Some authors, such as Stephen King, are against the mentality that a story should be outlined before written. “Outlines,” he says, in his afterword to the first Dark Tower novel,”are for people who wish to God they were writing master theses.” King favors a more spontaneous approach to fiction, where the story, upon writing, “writes itself;” as a writer unfolds their tale, new ideas reach their mind, telling them where the story should proceed next, thoughts that would’ve most likely been missed upon a predraft outline. Just write and don’t try to plan where the story goes, otherwise you will somehow stifle the creative flow or impulse.
Yet in reading J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books several times each, I see evidences that patterns can occur in fiction, designs that seem to indicate an architectural approach to storytelling, long before the story is unraveled. I will attempt to argue in this blog post that Rowling’s books repeat various themes and concepts. Beware though; I am going to spoil the series, so if you have not read these seven classic works, please exit my blog and do yourself a huge favor. Read them.
Let us first start with the seventh and final books: Sorcerer’s Stone and Deathly Hallows.
In the first book, Harry learns a little about the life of Albus Dumbledore, how he defeated the wizard Gellert Grindewald, as Ron is showing him a chocolate frog card. In the last book, Harry learns even more about Dumbledore’s past, how his friendship with Gellert failed and how he won the Elder Wand from him.
Next, Harry is able to retrieve the Sorcerer’s Stone from Quirrel’s grasp because of his noble heart, not using the stone for himself. He knows that death is quite possible. He survives the encounter because of his mother’s sacrifice. Afterwards, Dumbledore tells him, while Harry lies in the hospital wing: “Afterall, to the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” In Hallows, something very similar occurs: Harry allows Lord Voldemort to kill him in the forest, though he actually survives once more due to Lily’s sacrifice. Dumbledore tells him, in Harry’s mind, “You are the true master of Death, Harry, because the true master does not seek to run away from death. He accepts that he must die, and that there are far more worse things in the living world than dying.”
In SS, Harry learns from Ollivander that “the wand chooses the wizard.” In Hallows, this is the truth Harry reminds Voldemort of before he defeats him, “Didn’t you listen to Ollivander: ‘the wand chooses the wizard?'”
Hagrid mentions to Harry in Stone that two safe places to hide something are in Gringotts and Hogwarts. In the final book, those two exact places hold two of Voldemort’s Horcruxes.
Second, we have the Chamber of Secrets and the Half-Blood Prince.
Ron vomits slugs in the second book. The last name of the sixth book’s potions professor is Slughorn.
Harry learns about Voldemort’s past in the second book through Tom Riddle’s diary. In the sixth book, he learns more about Riddle’s past and exactly what the diary was.
When, in Prince, Harry and his friends are trying to figure out how Ron got poisoned, Hagrid mentions, “Chamber of Secrets all over again, isn’t it?” In both books, students are being randomly attacked.
Dumbledore’s absence disturbs characters in both books. In Chamber, Ron is scared what will happen after Dumbledore is sacked by Lucius and Fudge. In Prince, McGonagall says, “I must admit that Dumbledore’s death is more disturbing to me than the idea of Slytherin’s monster running free in the bounds of the castle.”
As Harry learns about Voldemort through a book in Chamber, so in the sixth book another book teaches him more about Snape.
In Chamber, Harry accidentally ends up in Borgin and Burkes. In Prince, Harry follows Malfoy to Borgin and Burkes to see what he’s up to.
Third, we have Prisoner of Azkaban and Order of the Phoenix:
Harry repels dementors in the third book. He does the exact same thing in the fifth.
Hermione uses a Time-Turner in the third book. Harry and his friends stumble across a group of time turners in the fifth book, when they are all inside the Department of Mysteries.
Fudge tells Harry in Prisoner that he can’t be punished for trifles like blowing up his aunt. But in Order, he does everything he can to get Harry expelled from Hogwarts.
There is a chapter in the third book called “Grim Defeat.” In Order, there is a chapter called “Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place.”
Sirius is introduced in Prisoner. He dies in Order of the Phoenix.
Professor Trelawney goes into trances in each book, speaking about Voldemort.
One might argue that the fourth book, Goblet of Fire, has no reflection, but it shares some things in common with 2 ad 6; we learn more about Voldemort’s past in the opening chapter ” The Riddle House,” and when Harry hears Voldemort explain how he got his father’s name. But then, 1,3,5, and 7 may share similarities, but suffice it to say that I have made my case.
Was Rowling conscious of these patterns? Maybe, maybe not. Though I do suspect that holding to patterns is a big help in writing fantasy, for fantasy authors usually try to tackle huge projects as in the cases of Lewis, King, Tolkien, Eddings, Brooks, Donaldson, Paolini, and Martin. But the point is that mental patterns can inform literature, that it is not all inspired by some “flow” that ignores design. Fiction is a river that flows with occasional beaver dams.