direct narrative style’ which pulls readers ‘into her fictional construct’ and therefore tempts readers to read too superficially.
During this match, Harry is almost thrown off his broom because Quirrel, under the influence of the series’ antagonist Voldemort, is cursing him, as is revealed towards the end of the novel. Hermione and Ron assume that it is Snape who is cursing Harry and Rowling cleverly misleads the reader through the shift in focalizer. The focalizer shifts from Harry, to Ron watching Harry losing control of his broom, to Hermione on her way to Snape to Snape realising that his robes are on fire. Through these focalizer shifts, the reader’s attention is distracted from Harry and the exact sequence of events is obscured so that the reader is encouraged to draw the wrong conclusions and is cleverly misled. In the second novel of also marks a significant shift in setting and the novel alternates between Lyra’s world, our own world and Cittàgazze, the initial bridge world between the two.
This has the interesting effect that whilst Lyra functions as focalizer, our own world is ‘described partially […] by means of estrangement, that is, by presenting familiar things as if they were unfamiliar.’ Incidentally, a very similar opposition is created in exists ‘only in relation to the “real” world’, she describes the wizard world as a ‘shadow world’ existing ‘largely in the gaps in Muggle perceptions’. Because the wizard world echoes or mirrors ‘real’ customs and discourse, our own world is, like in reflected back at the reader. To come back to the focalization argument, increasingly throughout the series, Pullman uses polyfocalization. He uses an increasing number of characters as focalizer thereby allowing the reader ‘to know and understand more than any of his several focalizing characters’ as well as increasing the complexity of the narrative since several storylines are told simultaneously.