Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke has famously argued that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This paper starts by exploring a few general ways in which science fiction influences Harry Potter, then focuses attention on one key element of science fiction which Potter quite clearly appropriates: the classic trope of the robot or created servant. First, using close textual analysis, the paper traces the robot trope and its accompanying features from its origins in Golem legends and in Shelley's Frankenstein, through classic works of science fiction, including Čapek’s R.U.R., Asimov’s I, Robot, Heinlein’s The Moon is A Harsh Mistress and Lucas’ Star Wars. These features include the humanization of robots, the introduction of ethical considerations regarding personhood through the intervention of empathetic female characters, the chronic and advantageous underestimation of robots, and the narrative function of robots or droids as secret keepers and preservers of memory. Again utilizing a close reading of the texts, the paper identifies these as defining features of Rowling’s house-elves, who defy their fantasy genre and demonstrate science fiction’s unexpected yet profound influence on Potter.
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Mythcon 52: The Mythic, the Fantastic, and the Alien
Albuquerque, New Mexico; July 29 - August 1, 2022