You know the feeling. You’ve just sat down in your favourite armchair with a cup of tea, some cookies and Philosopher’s Stone, getting ready to immerse yourself in the world of Harry – when your mom/roomie/significant other walks in and exclaims: ‘Really? Again?’
The Ravenclaw proudly presents: 5 Reasons You Re-read Harry Potter.
1. The World
First of all, the magical world, in itself, is created in such a way that it allows multiple revisits. What we are presented with here is world-building at its finest. J.K. Rowling has created a world with an extraordinary attention to detail. Throughout the series, we are not only presented with the basic elements to let the narrative move on. Magical creatures, historical incidents, famous wizards and witches and peculiar magical objects are mentioned in passing, without necessarily contributing to the unfolding of the story. This attention to detail expands the universe by letting on that the witches and wizards, giants and dragons continue to breathe and act when Harry leaves the room, shaping a world with a past, present and future. This not only establishes a sense of reality as the world of Harry Potter mimics the complexity of our own world; it also lays the foundation for what Jenkins calls drillability. A world of such intricate design begs us to drill deeper in the quest for knowledge. It begs us to take on an almost forensic attitude in order to uncover everything there is to know about the particular world. And it begs us to re-read.
2. The Characters
It is not only the magical world which is created with the purpose of drillability. When you look at the characters, which inhabit this world, it becomes clear that they, too, are detailed, complex entities. This world seems to be devoid of stereotypes and one-dimensional characters. And here I am not only referring to the obvious Mr. Severus ‘Always’ Snape. Think about it: Neville is not just the slow, unlucky friend; there is more to Fred and George than just the pranks; and Dumbledore’s past reveals that the view of him as the flawless, omnipotent master-wizard may be compromised. And what about the smallest of characters like Arabella Figg and Narcissa Malfoy? And what about Harry himself? Is he the essence of goodness, or does he possess less desirable character traits as well? The bottom line is that the characters are as dense and complex as the world they inhabit. We return to these characters time and time again because there is still more to learn about them. We want to dig into the particulars of each specific character in order to speculate and discuss their actions.
3. The Mystery
What is appealing about the world of Harry Potter, however, is not just that the world is packed with vast amounts of details, facts and figures for us to know. It is the fact that this knowledge is not just handed to us on a plate, but is, at times, shrouded in a robe of mystery. Remember in Goblet of Fire when Harry returned from the graveyard and tells Sirius and Dumbledore about Voldemort using his blood to reanimate himself? In a fleeting moment Harry sees something like a gleam of triumph in Dumbledore’s expression. To the casual reader this might soon be forgotten, but the hard-core fan is aroused. Why did Dumbledore react in this way? What was he thinking? This seemingly innocent remark pushes the fan to speculate and theorize. But it also establishes a sense of continuity within the franchise. Dumbledore’s reaction is connected to his knowledge of Harry’s link to Voldemort as the 8th horcrux – a knowledge which is not presented to the reader until the 7th book. When you re-read the series you realize how Dumbledore’s knowledge is not just created on the spur of the moment, but actually is something the character can be seen working on throughout the series.
4. The Recognition
When we re-read we not only get a greater understanding of the continuity within the narrative – we are also rewarded through the knowledge that we already have. In the beginning of Goblet of Fire, it is mentioned in passing that the only wizard family living in the neighbourhood of The Burrow, besides the Diggorys, are the Lovegoods. As a first-time reader, this does not mean anything, but as a re-reader you know that the Lovegoods will play a large part later on. Throughout the series are strewn little nods to the fans who know the story well. Characters and objects which play a greater role in the future are mentioned briefly in order to allow the re-readers the joy of recognition. Some forms of recognition, however, play a more profound role. Think about how you re-read the actions of Snape in a different light, when you know how his story ends. Or how you react differently to Moody in Goblet of Fire because you know he is an imposter. This is what Neil Young’s defines as additive comprehension. Every time you gain a new piece of information, you alter the entire way you perceive the story at hand. When you learn that Moody is an imposter, you see his actions anew when you re-read. When you learn that Dumbledore has been working on his plan behind the scenes the whole time, you see his actions anew when you re-read. In this way, when you re-read, you, somehow, also read for the first time.
To sum up, what makes Harry Potter re-readable over and over again lies in the density of the narrative as a whole. There are just so many details for us to dig into, allowing us to re-read ad lib without exhausting the world of the novel. A world which has so much to offer is also a world into which we are easily immersed. The more we learn about the mysteries, the continuity, the characters – the more we feel at home in the world. We feel that we belong to that world, and the world to us. Harry Potter does just this – there is just so much for us to discover, recognize, re-evaluate, re-speculate – and remember. With a world so densely packed with events, objects, people, spells and creatures it takes a specific type of super-fan to cope, and remember all of it. The rest of us mere mortals can, however, enjoy the fact that we can re-read. Re-read and re-enjoy all the stuff we forgot ever happened.
~ The Ravenclaw
To know more about drillability, continuity, additive comprehension and immersion see:
Jenkins, Henry “The Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: Seven Principles of Transmedia Storytelling.” http://henryjenkins.org/2009/12/the_revenge_of_the_origami_uni.html
—. “Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: The Remaining Four Principles of Transmedia Storytelling.” http://henryjenkins.org/2009/12/revenge_of_the_origami_unicorn.html