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Definition: Potter, Harry from Chambers Dictionary of Literary Characters

‘Small and skinny, with brilliant green eyes and jet-black hair’, he is famous as ‘the boy who lived’, having survived a lethal curse by Lord Voldemort. Left an orphan and marked by a lightning-shaped scar, he grows up knowing nothing of his past, but at the wizard school, Hogwarts, must confront his celebrity; he wrestles with self-doubt and thirsts to prove himself on his own merits. A bright, resourceful and strong-willed boy, immensely loyal to his friends, his inquisitiveness and strong moral sense often lead him into danger as he realizes his continuing significance to Voldemort. Fighting against the sorcerer's revival with bravery and ingenuity, he demonstrates abilities beyond his years.


Summary Article: Potter, Harry from Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable

A boy-wizard whose adventures are chronicled in a commercially successful sequence of children's novels by J.K. Rowling (b.1965). The first novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997), describes the orphaned Harry's rescue from the everyday world of boorish 'Muggles' (ordinary human beings) by Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and his subsequent experiences during his first year at the magical boarding-school. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998) and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999) describe, respectively, Harry's second and third years at Hogwarts. They were followed by Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, a massive print-run of which was published amid a blaze of publicity in the summer of 2000.

The novels combine elements of the school story, the adventure story and the fantasy novel, and their imaginative richness and playful humour attracted an adulatory readership, both child and adult, from the outset. Hogwarts is both a fully realized imaginary world and a humorous reflection of the 'real', nonmagical, world. It has its own house system (the four houses are Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Slytherin and Gryffindor, the last-named being Harry's house); school sport (a fast and violent game known as Quidditch, played in the air by teams mounted on broomsticks); and a curriculum that includes Potions (a nightmare version of chemistry), History of Magic, Charms, Divination, Transfiguration, and Defence Against the Dark Arts.

Hogwarts's strange blend of slapstick and menace is evident in its endlessly inventive nomenclature. Albus Dumbledore, the school's affable headmaster, combines Latin albus and the dialect word dumbledore to produce a name meaning either 'white bumblebee' or 'white hedgehog'; Cornelius Fudge is the aptly named 'Minister of Magic'; Draco Malfoy, Harry's rival in Slytherin house, hints at Transylvanian malevolence and bad faith; while Voldemort, sinister 'fallen' alumnus of Hogwarts and mortal enemy of Harry Potter, translates from the French as 'flight of death' or 'theft of death'.

A much-anticipated film version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (in the US Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone), directed by Christopher Columbus and starring Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, opened in the UK in 2001, and was strikingly faithful to the original book.

Copyright © Cassell / The Orion Publishing Group Ltd 2000, 2009

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