Fairy tales are still the epitome of children's literature and widely read until this day. Ranging from the Grimm fairy tales to Perrault or Anderson and also British tales like Goldilocks and the Three Bears or Jack and the Beanstalk.
Modern children's literature is currently on the rise, which can also be highly accredited to the Harry Potter books. Ever since their publication onward from the year 1997, writing children's literature has become en vogue. However, experts and readers alike have wondered how Harry Potter achieved what so little other books could. How could it engulf the whole world in a magic fever and become a huge star overnight?
Well, the answer to this question is manifold and complex; however, it appears to be evident that the plot appeals not through originality or creating something entirely new, but plucking up the things we already know and entangling them into a new, exciting story. Many children have said that Harry Potter is entirely relatable to them, which may also stem from the familiar patterns of literary fiction employed in the story.
A rather modern fairy tale, Harry Potter includes many well-known existing patterns of fairy tales and five of them are listed below. If you should think of another, I invite you to comment here or on Facebook.
The Orphan Hero
Orphans seem to bear a great deal of intrigue for a children's book hero. Think of the fairy tale heroes and heroines which, in the most famous at least, often are parent-less or subjected to a cruel stepmother. Think further to Dickens's Oliver Twist or David Copperfield and you will realise that orphans are, indeed, the preferred heroic figures in children's books.
Now, obviously we all know that Harry Potter, also, is an orphan. His parents were murdered by Lord Voldemort when Harry was barely one year old (one year and three months, to be exact). It is worthy to ask the question whether orphans appeal so much to children's stories because their home sphere, as such, is being robbed off them and they have to find their own voice in a cruel and cold world - making them the hero and giving them the strength they need to succeed.
The Idealised Mother Figure and An Unreliable Father
When the Grimm fairy tales were being collected, it was the 19th century. A time of Victorian virtues and a request to return to a more bucolic lifestyle. The figure of the mother was valued very high and almost untouchable. If you think of the stories, it is usually the mother who is described as utterly beautiful, kind and wise. She is the one which makes the loss for the orphan count, whereas the father figure is mostly perceived as weak and unreliable. Think of Cinderella, in which the mother dies shortly after giving birth and the father who lets the evil stepmother into the house and fails to protect his own daughter.
In Harry Potter, Lily Potter is almost a holy figure. We never learn about any of her flaws, she is described as endlessly kind, loyal and beautiful - inwardly and outwardly. James, however, despite being described as a lovely man and father, grows some complexity to his character when Harry realises his father was a bully in school and enjoyed making fun of other people, leading to Harry feeling even resentful towards him. Tom Riddle posing as the other orphan also encounters his father to be unreliable and untrustworthy - though his resentment leads him to murder.
Additionally, Sirius Black, Harry's godfather, also poses as a rather unreliable father figure, as do Hagrid, Dumbledore and Remus Lupin. The only reliable and thoroughly responsible father figure encountered is Arthur Weasley - which is probably also why Rowling decided to kill Lupin off instead of him.
The Evil Stepmother
In Harry Potter the reader is not confronted with an evil stepmother; however, his aunt Petunia, sister of his mother, and uncle Vernon come as close as it gets. In a rather Cinderellaesque manner, they let Harry do their menial household chores, humiliate him by letting him wear over-sized and old clothes and prefer their own offspring in a very unjust manner to Harry. Except from physical violence, Harry has to suffer pretty much from anything an evil stepmother would come up with and, again, poses as the idealised orphan hero you would also find in fairy tale stories like Cinderella in which the hero grows and retains their principles despite being treated like vermin.
The Knight in Shining Armour
Obviously Harry Potter does not get rescued by the knight in shining armour; however, Dumbledore "saves" him by sending the Hogwarts letter and Hagrid to his rescue. Harry, like fairy tale characters, is freed from his miserable life by an external force which whisks him away, but instead of living as a princess in a castle, he lives as a student of magic in a castle. This process is not triggered by Harry and our hero does not save himself, but gets introduced to a world, previously unknown to him and escapes the martyrdom of his evil guardians. Very fairy tale-esque in its patterns.
Appearances According to Good and Evil
Admittedly, this pattern is not as prominent in Harry Potter as in fairy tales, yet still note-worthy. In fairy tales, the outer appearance usually relates closely to whether a character is good or evil. We have hideous witches, abominable beasts or scratch-stricken thieves (like Bill Sikes) and in Harry Potter the evil characters usually are also easily discernible by their looks (the big evil ones at least). In his first appearance, Lord Voldemort is described as follows:
"Where there should have been a back to Quirrell's head, there was a face, the most terrible face Harry had ever seen. It was chalk white with glaring red eyes and slits for nostrils, like a snake." (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone). We know that Lord Voldemort when he was still Tom Riddle was a pretty handsome man; however, as in Beauty and the Beast, his perfect appearance was marred by his evilness.
Other evil characters in the books would be Bellatrix Lestrange or Fenrir Greyback. The latter is a werewolf who specialises in biting children and has developed a taste for human blood even when he is not transformed. His physique is described as wolf-like and feral with long yellow teeth and whiskers. Bellatrix Lestrange on the other side comes from the Black family and, like her cousin Sirius, was known to be very attractive. However, Azkaban and the Death Eater life have reduced her to a shadow of herself, her being described as follows, "She glared up at him through heavily lidded eyes, an arrogant, disdainful smile playing around her thin mouth. Like Sirius, she retained vestiges of great good looks, but something — perhaps Azkaban — had taken most of her beauty." (Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix)
It is arguable that because of these popular patterns, the Harry Potter books are as vastly popular and successful as they turned out to be. Despite the remaining fairy tale patterns, it should also be mentioned that many patterns work in reverse, such as strong female characters, an active hero who takes up action when needed and a complexity in evil characters which is rarely found in most fairy tales. Yet, it remains interesting to see how the basic patterns seem to persist well into modern children's literature.