Mystery and Suspense In the Harry Potter Novels.

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Samantha Singer                                                                27.10.02


Mystery and suspense play a large part in the Harry Potter novels by J. K. Rowling. The word mystery is defined as “something that is not or cannot be known, understood or explained.” Words that come to mind when the word mystery is heard are: strange or unexpected, confusing, conspiracy, suspense, unbelievable and twist. All the words can be used in describing the Harry Potter novels.

A mystery is like a puzzle with a piece missing or a crime unsolved. The mystery builds up using suspense, and discovering clues. It reaches its climax. Then begins to unravel and finally reaches a solution.

Mystery works well with completely bizarre and weird things or characters, but works just as well, maybe even better, when humans are used. When you compile both of these ideas you are left with Harry Potter.

Harry Potter is set in real places in England. Descriptions of the area resurrect the real area from the past. Areas such as Diagon Ally, Knockturn Ally and the streets of London are described. Mystery works well when so many things are familiar, such as these areas and the idea of kids buying ice creams and practical jokes while the adults went for a drink in a pub.

Rowling gives guidelines in her descriptions but still allows for the reader’s imagination to take over and create their own pictures. Each person who picks up a book in the Harry Potter series in engrossed in the novel and the magical world which lies so close to the world which is our own. At some point, the thought of ‘could this type of world really exist’ must cross the reader’s mind. This world, so big and so enchanted, how can it lie so close to the world in which we live in? The magical world that Harry lives in has its own currency and speech, its own rules and appliances and its own way of life. Yet it exists so close to the every day world that the “muggles” live in. A world where things are just like they are in our world. Using pounds and pence for money, using clocks with numbers and going to schools that teach math, not divination.

Harry spends the holidays with his aunt, uncle and cousin, Petunia, Vernon and Dudley Dursley, but during the school year he stays in an enchanted castle supervised by witches and wizards. At the beginning of each term Harry takes the “Hogwarts Express” from platform “nine and three-quarters” to get to his school, “Hogwarts”. This train is caught from an ordinary station where muggles catch their trains. They use platforms 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 8, 9 and 10, but the young wizards who wish to board the Hogwarts express use platform nine and three-quarters. There is no door to get through this platform, instead the students run through the barrier between nine and ten. If done correctly, they end up on platform nine and three-quarters.

All of the Harry Potter novels are told in third person. An onlooker, who can see everything, tells the story. Referring to the character by name or by the pronouns He, She, They and Everyone. The narrator can see what all the characters see but not anything else. This allows the reader to take up a character and see from their point. It permits the reader to solve the mystery using the clues available to the characters.

In the novel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry is warned by Dobby, a house elf, of danger at Hogwarts and is told not to return. He does not know what this danger is. Harry has never met Dobby before and does not know whether he is trustworthy or not. Out of nowhere, this ugly little creature appears and warns you of great danger at the only place where you feel you really fit in. This creature is found to be a house elf and tries to warn you of great danger, yet feels that it is not allowed to. Every time it tells you something of importance, it has to punish itself.

‘There is a plot, Harry Potter. A plot to make the most terrible things happen at Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry this year,’ whispered Dobby, suddenly trebling all over. ‘Dobby has known it for months, sir. Harry Potter must not put himself in peril. He is too important, sir!’

        ‘What terrible things?’ said Harry at once. ‘Who’s plotting them?’

        Dobby made a funny choking noise and then banged is head against the wall. (P18)

Despite Dobby’s warnings, and “help” he gets to school. But first, he is rescued by the Weasleys from the Dursleys.

While living with the Weasleys, Harry is treated with respect and the family actually like him and make him eat. Unlike his life at the Dursleys’ where he was forced to eat the minimal amount of very bland food and was told to make himself unseen while guests were around. Life at the Weasleys’ is fun for Harry and he learns about all new things. The clock on the wall “had only one hand and no numbers at all. Written around the edges were things like time to make tea and you’re late.” (P31) The dishes washed themselves and when it was time to buy school supplies, they travelled to Diagon Ally by “floo powder.”

Not only is it mysterious and new for the reader to learn about new things such as Knockturn Ally and floo powder, but also for Harry too. As Harry is experiencing all these new things, the reader is reading about them for the first time, and in a way, experiencing them too, through Harry’s eyes.

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As the book progresses, new characters such as Gilderoy Lockhart are introduced and old characters, from the last book, are reintroduced. Small conflicts are occurring and the mystery is building up. The questions going through the reader’s head would be, “I wonder what the main storyline will be?” “Who will be the villain this time?” “Will Voldemort return?” “Is Harry really in danger?” “What danger?” “Lockhart wouldn’t have been introduced unless he was to play an important part, so what part will he play?” “Maybe Lockhart will be the villain?” All these questions, all mysteries. As in all mystery ...

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