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Divination Made Easier

A Few Guidelines to Making Predictions for Book 7

By Emily Bytheway

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Guiding Principle 3: Pay Attention to Genre

This may well be the most important principle when it comes to predicting the future, because this is the one that focuses on actual content. It’s also going to be the longest, because we will be going into specifics. Just so you’re prepared.

Every work is part of at least one genre, and most fall into several. To take an already-mentioned example, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a novel. That much is easy to determine. But it can also be considered part of several other subhead-smallcaps-genres as well, including the novel of manners, the realistic novel, the bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel), and several others. Each of these genres has its own set of conventions, and each work within the genre more or less adheres to those conventions—if it didn’t, the work couldn’t be considered a part of the genre. There are, of course, variations within the genre. No single work will ever encompass all the conventions (and if it did, we’d complain about it being unoriginal and formulaic). But, in general, a reader will expect certain things out of a work that’s part of a certain genre.

Harry Potter is no exception to the genre rule. Its primary genre is, like Pride and Prejudice, a novel, but it fits into several others as well. Many people have looked at Harry Potter in terms of its genres, just looking at what J.K. Rowling is doing with the conventions. I’m going to give a brief overview of some of the genres that Rowling has incorporated into her novels, and discuss some of the implications they may have on the direction the series has taken, and what might happen in the final book.

Young Adult: One of the main criticisms that people have of the Harry Potter novels is that they’re “children’s books.” This label is not quite accurate. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone may have been appropriately classified as a middle-reader book, but as the series has gone on and the plots and themes have gotten more complicated (and the books longer), they’re now firmly in the young adult category. Generally speaking, middle reader books are aimed at ages 9–11, while young adults are aimed at ages 12 and up. This is not to say that younger readers don’t or can’t read them—many do, or have the books read to them by their parents—but the target audience is not your average third-grader. There are topics and situations present in the books that might not be suitable for younger children. On the other hand, the young adult age range still skews a bit young for certain mature situations—there are things a sixteen-year-old can handle that a twelve-year-old probably won’t. Think of the distinction between middle reader, young adult, and adult novels as the difference between PG, PG-13, and R rated movies. Thus far, J.K. Rowling has been, well, conventional when it comes to sticking with the conventions of the young adult genre—she’s not afraid to include mature situations in her novels, but she also doesn’t overtax her younger readers’ sensibilities.

So, what does this genre mean for predictions? Well, first of all, don’t expect Rowling to go light on the scary situations. Prior experience should have taught us this already, but a little reminder can’t hurt. Expect a lot of tension, quite a few deaths, and some difficult situations. On the other hand, don’t expect things to get too gritty. The romantic relationships will continue to be Disney-movie appropriate and even the violence will most likely be handled with a fairly light hand—again, think of the difference between the violence in a PG-13 movie and an R rated one. Perhaps most importantly, given the conventions of the young adult genre, it’s most unlikely that Harry will die. Seriously. How many young adult books can you name where the protagonist dies? The protagonists’ best friend, sure. The protagonist’s parent, grandparent, little sister, yeah. The protagonist themselves? Not very often. The examples can be counted on one hand. To have Harry die would not only go against several of the themes of the books, it would go against the conventions of a genre J.K. Rowling hasn’t played around with much, and it may alienate a vast majority of her readers. It’s probably safe to say that Harry will live.

Fantasy: The next most obvious genre that Harry Potter belongs to is the fantasy genre. In some ways, Rowling follows the conventions pretty closely. I mean, there is magic, obviously. Magical creatures are definitely present. There’s also a hero with a quest to save the world. But we probably shouldn’t lay too much significance on the conventions of the fantasy genre in Rowling’s writing, simply because it seems that she is largely unfamiliar with it, especially more modern fantasy. She admitted in a Time Magazine article that she didn’t even realize she was writing fantasy until after Sorcerer’s Stone was already published, and that she isn’t really a fan of fantasy.2 Any fantasy trappings therefore seem to be rather unconscious on Rowling’s part, making it highly unlikely that she’s using the conventions of fantasy in planning out her series.

However, there is one aspect of the typical fantasy novel that can be looked at, because it isn’t exclusive to that genre, yet I’m not going to separate it into its own category as it isn’t precisely a genre, either. That aspect is the Hero’s Journey. This very interesting topic is covered later in this book; suffice it to say that Harry’s journey mirrors the traditional hero’s journey pretty faithfully. The similarities between the archetypal hero’s journey and Harry’s story bring yet another argument for Harry surviving the series: the hero rarely dies; instead, he lives to “get the girl,” become the king, and lots of other fun things.

