Harry Potter is just like ... what? Five leading templates for comparison.

Harry Potter fans just know they love the record-breaking series of books. But everyone from academics to mythologists, classicists to historians, and literary critics to, well, geeks have a special “template” they perceive at the heart of the tale.

From positing Albus Dumbledore as the infamous Richard III to taking us aloft the scaly back of St. George’s dragon, here are five of our top takes on what’s going on behind the scenes in the Harry Potter narratives.

1. The literary antecedents

Murray Close/Disney Enterprises/File
The Christian themes that run though C.S. Lewis's Narnia series find echoes in J.K. Rowling's writing, some critics say. Seen here is a scene from the film, 'The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.'

Like all artists, J.K. Rowling alludes to many earlier literary themes and tropes, says Elizabeth Gruner from the University of Richmond in Virginia. Clearly, she draws on the medieval quest narrative, not to mention the sacrificial victim themes that informed Christian iconography, she notes. These influenced other fantasy writers, among them Christian theologian C.S. Lewis (“The Chronicles of Narnia”) and “Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien.

Ms. Rowling’s genius is in drawing as well on several realistic literary traditions, says Ms. Gruner, such as the “school story, best known in England with 'Tom Brown’s School Days,' and the ever-popular orphan narrative.”

Charles Dickens is one of her great predecessors, she notes, but let’s not forget the “social realism in Jane Austen’s mode – the satire of the Dursleys, the awareness of the social class issues within Hogwarts,” she adds.

Rowling gives everyone something familiar to connect with, says Gruner. “Lots of kids (and adults) who thought they didn’t like the “swords and sorcerers” kind of fantasy (familiar, again, from Tolkien) were drawn in by her comedy, her social realism, and her characterization,” she adds.

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