Today at the Mall of America, the Harry Potter movie marathon continues, in preparation for the release of the final movie tomorrow. In the spirit of this event, this reviewer will risk her own neck to explore reasons for Harry’s success, without assuming that it is simply the best story ever written.
1. School is Cool
Most books aimed at school-age youngsters that are not otherworld fantasy take place in a school. That’s what most kids know. What Harry does is take the familiar setting and subplots, and make them interesting. No one wants to read about math class, but everyone loves hearing about Transfiguration class. Few people like after-school sports stories…unless it’s QUIDDITCH. You have the mean teacher, the group of friends, and the school sports tournament. It is just familiar enough that the reader can connect, but on the other hand, it’s cool and magical.
2. Growing Up
Most book series don’t let their protagonists age more than a year or two, and only as an afterthought, when realistically enough time in the story must have passed for the character to have a birthday. Still, kid’s books never cross the puberty line. Kids stay kids and teens start teens. Harry, on the other hand, did, going from a sweet little kid to an angst-ridden teenager. As did his readers. Instead of leaving Harry behind with the rest of childhood, the aging readers stayed loyal through the very end.
3. I Know Magic
Fantasy was not always as respected as it is now. It used to be quite difficult to find books for kids with magic in them, and every writer had to have his or her own system of magic, explained within the first few chapters, that had to be different from every else’s. Harry uses a very recognizeable style of magic. Everyone knows that if you wave a stick and speak some pseudo-Latin, magic happens! Mixing arcane ingredients makes a magic potion. And broomsticks fly.
4. Quotable World
Harry Potter is incredibly quoteable, the world richly if not always practically detailed (Seriously, why can’t they use muggle technology?). Quotes and memes create a community, and when a community gets big enough to make it mainstream, it becomes popular culture. There is enough material to make several parodies, as Potter Puppet Pals and A Very Potter Musical prove.
Dare I say it? Harry Potter is not terribly original. That is not a criticism. What Harry did was borrow from many, many different sources to become accessible and recognizeable to everyone, thus leading to its success. Rowling used a school setting, a popular vision of magic, a standard quest format, and even many, many references from classical mythology. That girl’s done her research, which is quite admirable.
No one here is trying to say Potter Sucks. This reviewer can remember the days when Harry was just this cute little story that no one else was reading because no one else read books about magic. And despite the reasons given above, we may never be certain what happened to make it the pop culture phenomenon it is today. For the Harry Potter generation, those who waited for the letter from Hogwarts and waited for a book at midnight, the end of an era is hard, but Harry will never quite leave us.