New historicism is an approach to literature which regards a work of literature as a product of the historical moment in which it was created and as embedded in the ideas and ideologies present in that time. For example, a new historicist might be interested in what Elizabethan beliefs about gender roles can tell us about Shakespeare’s plays and vice-versa. New historicist criticism can become more challenging when we think about works of literature that are nearer to our own time and belief systems, but it can provide us with interesting tools for thinking about Harry Potter, recent history, and the way we think about both.
It is a commonplace to compare Voldemort and the Death Eaters to Hitler and the Nazis, but new historicism prompts us to connect these similarities to the way the world was in the early 1990s when Rowling conceived of Harry’s story. As writers commenting on the abundance of television shows about Nazi Germany in the 1990s, such as Mark Schone, for example, have pointed out, the early 90s were characterized by an acute awareness that it had been a half century since the horrors of World War II. That important chapter in world history continues to haunt and disturb us today, of course, but perhaps the special significance it held in the culture of the early 90s helps to explain why the forces of evil in Harry Potter are represented as they are.
In more recent years, the Fantastic Beasts movies have actually dramatized events leading up to the 1930s and 40s, but film critics are often quick to make connections between these films and our contemporary political climate. What, exactly, makes Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone a product of 1997, and what makes The Crimes of Grindelwald a product of 2018? And how might the Harry Potter books be different if they were written today? New historicism prompts us to ask these questions and gives us tools to start working on answers for them.
New Historicism Resources from the Web:
In the Harry Potter Lexicon Minute podcast you’ll hear the voices of our editors sharing some of the many little things which delight us about the Wizarding World. In each podcast, just a couple of minutes in length, we’ll talk about anything from cool trivia and interesting canon passages to the latest Wizarding World news. We hope you’ll join us! And we’d love to hear from you as well. Feel free to use the comment section on the blogpost for each podcast to post your thoughts.
And if you want to create a podcast of your own, check out PodBean's hosting service.
Music: "Winter Chimes" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License