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Harry Potter's J.K. Rowling Deserves The Gratitude Of A Generation

Cara Palmer |
March 10, 2012 | 8:30 p.m. PST

Senior Editor

(Hung Chieh Tsai, Creative Commons)
(Hung Chieh Tsai, Creative Commons)
For my generation, for those of us born in the late 80s or early 90s and are now in college, childhood was defined, shaped, or, at a minimum, influenced to some degree by the "Harry Potter" series. There were other series around for us to read, to be sure, but the most popular books were J.K. Rowling's series. That was certainly the case for me.

I was one of those kids who counted the days until the next "Harry Potter" book would come out, until the next adventure would unfold, until I would be swept away into a place about which I could only dream. I cannot express in words the anticipation I felt waiting for the next installment of the "Harry Potter" series, and the intensity with which I devoured each new episode as soon as it was delivered into my hands. Each summer I would devote a few weeks (literally) to rereading every book in the series, multiple times, including, each summer, the newest book. It was an addiction, one I was only able to overcome with intense effort, preventing myself from rereading my favorite passages or lines, which I could find easily at will, preventing myself from neglecting fresh air and the company of other human beings, just to have a little more time to read.

The "Harry Potter" series, I’m sure many of us have been told, captivated a generation of young people, so much so that it inspired youth to read. But in the case of those of us who were already devoted readers when "Harry Potter" came along, what made his story so different? Why did it have such a powerful effect? Why was I so dedicated, so addicted, to a series of fantasy stories?

The world of "Harry Potter" provided me with an escape from my world. I grew up attached to the characters as if they were friends, of course, but the feeling was deeper than that – it was a longing for these characters to exist in real life. I was entranced by their world, and by the figures themselves. J.K. Rowling brought to life, in the most colorful way possible, a cast of believable characters, extraordinary in their ordinariness as well as in their magical qualities. Not many writers can create such an endearing, inspiring, diverse collection of personalities, and weave those personalities together in a fantastic tale of action and adventure that is so much more than that.

Perhaps the attraction of Rowling's series lies in the ability of its readers to identify with at least one of the many characters, or with one of the bonds between them. Perhaps the series drew the attention of so many because the storyline wasn’t at all predictable, and presented the characters with challenges composed of original complications and twists. Perhaps it was the humor so clearly expressed through the words of Fred and George, jokes that could be read over and over again without getting old. Perhaps it was the ability of J.K. Rowling to craft each scene in such a way that the reader was consumed by anticipation, and myriad other emotions, totally investing his or her energy in the imminent adventure of the characters, no matter how inconsequential walking down the corridor to History of Magic proved to be. Perhaps it was a combination, or all of the above.

No matter the reasons for series' popularity, its reach and influence cannot be overstated. The "Harry Potter" series has sold over 400 million copies worldwide. There have been numerous studies on Harry Potter presented at academic conferences; it has been the subject of Ph.D. dissertations; and some university courses even focus exclusively on the works of J.K. Rowling, placing her series "in its social, cultural, and educational context and understand[ing] some of the reasons for its popularity." There is an International Quidditch Association with 400+ colleges and 300+ high schools composing its membership. The Harry Potter Alliance, a human rights group comprising "an army of fans, activists, nerdfighters, teenagers, wizards and muggles dedicated to fighting for social justice with the greatest weapon we have – love." Countless theme parks have been developed on the basis of the books. J.K. Rowling herself has created a new interactive website (launching in April), Pottermore, based on the books.

These numerous applications to the “real world” of the magical story illustrate the extent of the popularity of the series and the extent of the influence that "Harry Potter" has exerted throughout the world. But the adaptation of the series to media other than the books cannot substitute the ability of the books themselves, by means of their addictive power, to captivate youth, and no real-life representation of the characters or the story can replace the original.

The addiction never goes away; at least, it hasn’t for me. To this day, I cannot pick up a "Harry Potter" book for fear of being subject to an inescapable pull toward something, something with which they provided me, something I didn’t have without them.

J.K. Rowling created a fantasy world, a world without which my childhood, and that of many others, might have been drastically different; she created a world without which countless youths may have come of age without having explored the splendor of books, and for that alone, she deserves the unending gratitude of a generation.


Reach Senior Opinion Editor Cara Palmer here or follow her on Twitter.



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