Is Harry Potter Really Fantasy?

The quick and obvious answer to the question is. “Yes. How could it be anything else?” After all, the books have good and evil wizards and magic and flying broomsticks and giant chess games where the pieces move themselves.

But for all that, most of the settings focus around what amounts to a co-ed English boarding school for magicians. Magic doesn’t seem to play much of a part in the world at large away from Hogwarts, yet there would seem to be a role for such magic

in the world of the muggles.

The idea of the English boarding school was, variously, to educate young people away from their parents, to instill some sort of background, to prepare them for life, etc., but boarding schools have always been, in many senses, unreal places. So the fact that Hogwarts is unreal isn’t that much of a stretch. Nor is the fact that Harry and his friends have to solve problems that seem, and may be, life-threatening. Likewise, studying magic is about as useful as certain aspects of boarding school curricula must have seemed to more than a few students over the years. And in time, the boarding school becomes a far more real place than a “home” where less and less time is spent. In a perverse way, the time Harry spends away from Hogwarts is more of a nightmare than the time he spends at Hogwarts.

For all the trappings of education at Hogwarts, there’s precious little on the structure of magic, or even on the structural differences between good and evil. And…if we’re talking about fantasy in the tradition of Tolkien, where an author creates an entire world from scratch, with cultures, languages, different economies and technologies, “Harry Potter” tends to come up as enjoyable “fantasy lite.”

Now, obviously, fantasy can be anything an author and that author’s publisher declare it to be, so long as it’s popular and profitable, and the Harry Potter books are certainly both. Also, as a fantasy author, at least part of the time, I’m more than pleased to see young people reading anything, particularly anything that might lead them into reading more, especially more challenging works.

But I still have to ask,”Is Harry Potter really fantasy?” But then, does it really matter?