Mystery: It may not be the first thing that you think of when considering the genre of the Harry Potter books, but the mystery genre is still a pretty important one to keep in mind. While the stereotypical mystery novel is the “whodunnit” type, where a detective (sometimes with a sidekick or two) solves a murder, there is much more to the mystery genre, and Rowling borrows from it pretty liberally. While Harry is not your typical detective, he spends a good portion of his time solving some mystery or other. From the first chapter of Sorcerer’s Stone, the reader is plunged into a mystery that provides the overarching plot that has followed Harry over six books so far: Why did Voldemort want to kill Harry, and what really happened on the night the Potters died? The first part of the mystery has been solved; the second is coming closer. In each individual novel, moreover, there is a smaller mystery that draws Harry’s attention. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets this is perhaps the most obvious. Harry is introduced to the mystery of the Chamber and the dangers that lurk within by Dobby, and he spends the rest of the novel gathering clues to solve it. Yet even while the individual mystery is solved, clues to the overarching one are planted. As the series progresses, we find more clues, a few red herrings, quite a number of answers, and a myriad of new questions. As each book has come out, it has been fun going back in the novels, looking for the clues Rowling had planted earlier that pointed to a plot development that had not been foreseen. Part of the fun of the mystery genre is seeing if you can figure out the mystery before the detective, and that’s certainly part of what has kept many of us reading: we have to know what happens, and if we can figure it out before Harry does? So much the better.

So what does this mean, as far as predicting what might happen in Deathly Hallows? Well, for one thing, a careful reader should at least have an inkling of what might be coming: mysteries are written so that it’s possible for the reader to solve the puzzle before the dénouement, although the better it is, the less likely it is that the reader will actually do so. It’s true that much of the original mystery has already been solved, but new wrinkles have been added, and there’s still plenty to unravel. Maybe a good reread, paying attention to clues that she’s planted for storylines that have already been resolved, would be a good idea for discovering what might be clues to mysteries that are still unanswered. The best thing about the mystery elements, though, is the promise of satisfaction for the readers: it is the premise of a mystery novel to present both a riddle and its solution. The vast majority of questions are nearly always answered in mysteries. And that bodes well for the insatiably curious among us.

Romance: This is a touchy subhead-smallcapsject, especially in the online world. The “shipping” (short for “relationship”) wars are legendary and were often nasty, but for all intents and purposes, the “who will end up with who?” question was answered in Half-Blood Prince. So what could paying attention to romance have to do with predicting what might happen in Book 7, then? The answer is in genre.

One of the problems when considering romance is that people are often not sure exactly what genre Rowling is working with. Obviously, the books are not exclusively romantic in nature. That’s an important thing to keep in mind. For example, there are many people who expected a Harry/Ginny relationship who were disappointed that we didn’t get more of it in Half-Blood Prince. Those people need to remember that these books are not romances (they also need to remember that there’s still another book left). Yes, love will play an important role, but the focus is not on the romance, and it never will be. In addition, it’s important to pay attention to the subhead-smallcaps-genre that Rowling’s romance is taking. Thus far, most of the romance has been played not for pathos but for comedy. Ron’s jealousy at the Yule Ball? Funny. Harry’s first kiss with Cho? Very funny. The monster in Harry’s chest? Hilarious! Rowling is obviously writing (in a romance-is-a-subhead-smallcapsplot way) a romantic comedy. This means that, come Deathly Hallows, we shouldn’t expect to see pages and pages of Hermione angsting over the fact that Ron won’t ask her out. It also means that it’s highly doubtful that we’ll see Harry and Ginny walking hand-in-hand to face Voldemort in a brave, desperate attempt to save the wizarding world. If the romance in the final book isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as we’ve seen previously, it will still be played much more lightly than Romeo and Juliet (or even Pride and Prejudice), and I wouldn’t expect what has thus far been light-hearted and fun to suddenly turn serious and dramatic. It also argues, again, for a happy ending—you can’t have a romantic comedy where the couple doesn’t end up together, after all.

There are many other genres that Rowling is working with, including the school story, the coming-of-age novel, the gothic and horror genres, and many more. There isn’t room to discuss all of them here. But if you’re going to attempt to make predictions, it’s important to familiarize yourself with some of the conventions of these genres, recognize what Rowling is doing with them, and base your predictions from there.

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