July 24, 2007, Epoch Times
Bespeaking the character of our culture
Harry Potter fans and their fellow bandwagon passengers have had a busy couple of weeks. They came in droves to theaters around the world for the cinematic depiction of the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and then flocked to bookstores for J. K. Rowling’s seventh and last installment of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
The Harry Potter craze is the first of its kind for this generation. There have been more than 325 million Harry Potter books sold worldwide (more than any other children’s series in history) and the entire franchise is estimated to be worth $15 billion. Many fans have literally grown up with Harry Potter, whose story has been more than 10 years in the making. And, of course, new fans are born each day.
So, who are these loyal followers?
To find out, I muggled my way to the movies to see Order of the Phoenix. During the extensive previews, the theater (packed with mostly teens and adults) was abuzz with conversation. Everyone seemed to be discussing minutiae that may or may not be included in what they were about to see, or rumors about the film and how it may differ from the book. There were some scenes that a select group of the audience found funny—clearly the well-versed Potter fans of the bunch. At the film’s conclusion, roaring applause filled the room, and as the credits rolled the buzz began anew.
A week and a half later, I made a midnight stop at the local children’s bookstore, Adventures in Books, in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. I had met with the store’s owner, Pat Dominianni, a few days earlier to find out the details of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Release Party. It included trivia, costume contests, refreshments, and of course, the 12:01 a.m. distribution of the voluminous seventh book.
By the time I arrived, I could hardly get in the door as excited kids and parents enjoyed the fun and waited for the big moment. Everyone was discussing Harry Potter in one way or another and everyone was having what I believe we call “good, clean fun” at the bookstore! When distribution began, so did the exodus, as everyone clearly had to get reading.
My experiences got me thinking—what’s so special about this story anyway?
The Harry Potter series has been analyzed over and over, and has even become the subject of university courses. These works of J. K. Rowling have garnered both praise and criticism from a variety of sources. Some have called Rowling a genius, comparing her to Roald Dahl and J. R. R. Tolkien.
It would be difficult to argue Rowling’s ability to tell a story, even after reading just a few pages. The descriptive details that transport readers to the scene, and the fostered anticipation for what might happen next are keys to the series’ long-lived success. Rowling’s writing ability should not be overshadowed, however, by her immense imagination. She has truly created another world complete with characters, laws, customs, and culture.
Others, however, have questioned the morality of a story in which wizards and witches are the heroes. Some have pointed to the implicit use of reverse symbolism and the ongoing theme of a blurred line between good and evil. As the series progresses from book one to seven, the world of Harry Potter is nothing if not complicated. If one is hoping for a story of preserved innocence and moral lessons—where right and wrong, beauty and ugliness, and good and evil are clearly defined—the Harry Potter books will disappoint.
The thing about the Harry Potter story is that it’s quite popular. Whether it proves a commentary on our culture or an influencing factor on it remains to be seen. Hopefully, parents are finding ways to nurture the enthusiasm for reading in their kids, and when it comes to Harry Potter, they’re buying two copies of each book. This way they can read and discuss Harry Potter together, and not hand the moral lessons over to a work of fantasy.