The Sunday Salon: Deconstructing Harry Potter


If you’ve been alive for the past few days, you may have noticed a fresh wave of Harry Potter mania, tinged (or rather halved) with nostalgia has hit the world with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 on Friday. I went to a midnight showing because I love midnight crowds; it’s where con folk and normal people meet in the middle. We cheered, we cried, we were heartily confused by whatever Warner Brothers executive decided this was the audience for a Yogi Bear trailer. (And because of my deep love for Two Steps from Hell, I may or may have not sung along with the trailer music for The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Well, as much as you can, because rumor has it Two Steps from Hell doesn’t utilize any known language, but rather goes after what sounds epic.) My review is forthcoming, but, because of my current mania for fantasy deconstruction, I thought we’d take a look at three works that take Harry Potter and gleefully deconstruct it.

The Phenomenon and Family Life:
Mr. Toppit
by Charles Elton

While the spectacularly named Jincy Willett describes The Hayseed Chronicles at the heart of this book as “if Roald Dahl had invaded Narnia” in her review for The New York Times, think more Harry Potter crossed with Winnie the Pooh–a children’s fantasy series whose protagonist is based on the author’s son who will never be able to outrun his father’s shadow. Elton himself, in a letter to readers posted on the book’s Amazon listing, has mentioned that, while the book started as a fictional exploration of Christopher Robin Milne’s life, it was definitely impacted by the cultural juggernaut Harry Potter became. Mr. Toppit explores this intersection between private fact and public imagination well, although it goes off the rails towards the end.

If Real Kids Went to Hogwarts:
The Magicians
by Lev Grossman

The Magicians is probably the most direct deconstruction of Harry Potter in novel format–Quentin Coldwater, an eternally disappointed teenager obsessed with the Fillory novels, discovers that magic is real and that he’s been accepted to Brakebills, a magical college in upstate New York. It deals with the psychological issues of magic and magic users, including the cost of hiding it from the mundanes–but it’s also extremely dark. This is a book that will happily beat your childhood innocence to a pulp, so be forewarned. (This is also the reason I’m disappointed Grossman is writing a sequel; it also destroys a wonderfully dark ambiguous ending.) But The Magicians is also influenced by The Chronicles of Narnia, Brideshead Revisited, and The Secret History, according to Grossman–while deconstructing Harry Potter is the main focus, it’s not a single-minded deconstruction.

Metafiction:
The Unwritten
by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

The Unwritten, like Mr. Toppit, is inspired on the life of Christopher Robin Milne, according to Mike Carey–but Harry Potter obviously plays a large role. Tom Taylor has spent his entire life in the shadow of his father’s insanely popular fantasy series, Tommy Taylor–until the day a mysterious stranger posits that, instead of Tommy Taylor being based on him, he’s based on Tommy Taylor. While it definitely deconstructs Harry Potter (Lizzie Hexam is partially a ruthless, practical interpretation of Hermione Granger), it’s a story about the power of fiction, literalized by an ancient cabal that uses fiction to control the world. It’s utterly fantastic, and the deliriously symbolic covers by Yuko Shimizu certainly don’t hurt. Out of the three deconstructions I’m presenting, this is the best–get yourself down to your local comic book store and make some friends, because this is a series to follow monthly.

Deconstructions can be quite dark (with The Magicians being brutally so), so here’s a guy singing a literal version of the trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to lighten the mood. (He has others, but this is the funniest–the choir from the trailer music backs him up nicely.)

It’s been a fairly busy week for me; between studying for an Economics midterm (because I went to that midnight premiere the night before, because I’m insane) and rehearsal for my college’s children’s show, I haven’t had too much time to read. I finished Galatea 2.2 last night and will probably finish The Sign of the Four today between working on papers. (I love it because Watson and Mary are a cute couple; but the racism! Ouch.) I’m heading home for Thanksgiving soon, which I’m looking forward to. I’m also going to go see Tangled on Friday (or Wednesday, if our family trip to some botanical gardens gets rained out)–I’ve been following this movie for years and I can’t wait to see it.

Don’t forget to comment to enter to win my Chronicle Books haul! It’ll close on December 10th. Allie at Hist-Fic Chick is giving away a copy of Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women until an unknown date. Tor/Forge’s Blog is giving away the works of Brandon Sanderson and Dance in the Vampire Bund volumes 1 through 9 until Monday, an Orson Scott Card package until December 2nd, a ridiculous bundle of 25 fantasy books and an equally ridiculous bundle of 25 science fiction books until December 6th, and a steampunk prize package until December 12th, a science fiction set for you and your local library, The Wheel of Time books for you and your library and a set of Patrick Taylor’s books and audiobooks until December 16th–you must register to receive their newsletter to enter all of these US only giveaways. The BBC America Shop is giving away pairs of gift cards ($500, $250, $100) until December 19th. HarperCollins is giving away a copy of the 60th Anniversary Edition of The Chronicles of Narnia until January 1st. You can currently view the first season of BBC’s Sherlock for free on PBS’s website (US only). The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!

If you’ve read any of these, how do you like them? If not, are you going to go see the movie and if you did, how’d you like it?

19 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Deconstructing Harry Potter

  1. I just started reading The Unwritten this morning! I read The Magicians last year and didn’t like it. I hope you liked the movie; they ended it just where i thought they would!

  2. I looooooved The Unwritten, and The Magicians had its moment although it ultimately left me a bit unsatisfied. And I saw the film last night, and I thought it was really quite good. It was so tense! I was all keyed up and shaky all the way through it, and the bit with Hermione and Bellatrix in the Malfoy mansion was well creepy. However, I did not appreciate it that the film changed it up to where Grindelwald gave up Dumbledore. He didn’t do that in the book! It was a really touching moment in the book for me, especially when Harry mentioned it to Dumbledore in the heaven chapter.

    • It’s such a good series–I can’t wait to pick this month’s installment.

      Perhaps they removed it because a film audience might not pick up a callback from the first film in the second? Another problem with the two-part format, I’m afraid…

  3. I’m hoping to see the movie this weekend if I can convince my sister she absolutely needs to see it with me. 🙂 I’m pretty sure she’ll agree. I didn’t enjoy The Magicians as much as I wanted to but overall it wasn’t bad. The Unwritten looks fantastic though.

  4. LOL

    I’ve actually managed to avoid seeing the preview for DH before, so seeing that Youtube video was pretty awesome. As you might have guessed from that sentence, I’m not really a Harry Potter girl. But the desconstructions sound interesting!

  5. That trailer made me cry tears of laughter. Thanks. And I really loved the movie, I’m glad there’s more of it this way, but now having to wait for the rest! I didn’t want it to end.

  6. All three of those books sound interesting. A bit too dark for me, perhaps?

    I have sadly not seen Harry Potter yet. I used to always go see it with my sister, parents and boyfriend and now I’m in Sweden and I half want to go, half don’t, because I feel awkward going to the cinema on my own.

  7. Thank you for this, you’ve reminded me to put MR. TOPPIT on hold at the library and inspired me to add THE UNWRITTEN as well.

  8. I’m working on my MG fantasy novel, and stumbled across this article. Thanks for the nice comparisons and descriptions of these books….downloading them all now.

    (BTW, Two Steps From Hell is just plain epic. I pretty much wrote my last novel with Undying Love and 1,000 Ships of the Underworld on repeat.)

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