J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter. Edited by Cynthia J. Hallett and Peggy J. Huey. New Casebooks series. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. $23.00. ISBN 9780230008502.
Palqrave's new casebooks series is designed to introduce university students to a variety of critical approaches to a given author. Other children's authors included in this series are Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis, neither of which have yet been reviewed in Mythlore. If this particular collection is representative, they are worth seeking out.
Sian Harris's "Glorious Food? The Literary and Culinary Heritage of the Harry Potter Series" is an interesting examination of food, food preparation, and eating in the Harry Potter books. Rowling's food themes place her in the British children's literature tradition of Enid Blyton's boarding school stories and Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. However, on closer examination, there are disturbing elements to food in the Potterworld: traditional English fare is privileged over multicultural variety, and food is always prepared by women (Petunia Dursley, Molly Weasley, Hermione Granger) or house-elf slaves. Food itself, though, is a source of comfort; in the wizarding world, as opposed to the Muggle, Harry "encounters adults who nurture him literally and psychologically" (16).
Next, Anne Klaus takes issue with critics who read the Harry Potter books as simplistic fairy tales, most notably Jack Zipes, though she admits there was less of this sort of criticism after the fifth volume was published. Her arguments against this view include "the length and multi-dimensionality" of the series (25), the sacrifices made by many characters, and especially the growing complexity, "moral conscience," and "self-relfexivity" of both primary and secondary characters (27). (In fact, the reader is clearly "invited [...] to sympathize"  with the secondary characters as much as with the protagonist.) One interesting observation Klaus makes is that complex feelings and "psychological phenomena" are externalized in metaphorical objects like the Mirror of Erised (26-7).
Robert T. Tally, Jr. (who wrote on orcs for Mythlore 29.1/2, #111/112) argues that the Harry Potter books as a series form a Bildungsroman well suited to the postmodern era, a time of "anxieties and uncertainties" (38). A central lesson of Harry's Bildung is that what seems to be dictated by destiny and prophecy always comes down to the choices characters make. Tally makes an interesting point about the narrator of the series; for the most part, the narrator "looks over Harry's shoulder" (40) and shares his perspective, except for the initial chapters of four of the books, which serve as prologues. Harry's Bildung is about building community; Harry learns he cannot make it on his own. In opposition, "Voldemort's unwillingness to integrate himself into society is what, in the end, prevents him from both knowing and ruling that society" (42). Like the classic Bildungsroman, the Harry Potter series "educates as it entertains" (46).
Fran Pheasant-Kelly's "Bewitching, Abject, Uncanny" is the longest and most theory-dense essay in this volume, incorporating ideas from Kristeva's theory of the abject and Freud's thoughts on the uncanny, among others. She focuses primarily on the role of space and place in the movies, and asserts that "the different capacities of the visual medium afford certain emphases not available in the novels" (48). Beginning with the contrast between the "repressive, confined space that Harry occupies" at the Dursley house and the fantastic spaces of the wizarding world (49), Pheasant-Kelly ties these themes in with audience anxieties about 9/11 (imagery of "falling bodies, smoke, and shattering glass" 70) and the war on terror. Harry's "increasingly masterful negotiation of threatening spaces signals a steady transition to adulthood" (55). Her analysis suggest that themes, camera angles, lighting strategies, set design and other elements of mise-en-scene reflect concerns like torture, economic recession, genocide, PTSD, national security, and paranoia. …