With over 400 million copies in print worldwide, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series has worked its magic over an entire generation of readers. The cultural phenomenon draws to a close with the release of the last film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II, at midnight this Friday, but the influence of Rowling's world can hardly be considered as over. After all, getting kids hooked on reading - millions of them - is no small feat.
As a sales associate at Barrett Book Store in Darien, CT, 70-year-old Dottie Brush knows firsthand the series' unique ability to inspire young readers. "[It used to be] that kids would come in and ask for the shortest book there was to get through it for school. But with Harry Potter, the thicker they got, the better they liked them."
The daunting length did not seem to deter young Potter fans, who tore through the pages with an appetite for Rowling's magical world. In a study by market research firm Yankelvich, 51% of kids aged 5 to 17 reported they did not read books for fun before starting the series. Over 3/4 of the same kids credited Harry Potter for making them more interested in reading other books.
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"Everyone was reading the books. People of all ages," says Sarah Flowers, president of the Young Adult Library Services Association. "People on the bus - everywhere you went you saw people carrying the books."
Around the world, bookstores hosted release parties for each new installment in the print series. "Kids would line up hours before midnight. They would come exceptionally early, most of them dressed in Harry Potter clothes," Brush recalls. Barrett Book Store had its own opening party for each release. "We would hand them the book, and there would be 20 kids sitting on the floor starting it already. By the time the next one was ready, they had read it 3 or 4 times." Barrett now shelves the Harry Potter books on the classics shelf, along with Anne of Green Gables and Peter Pan, and it's still necessary to reorder them.
Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, admits to her own guilty pleasure for children's literature - she has even created three children's lit book groups for adults that share her interest. "The magical world is so attractive and detailed and rich and so alluring. J.K. Rowling just is a master," she says. "It's genuinely suspenseful and terrifying and funny and extraordinarily well-done." Looking back on the series is especially satisfying. "As you get to the end of it, you see how extraordinary and well-crafted they are. Everything matches. Things that seem like minor details in Book 2 end up a big deal in Book 7."
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Rubin's only lament is the loss of the compulsory wait between book releases. "No one will enjoy them they way we enjoyed them. We had to wait. If you were a kid, you would zip through them." Her own daughters, 12- and 6-years old, have shown an early love for the Rowling series. "My little one can't read, but listens to the audio books non-stop. She knows all about it and has picked up this crazy vocabulary."
Now the entire series has been released and a new, younger audience is picking up the Potter books. These new readers do not come of age with Harry as their predecessors did, maturing over a decade with the protagonist. They can read book after book with no downtime. Reading the books in short succession, while enviable, has its own set of drawbacks. As the emotional complexities of the series emerge, a young person today is not developing alongside them to grasp the emotional depth of the situations; the true beauty of Harry Potter evolves when the black-and-white lines of Rowling's world are blurred. "The series gets a little deep and scary," explains Brush. "You have to grow into them the same way the older children grew into them."
But while the future of Harry Potter holds no more midnight releases and bookstore costume parties, the magic of the series will live on. Flowers credits the strength of Rowling's writing and storytelling and the complexities she weaves through Harry Potter for proving its lasting power. Social issues like racism and the struggle between good and evil display themselves in a familiar school context, filled with adults and love interests. "Harry represented the reader. He was the every-kid. We have a whole generation of kids that literally grew up with the books. They started when Harry was 11 and they were 11. This created a shared language, a shared vocabulary."
Which is why we will always have love for Harry - young or old, past or present, muggle or wizard. "Accio Potter!"
What's your favorite Harry Potter memory? Share in the comments!
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