Neuromag July 2018 - Page 28

Harry Potter and the art of narrative misdirection Written by Johannes Kunath Whether you like Harry Potter or not, you can’t deny its massive success, which raises the question: How did J.K. Rowling’s saga become so enormously successful? The answer is a multifaceted one. One explanation could be that the theme of wizards, witches and a world full of magic has always been fascinating. Another might be that Rowling never altered from her pre-structured plan for the saga. Following up on that, Rowling managed to create a saga that fascinated its readership again and again. Which is an outstanding achievement, considering the fact that she wrote seven books, of which six have a quite similar basic outline — Harry hates his home, goes back to Hogwarts, gets a new teacher for defense against the dark arts, has an unlikely adventure no one besides him, Ron and Hermione would survive and in the end Gryffindor surprisingly wins the house cup. If one puts it that way, the novels don’t really seem to be too surprising or fascinating at all. So, another question should be: How did J.K Rowling manage to create a saga that fascinated its readership every single time? The answer is, again, a multifaceted one. But now we talk about Rowling’s style of writing and this is where the tools of literary studies come into action. This is where analysis and interpretation start. Now, the first question you should al- ways ask when analysing literature is who narrates the story and why. The easiest answer to that would be J.K. Rowling because she is the author. However, this isn’t quite what we are looking for, because the first thing 28 | NEUROMAG |July 2018 you learn in literary studies is that the author and the narrator are two quite different matters. As an author you choose the ‘voice’ of the narra- tor. This voice can be, for example, a first-person narrator, where the nar- rator speaks for him or herself, as in ‘Call me Ishmael’ [1], and is part of the story he tells. Another possibil- ity would be a third-person narrator. Here the narrator stands somewhat outside of the story by referring to the characters in the story as ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’. The effect of a third-person nar- rative, as opposed to a first-person narrative, allows for an ‘outside’ point of view, giving the reader the idea of an overview of the plot. This is usu- ally enhanced when the third-person narrator is omniscient (God-like) and the reader sees the thoughts of every character as well as everything that is going on in the story. This third-per- son omniscient narrator is a common choice in literature. A counterpart to that would be a third-person limited narrator, who has only some informa- tion about the plot and the insight into the minds of a small amount of char- acters (usually one). Now this is the choice J.K. Rowling made for her Harry Potter novels. The narrator informs the reader about