I know, I know, comparing your books to Harry Potter can be kind of a “No, no” for a number of reasons (I mean — it’s setting the bar a little high, right?). But I dare to make the comparison for a few reasons: For those of us who are huge Potterheads, it can be difficult to find another book series to scratch that “itch,” so I appreciate when someone lets me know about a series that has similarities. Also, this is feedback I’ve consistently gotten from my readers. And last, but not least, while writing The Gateway Chronicles, I studied Rowling’s storytelling methods and intentionally told a similarly structured story so that those who love the world of Harry Potter might find similar story beats in my books, as well. So without further ado, here are the top ten reasons why I think readers who love Harry Potter will appreciate The Gateway Chronicles:
1. It’s a story of friendship
One of the prevailing themes of both Harry Potter and The Gateway Chronicles is that of friendship. In both stories, the narrative turns on the relationships between the main character and his (or, in my book, her) friends. When friendships are out of balance, so is the mental health and wellbeing of the main characters. In the first book of my series, The Six, Darcy Pennington’s success hinges on whether or not she will allow some new friends into her life.
2. It’s a “fish out of water” story
As with any good “gateway” fantasy, taking the main character and trapping them in a new world/situation makes for all sorts of fun. This is what happens to Harry when he meets Hagrid (and proceeds to Diagon Alley, Platform 9 ¾, and Hogwarts), and for my main character, Darcy, it’s what happens when her parents drag her against her will to Cedar Cove Family Camp, where she slowly discovers some odd occurrences that could be magical… until she stumbles through a gateway to another world and all doubt is erased. Like Harry, Darcy (and her five friends) find out everyone in this alternate world knows a whole lot more about them than they know about themselves, and not only that, but they have magical abilities.
3. There is a slow-burning, friends-to-more, romance
One of the things I always loved about Harry Potter was the fact that I could tell Harry would eventually end up with Ginny, but Rowling took her time about getting there. Not only was this appropriate for the intended audience of the books, but it made the ultimate romance more believable and satisfying, in the end. In The Gateway Chronicles, Darcy also meets her eventual great love right away in The Six, but she’s only 13, and they don’t terribly like each other. Dislike turns into friendship in books 2 and 3, The Oracle and The White Thread, and into… more as the series progresses and the characters age. It’s a more prominent storyline than Harry and Ginny’s romance in Harry Potter, but a similarly slow burn.
4. Each book is a year-long adventure
There are a handful of things I intentionally patterned closely after Harry Potter, and this is one of them. Each book in The Gateway Chronicles (with the exception of the final book, The Bone Whistle), is a year-long adventure in the world of Alitheia. Just as you know exactly what you’re getting when you sit down to read a Harry Potter novel (one year at Hogwarts, with some adventures preceding and immediately after), likewise, that’s what you’re getting with The Gateway Chronicles.
5. The adults in the story are not wicked, foolish, or pointless
It is not uncommon in YA literature that all (or most) of the adults in the story end up being wicked, foolish, or pointless. J. K. Rowling avoided this trap so well in Harry Potter, and I sought to do likewise. So, if you’re a Dumbledore, Remus Lupin, Molly Weasley, or Sirius Black fan, I assure you that I have adult characters that are similarly not only not wicked, foolish, or pointless, but who have crucial roles to the story and who treat the young main characters with respect and dignity.
6. Episodic books; series metanarrative
As with Harry Potter, each book in The Gateway Chronicles tells a contained story — that concludes itself — while also contributing to a metanarrative. In other words, just as Voldemort isn’t defeated until Deathly Hallows, so my “big bad,” Tselloch, isn’t defeated until the very end of The Gateway Chronicles. But each individual book has its own narrative arc and individual conflict that, while resolving, also furthers the greater story. I patterned this after Harry Potter because I don’t like getting to the end of a book and feeling like it just ended without resolution, but I also think a series should have a clear metanarrative from beginning to end.
7. Unique magical elf-creatures
Every good fantasy series should invent some unique magical creature. J. K. Rowling has house elves (among others), and I created narks — which are elves that switch from day to night personas depending on whether it’s day or night (two beings housed in one body). There are lots of magical creatures in The Gateway Chronicles, but narks have proven to be, based on reader feedback, the favorite addition.
8. You get to grow with the characters
I loved growing up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. That was part of the delight of reading a “There and back again,” yearly episodic story — knowing that in each book, the characters would be a year older with all the unique traits that come along with each new year as a teen. Thus, in writing The Gateway Chronicles, I wanted to do likewise — not just for my young readers who would get to empathize with the characters who were walking alongside them, but for my older readers, too, looking back on those ages and remembering.
9. There is a magical system to learn
The magical system in The Gateway Chronicles is very different from the magical system in Harry Potter (it’s alchemy and enchantments and elemental magic, no wands or charms or anything like that), but when Darcy and her friends arrive in Alitheia, they get there with abilities that are new to them and no idea how to use them. Although there’s no magic school for them to attend, they are privately tutored in magic, and this instruction takes up a good amount of the story in The Six and on into books 2 and 3 (and even book 4, if I think about it). So if you love the classroom scenes at Hogwarts, there is plenty of that to go around in my books, as well.
10. The kids act their age
A recent complaint buzzing around the internet is that teens no longer act like teens in YA lit. Something I have always appreciated about Rowling’s young characters is that they actually act their age. Her authenticity inspired me, and I think it’s so important to have characters like hers. I’ve striven to do likewise — to have characters in The Gateway Chronicles who act like teens, not like miniature adults.
