leilani's site

Sci-Fi Potter

Home | essays and such... | me

ENWR 110-20: Paper #4


     The Harry Potter phenomenon has swept the world by surprise and found millions of readers.  Children run around in taped glasses and carrying wands, pretending to be at Hogwarts.  Many, however, view Harry Potter as a magical realm of fantasy and magic, nothing more than a fanciful childrens tale.  J. K. Rawlings Harry Potter series, however has many of the characteristics of science fiction literature because much of the magic is based on very high-tech science.  By claiming Harry Potter to be merely a childs fairy tale, it discredits much of the science and development backing the series.  Though Harry Potter is considered a fanciful tale of magic and fantasy, it has a very strong basis in science fiction through its science based magic.

     In Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone, Harry receives a cloak of invisibility, a concept that is undergoing research today.  It was made of a shiny, silvery cloth that when worn made the wearer invisible (Rawling, 201).  There are many scientific ways to achieve this feat.  Many animals, such as cephalopods, already have natural ways of camouflaging themselves using chemical-altering cells so they are invisible to onlookers (Highfield, 46).  Alex Parfitt in the University of Bath in England is currently researching a way to create such color-changing cells and breeding them to apply to vehicles for military usage, an idea that might be applicable to Harrys cloak (46).  NASA has also been working on a system of camouflage in which electronic flat-panel display units emit pictures of what is on the opposite side of the unit, in this case a cloak (46).  If made small enough, such display units could be woven in with cloth, which would not only make it very easy to make invisible, but would account for the silvery-ness of the cloak.  Such things were also seen in recent film, such as James Bonds car that can be made invisible in Die Another Day.  Donald A. Wollheim states that


Science Fiction is that branch of fantasy, which, while not true of present day knowledge, is rendered plausible by the readers recognition of the scientific possibilities of it being possible at some future date or at some uncertain period of the past. (Aquino)


This definition of science fiction falls in line with the invisibility cloak example, as such cloaks are not yet possible, but scientists are currently developing this new technology.

     Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the school in which Harry Potter attends, requires plain work robes which never seem to get dirty, fade, or wear (Rawling, 66).  Harrys friend, Ron Weasley, wears hand-me-down robes, for example, which are never mentioned to be worn or faded.  Any normal robes would show wear after years of use, but Hogwarts robes never do.  Such materials are currently being researched as well; carbon fiber is being engineered into threads 1/10,000 the width of human hair, and is the strongest material currently known (Highfield, 48).  Such material is damage resistant and resists fading.  Hogwarts robes could easily be made out of such a substance.  Through Wollheims definition of science fiction, Hogwarts robes again fit the description. 

     One of the key methods of travel in the wizarding world is by broomstick, yet another seemingly far-fetched idea based in current research.  The idea of flying broomsticks has puzzled and intrigued scientists for centuries.  Current technology would allow wings to assist or rockets to power, but seeing as broomsticks do not have wings, and rocket-powered broomsticks would make quite a fire hazard to robe-clad wizards, both seem unlikely.  Antigravity, however, provides for a much more advanced, yet much more likely alternative answer.  Antigravity has been studied for decades (Highfield, 7).  Small steps have been made:  Russian researcher Evgeny Podkletnov successfully created an isolated area that, using magnets, decreased the impact of gravity (8). As stated by Kingsley Adams,


Science fiction is that class of prose narrative treating of a situation that could not arise in the world we know, but which is hypothesized on the basis of some innovation in science or technology, or pseudo-science or pseudo-technology. (Aquino).


Using this definition, one could build the argument that broomsticks as a means of transportation are built on the ongoing hypothesis of antigravity.

     It can still be argued that Harry Potter is merely a childs tale, and that elements of science fiction are not commonplace enough to warrant it being placed in the sci-fi genre.  As Hermione whispers Alohomora to a locked door, the lock opens (Rawling, 160).  In class, Wingardium Leviosa is said to make feathers levitate (171).  These spells have no basis in the real world or in scientific thought.  Simply uttering worlds does not make things happen.  No computerization would be able to be made widespread enough to offer voice recognition for all things ever made and created.  Spells alone, which form a strong basis in Harry Potter and Hogwarts, discredit Harry Potter from being classified as science fiction.

     Science fiction is classified not by having every aspect of a novel based in science, but by having a majority of its surreal characteristics based in science.  Because spells do not have a basis in science does not change the fact that Harry Potter is science fiction, it simply adds more fantasy to it.  Experts claim that Science fiction is often seen as a branch of fantasy (Aquino).  This makes logical sense as many claim Rawlings series to be fantasy.  Aquino also states in reference to the genres of science fiction and fantasy that characteristics of one are sometimes found in the other (Aquino).  Because Harry Potter still has many of its roots in future scientific technology, it still fits the definition of science fiction.

Harry Potters basis in futuristic technologies and hypothesized science classifies it as science fiction.  Despite having many aspects of magic, many such characteristics are rooted in science.  The Harry Potter series is more than a simple childrens story, but a wonderful work of science fiction that has reached millions.



Works Cited


Aquino, John.  Science Fiction as Literature.  Washington D.C.: National Education Association, 1976.


Highfield, Roger.  The Science of Harry Potter.  New York: Viking, 2002.


Rawling, J. K.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone.