HPEF presents Infinitus 2010, a Harry Potter conference            TEXT  MENU

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July 15-18, 2010
Orlando, Florida


Word Magic: Defining Harry Potter's World in New Terms  
Tessa vonHilsheimer  

Since his literary birth in 1997, Harry Potter has captivated wizards and Muggles alike. In spite of the dispute of doubtful critics, Harry Potter is becoming canonized. Much like Tolkein's Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter series has been unharmed by critics who deny its literary value and is constructing a permanent spot as a fantastical literary classic. Yet what has catapulted this unexpected success? How does Rowling enchant her readers, always leaving them wanting more? A large part the series' appeal is Rowling's language and ability to create a world that completely immerses readers into the depths of their imagination through the use of neologisms. Rowling makes her readers experience the wizarding world as Harry does—as novices. Throughout the series, each detail of this new world and culture is revealed to us the same time it's revealed to Harry. At the tender age of 11, Harry is thrust from the dull and depressing Dursley household into an exciting and captivating world full of foreign culture. Just as Harry learns that he lived among Muggles and that a Potronus will save him from Dementors, so does the reader. In this paper, I provide a preliminary examination of the effect and importance of the neologisms in the Harry Potter series.

Culture influences our language. When something exists in our world, we find it necessary to define it through language. To help Harry and the readers define and experience the magical world, Rowling manages to make the foreign familiar. In his book, Fact, Fiction, and Folklore in Harry Potter's World, George Beahm quotes Ray Bradbury when explaining that “the popular notion that a picture is worth a thousand words is false—a word is worth a thousand pictures. Think of what these words conjure up in your mind's eye: Hogwarts. The Forbidden Forest. [Voldemort.] …The Patronus. Quidditch” (xvii). Every Potter fan can instantly picture what these words, and many others, mean as soon as they are mentioned. Rowling has often been praised for her attention to detail in creating a unique realm for witches and wizards. From the candies, characters, and creatures, to the potions, places, and spells, Rowling uses a significant name and place for everything and everyone. Though some words are borrowed, many of these neologisms are of Rowling's creation and each word has meaning and consequence to Harry and his story. These words allow Harry to classify his own world and are a large part of the series' literary success. Without them, the mystical appeal of Harry's new world would be missing. The objects and people would still be there, but it is Rowling's unique linguistic constructions which help readers picture and remember them. Rowling realizes the power and importance of words. The fact that both the character and the reader experience these new words and transformations simultaneously speaks volumes about Rowling's understanding of the need for new definitions and perspectives. The neologisms she uses in the Harry Potter series are necessary to make an imaginative world real.

Tessa vonHilsheimer graduated in May 2009 from East Carolina University with a B.S. in English Education. She is now pursuing her Masters in English Studies, also at East Carolina University. Her thesis is focusing on the necessity of neologisms in children's fantasy literature, with a focus on the Harry Potter series. After graduation, Tessa plans to teach abroad for a couple years before pursuing her PhD.
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