*Get The Gateway Chronicles now on Amazon, or check out my Books Page for all purchasing options*
If you follow my work, you probably know I have a completed manuscript (that is currently with my excellent agent Ben Grange) retelling the classic fairy tale The Little Mermaid. Originally by Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid is a beloved story that ends in a fulfilling, but not-so-happy ending. Disney came along in the 1989 and re-formed it into a more palatable American version, complete with a Happily Ever After.
Retelling fairy tale classics is a favorite past time of modern authors, especially YA writers like myself, and I think it begs the question of why.
Why, in an age so obsessed with originality, do writers like myself continue to be drawn back to retelling old classics? Is it sheer lack of original ideas? Why bother messing with these classic stories at all? I mean, not a single one of us is really going to supersede the original, are we? Or reinvent the wheel, for that matter.
Whether it's fairy tales, fables, myths, historical legends, or great tomes of Western Civilization (and beyond!) . . . Why bother retelling the classics?
The first reason I'll offer is one personal to me: classic literature influences everything I write. Not only did I teach at a classical school for ten years, but I've always loved the classics. A friend gifted me a copy of Pride and Prejudice when I was 12 or 13, and I read that book at least once a year every year from that point forward. I read my dad's old college copy of Edith Hamilton's Mythology until the cover fell off, and I can quote passages from Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Petrarch verbatim. Classic stories and literature run through my blood, so it's impossible for it not to bleed over into my writing.
In one sense, directly retelling a classic story is like entering into the oral tradition of history, where stories used to be passed down parent to child, teacher to student, and undoubtedly often changed and influenced, at least slightly, by the storytellers and the times in which they lived. One thing that makes classic stories classic stories is in how they deal with big themes. To tell a classic story with a timeless big theme in a new era is to show your readers how certain things, certain truths, transcend time. Changing the particulars of the story doesn't mean you don't or can't still hold true to the essentials. Ergo, I think retelling a classic tale is following in the footsteps of the oral tradition.
Another reason to retell the classics is because, through retellings, we can see them with fresh eyes, introducing them to a new generation of readers in a new way. How many kids in the last ten years have become familiarized with Greek mythology through Percy Jackson? It doesn't mean people won't go on to pick up and read the original texts themselves (hopefully they will!), but a retelling can be a revitalized way to look at an old classic and ease new readers into familiarity with it.
Along those lines, the classics aren't as commonly read or studied now as they were long ago. Retellings, especially those done by YA writers, can introduce readers to classic stories they might not even know exist, or that they might not have ever considered reading due to intimidation or lack of interest. Some people, especially young readers, only read commercial fiction these days, and anything that looks too "scholarly" feels intimidating. Retellings take the edge off that intimidation factor, they exist in the commercial fiction market, and they can be a gateway into reading the actual original classic texts.
So is it valuable to retell classic stories and texts? I think the answer is a resounding YES. I'm looking forward to introducing the world to my retelling of The Little Mermaid once we find it a publishing home, but in the meantime, you can know that all my works are influenced, and influenced heavily, by the classics.
*This post contains spoilers for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets*
My oldest son is reading Harry Potter for the first time. He turned eleven this past week, and we gifted him book 1, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (as I feel I must call it, as an American, but everyone knows it should really be titled Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone) for Christmas. He read it in about two days and declared it "the best book he'd ever read!" and my heart was happy, and I prepared to throw him his 11th Harry Potter Birthday Party Extravaganza that I've been planning for years.
At the party, we gifted him with books 2 and 3, and he predictably disappeared into book 2 with nary a backward glance. I expected feedback from him as he read, but he was so engrossed, we heard not a peep until late at night, two nights ago, when he burst into the living room, eyes brimming with happiness, book clutched to his chest, and declared, "Dobby is free!"*
Okay, I'll admit it. I'm still getting a little choked up typing this. Of all the twists and turns in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, of all the adventures and revelations -- mysterious journals, ghosts, words written in blood, kidnappings, basilisks, Tom Riddle! -- my sweet sensitive boy felt more sympathy for the plight of the downtrodden, and more cathartic joy for the release from slavery of the oppressed in the story than any other aspect that he rushed to share that joy with his parents. He didn't rush down to say, "Tom Riddle is Voldemort!" or "It was a basilisk all along!" or even "Ginny Weasley has been taken and they have to go and rescue her!" but... "Dobby is free!"
And this is why our stories are important, especially in an age when the "least of these" in society -- and in the greater world -- are so often disparaged, not only in casual language, but by our actions, on social media, and sometimes grossly by the highest levels of our political leadership. Stories matter because they have the power to rightly -- or wrongly -- orient our empathies, manipulate our emotions, and challenge our world views. Stories teach people how to think and how to feel. If you love the oppressed people in Harry Potter's universe, it is difficult to turn around and hate the oppressed people in this one.
My son was edified this week by reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. His heart expanded as he felt the joy of Dobby's release from slavery. He learned important truths about oppression and personhood. And I know he's now taken strides toward better appreciating the value of freedom.
All because of a story.
*Dobby, if you're unfamiliar with the story, is a creature called a house elf. House elves are essentially enslaved to old wizarding families and can only be freed by a member of the family offering the elf an item of clothing. Dobby belongs to the infamous Malfoy family and is horribly abused, but Harry comes up with a way to trick Mr. Malfoy into giving Dobby a sock at the end of the story, thereby freeing Dobby from his enslavement. Click HERE for more!
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