With the upcoming conclusion to the Harry Potter movies I began thinking about the franchise as a whole. It strikes me that I grew up with it, and that it’s now coming to a (temporary) end. The main actors from the movies being the same age I am, it’s not only an end for them but also for me.
Back in 2001, when I read the first book (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) it had already been released for a couple of years and received highly praising critics from The Scotsman, which said it had “all the makings of a classic”, and The Glasgow Herald, which called it “Magic stuff”. Soon the English newspapers joined in, with more than one comparing it to Roald Dahl’s work. The Mail on Sunday rated it as “the most imaginative debut since Roald Dahl”, a view echoed by The Sunday Times (“comparisons to Dahl are, this time, justified”), while The Guardian called it “a richly textured novel given lift-off by an inventive wit”.
Since then, J.K. Rowling’s creations have travelled across the globe with translations in as much as 17 languages, capturing the attention of millions of people all around the world. Fans of the series camped outside of bookstores for days to get their eager hands on a copy of a new Harry Potter book. Certainly a rare occurrence to see a character that was first created during a train ride can bring about such amazing things like this.
The events following the hysteria around the books, commonly featuring mock sorting, games, face painting, and other live entertainment have achieved popularity with Potter fans and have been highly successful in attracting fans and selling books with nearly nine million of the 10.8 million initial print copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince sold in the first 24 hours. The final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows became the fastest selling book in history, moving 11 million units in the first twenty-four hours of release . The series has also gathered adult fans, leading to the release of two editions of each Harry Potter book, identical in text but with one edition’s cover artwork aimed at children and the other aimed at adults. Besides meeting online through blogs, podcasts, and fansites, Harry Potter super-fans can also meet at Harry Potter symposia.
The word Muggle has spread beyond its Harry Potter origins, becoming one of few pop culture words to land in the Oxford English Dictionary. The Harry Potter fandom has embraced podcasts as a regular, often weekly, insight to the latest discussion in the fandom. Both MuggleCast and PotterCast have reached the top spot of iTunes podcast rankings and have been polled one of the top 50 favourite podcasts.
Now, why exactly do we like Harry Potter so much? Let’s look at what’s causing this ‘Pottermania’.
First of all, relatability. The character Harry Potter is easy to sympathize with. Take the Dursleys for example, they are so awful that you’ll automatically like anyone they do not and vice versa. Next, through his difficult circumstances. Harry gets into trouble, is hunted by Voldemort and revered by others. As story starts to develop around him this effect only fortifies. In all the early books, Harry is such a decent hero that he is hard not to like; and all the people around him generally fit into the pattern of being either people the reader likes as well (the Weasleys, Dumbledore, Luna) or else people we enjoy disliking (Malfoy, Snape).
Harry’s day-to-day experiences are also very relatable. Throughout the series Harry is occupied with school, exams, sports practice, friends and eventually girlfriends. We all had similar experiences making it all the more relatable. The overarching story is more of the same. During the course of Harry’s teenage years we go from the happy, cheerful and young Harry to the adult Harry where he learns to deal with death and all the responsibilities that come with adulthood and his legacy.
Next, accessibility. The world of wizard is much like ours, but with a magical and humorous tone to it. The staircases move, clocks talk and cooking happens with the flick of a wand. But it’s still very recognizable and not all that hard to fathom as a result of that. Tolkien’s Middle Earth wasn’t even near this accessible to people as there was a whole new world with new races, languages and creatures to discover. Diving deeper into the humorous tone I mentioned before. Rowling’s humour is … unique. Firecrackers that spell out POO and exams called O.W.Ls and N.E.W.T are just a small fragment of the rich humorous sections in the books. Nothing makes a reader chuckle like a good joke.
Moving on … complexity. In the books, things never are like they seem and seldom simple, which is much like real life. James Potter was an arrogant S.O.B during his childhood, contrary to what Harry thinks. Voldemort had an unhappy childhood, Snape protected Harry because he loved Lily and Dumbledore wanted to rule over Muggles. The line between good and evil is very clear, but every character on both sides are various shades of gray. it’s not something I often see in books (correct me if I’m wrong).
Next up: Mystery. Seven books, the keys to the climax of the seventh laid in the first, a mystery in each book feeding into the mystery of the whole. Clues and references in every book that y
ou’ll only get when you finished all 7. Plot twists that you’ll never expect. Rowling manages to tell an incredible story without every giving away a word more than she wants to reader to know at that very moment in the story.
Escapism. In a good way mind you. The Harry Potter franchise offers us a way to escape our day-to-day lives and jump in to a book, a story, a world. Even though the world is much like our own, it’s imaginative and fresh enough to offer relaxation and a way to escape all our worries about work, money, war, terrorism, …
Community. Harry Potter was published right at the beginning of the dot.com boom when everyone was getting acquainted with the internet, making websites and joining chat rooms. As the books went on, the community of fans grew and lots of them wanted to speculate on what would happen next or discuss the events in past books. Us readers got to know other people around the world and we all further reinforced the place that the Harry Potter series has in our current culture.
Books often get labelled ‘The next Harry Potter’, but I honestly doubt any series of books will EVER be the next Harry Potter in much the same way as there is no series that can be called ‘The next Lord Of The Rings’. Truly, Harry Potter is a name that will be right up there with Alice, Frodo and Sherlock Holmes and it’s definitely a title I’d want my kids to read some day. Now that the movies are coming to an end, so does an age in which a lot of us grew up and it’ll be quite some time until we get to see something of this magnitude again.
Even though Rowling said there will be no new book, The Boy-Who-Lived will continue to live on for decades to come.
PS: Watch the trailer for the last movie below (Caution! high amounts of ‘NYEAHHHHHHHHHHHHhh’):