Mercedes Lackey, editor,
Mapping the World of Harry Potter
(BenBella, 2005)

"Phenomenon" is a word often used to describe J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Mercedes Lackey uses it again in her introduction to this anthology of 14 essays, descriptively subtitled Science Fiction & Fantasy Authors Explore the Bestselling Fantasy Series of All Time.

The exploration begins with Daniel P. Moloney's "The Young Man's Mistake." Moloney is concerned that Harry has learned to place too much trust in himself alone and that this self-reliance could be his downfall. Next up, Roberta Gellis maintains in "The Dursleys as Social Commentary" that Harry's Muggle relatives are portrayed as so awful as a lesson to readers on how not to behave.

Joyce Millman's "To Sir, With Love" takes a look specifically at Professor Snape and how online fan fiction (with a little help from Alan Rickman) has transformed him from the nemesis of non-Slytherin Potions students to a sexy anti-hero. Marguerite Krause ventures into religious territory with "Harry Potter & the End of Religion," a discussion of religion -- or lack thereof -- in the wizarding and Muggle worlds.

Elizabeth DeVos takes a look at the reaction of certain religious denominations to the series in "It's All About God," pointing out that magic has nothing to do with religion in the series, but rather is an innate ability in certain individuals. Sarah Zettel changes the subject with "Hermione Granger & the Charge of Sexism," stating that while the series certainly isn't feminist by any stretch of the imagination, neither is it sexist.

Next up, Martha Wells discusses her favorite character in "Neville Longbottom: The Hero With a Thousand Faces." Anyone who has read Joseph Campbell can guess where she's going with this discussion, as she points out that even though Harry is the main character, Neville displays a lot of the characteristics of Campbell's Hero. Lawrence Watt-Evans continues the Campbellian discussion with "Why Dumbledore Had to Die," comparing Albus Dumbledore to Jor-El, Merlin, Gandalf and Obi-Wan Kenobi, all mentors who died or were separated from the Hero so he was forced to continue his journey alone.

Adam-Troy Castro links the series to the real world with "From Azkaban to Abu Ghraib," a discussion of the fascist elements of Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix. Meanwhile, Susan R. Matthews discusses Rowling's use of the four Hogwarts Houses in "Ich Bin Ein Hufflepuff."

If you've never read a Schooldays novel, don't worry, James Gunn discusses their history and how the Potter books fit into that genre in "Harry Potter as Schooldays Novel." Next up, Mercedes Lackey, who knows a thing or two about abusing protagonists, talks about Harry's current and future need for counseling in "Harry Potter & the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Counselor."

Roxane Longstreet Conrad helps out wizards who must interact with the Muggle world with "A Proper Wizard's Guide to Good Manners (A M*ggle Tells All)." Finally, Richard Garfinkle reveals "Why Killing Harry is the Worst Outcome for Voldemort." You'll never look at Hermione in quite the same way again.

One of the best things about BenBella's Smart Pop series is the way in which the essays make the reader think and yet have fun at the same time. This book is no exception.

by Laurie Thayer
9 December 2006

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