how each book fits into a class of its own
With Harry Potter and the Cursed Child hitting both bookshelves and London’s Palace Theatre this summer, Pottermania has reached peaks not seen since the release of the final film back in 2011. Luckily for a complete geek like me, who modeled his first pair of glasses in second grade after his favorite boy wizard, all that means is that it’s finally okay to talk about Hogwarts with the general populace again without the general populace slowly backing away.
So what better time to unveil a Harry Potter theory of mine?
Don’t worry, it’s not some wonky fan thing about how Ron is actually a time-traveling Dumbledore (seriously, it’s on the Internet, so it must be true). Rather, mine is about the form of the novels themselves. I believe that, long before Rowling went “theater kid” and decided to try a new method of storytelling, each book was actually written as an homage to a completely distinct genre of literature.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Fantasy
This one might seem obvious, since the whole series is solidly in the realm of fantasy. But none of the other books come close to the sheer worldbuilding in which this one delights. The Spielbergian sense of wonder, as Harry and his new friends explore Hogwarts for the first time, as they meet the weird and hilarious members of their new home, and as they discover the capabilities of their powers, taps into a timeless hunger for the fantastic and the unbelievable.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Mystery
Chamber of Secrets is a whodunnit at its heart, and the heroes have to solve the mystery to get to the bottom of it. They grapple with Christie-esque clues, like the rooster feathers mysteriously left at the crime scene, to figure out who’s been petrifying the students of Hogwarts. There’s also enough espionage, secret passageways, and red herrings to keep mystery buffs guessing along with the characters—and it all leads up to the climactic… uh, anagram. But it wasn’t the butler this time: It was the diary. Duh.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Horror
A werewolf? A soul-sucking flying ghost wraith? A prison that drives its inmates insane? A monster that takes the shape of your greatest fear? Prisoner of Azkaban screams horror all the way. Lovecraft and Poe would be proud of this one, even if the literal haunted house called the Shrieking Shack is a little on the nose.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Sports
Calling Matt Christopher! Goblet of Fire is Rowling trying her hand at a young adult sports drama, but instead of a high school football player having to choose between the girl he loves and the sport he grew up playing, we get dragons. This one opens with a lengthy description of the Quidditch World Cup and then spends a bajillion pages on what amounts to an athletic competition, complete with challenges, cheaters, and a constant eye on the scoreboard. (Seriously, why would anyone think the Triwizard Tournament would be a good idea?)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Psychological thriller
Major plot points get revealed in dreams in this book. Harry wakes up in cold sweats, not sure what’s real and what’s just his mind (or, rather, Voldemort inside of it) playing tricks on him. Mind reading and mind control are recurring themes in Order of the Phoenix: Snape tries to teach Harry how to defend himself against magical attacks on his sanity, and Voldemort, after pretty much Incept-ing a fake idea into Harry’s brain, tries to actually possess him later on. Or maybe Harry’s just going crazy the whole time, like the Ministry of Magic’s been telling everyone!
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Soap opera
Any book that spends this many pages describing teenagers falling in lust and immediately snogging the shit out of each other cannot possibly be any other genre.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Epic quest
Finally Rowling gets to let loose here and get her high-fantasy on, and she doesn’t miss the opportunity to pay tribute to the epic fantasy quests of fairy tales and classic masters like Tolkien. It’s a journey to find magical objects (objects which happen to number seven Horcruxes and three Hallows, the two most important digits in mythology), and the book’s nearly episodic form brings to mind the quests of The Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz, and other enchanted road trips. Plus, the final battle and confrontation between good and evil at the end is nothing short of legendary. The series’ neat and unequivocal happy ending, “All was well,” is the finishing touch on a long and richly plotted fairy tale.