This post expands on what I talked about in the first part, Cheat from my homework: Why you need to know fairy tales. Before I get into anything, I’m going to define a “motif” because before I had a class on fairy tales, I had heard the word but forgot the meaning. So, a motif is:
a distinctive feature or dominant idea in an artistic or literary composition –
In layman’s terms, it’s a recurring feature in a story.
Here are motifs that are present in many fairy tales. This list is what my teacher shared so I have to give credit to her for that, but I’ve added my own examples from fairy tales. Notice how Harry Potter (HP) appears alongside … Every. Single. One:
- Forest or woods — HP, Little Red Riding Hood, and Hansel and Gretel
- Uneven/unstable numbers e.g. 3/13 — HP, The Three Little Pigs, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears
- Talking animals — HP (i.e. Aragog, the spider), Little Red Riding Hood (with the wolf inside the grandmother), and The Three Little Pigs
- Evil stepmother/father, wicked Queen, King or Giant — HP (I.e. Aunt Petunia, Dudley), Cinderella, and Snow White
- Gold — HP (i.e. Gringotts bank), Jack and the Beanstalk (Jack steals a bag of gold coins), and Rumpelstiltskin
There are plenty more, but you probably get the hint and I don’t want to risk losing you. The outstanding thing about the above list is that all those features are what fans of the Harry Potter series remember most.
What would Harry Potter be without the forest?
How different would the series be? I mean, the forest almost becomes a character in itself. And true to fairy tales, it represents all that’s evil, dark and mysterious in the world.
What would Harry Potter be without Albus Dumbledore, the “wise old man”?
I didn’t have the space to cover it, but another motif in fairy tales is the wise old woman/man. Like the forest, Harry Potter would be dead without this figure in his life.
The magical number 3!
I’m running these off as they come to me: Harry, Ron and Hermione; Draco, Crabbe and Goyle; in book 1: the three-headed dog;
Hermione’s hour-glass necklace requires three turns; the Triwizard Tournament … etc.
So what are your thoughts? I respect fairy tales and Harry Potter tremendously. It’s crazy to think that from nine-years-old I was smitten with the Harry Potter series and it took all this time to realise why!
- Fairy tales connect with children.
- Harry Potter is written for children.
- Children connect with the heavy use of fairy tale themes and motifs in Harry Potter.
The next time I write or edit I’m going to think about how powerful and effective fairy tale themes and motifs are because it isn’t just children who are attracted to these stories. Remember, these children — like us — grow up. And guess what they’re drawn to?
Once again, please leave your comments/thoughts/suggestions/additions below. Thanks!
- Cheat from my homework: Why you need to know fairy tales (rebeccaberto.wordpress.com)