Since its first appearance in 1997, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has become one of the most popular series, not to mention one of the most intriguing phenomena, of our time. It has been credited for a renaissance in reading for children all over the world, despite competition from the supposedly more accessible forms of entertainment available on videos, television, or the internet, and has already become an integral part of our popular culture and academic discourses. Given the tremendous degree and variety of attention paid to the series over the last decade, it is impossible not to wonder about the underlying causes of its popularity and notoriety: what specifically makes Harry Potter so special that people read and reread the books and continue to discuss them, particularly now that Rowling has finished and published the final book in the series? While clearly the series works on a number of different levels, all of which contribute to its tremendous popularity, I argue that one of the major reasons for its appeal lies in Rowling’s treatment of genre, particularly in relation to her incorporation of a vast number of genres in the books.1 Genres traditionally dismissed as “despised genres” (Ursula Le Guin’s term, not mine)—including pulp fiction, mystery, gothic and horror stories, detective fiction, the school story and the closely related sports story, and series books-appear throughout the Harry Potter books, along with more mainstream genres (at least in children’s literature) such as
fantasy, adventure, and quest romance. Rather than creating a hodgepodge with no recognizable or specific pattern, Rowling has fused these genres into a larger mosaic, which enhances readers’ generic expectations and the ways in which the series conveys literary meaning.