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Monday, October 18, 2021

Harry Potter casts one hell of a spell

It’s that time of year again – no, not the holidays, but a Harry Potter movie debut. Yes, once again millions of diehard Potter fans will rush the theaters at midnight to partake in the nearly-annual event that has been inflating Hollywood for the past 10 years.

For those of us who do consider these days to be just as important as Christmas, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and 2 bring a bittersweet edge with them. The films, and the books that inspired them, have been a part of our lives for over a decade. This enormous franchise has literally taken over the entire world in a frenzy no one could have predicted.

It makes one pause and consider how exactly this happened. We know the story of its famous author J.K. Rowling, and her struggles which magically turned into the biggest success story of our time. So what magical quality do Harry, Hogwarts and all the rest possess that is just so darn addictive?

Rachel Dubowe, a junior human development major, said the series’ characters and themes of magic have made the stories popular among readers.

“The theme of friendship is highly appealing as most of us love the camaraderie and excitement that is Harry, Hermione and Ron,” she said. “Also the world of magic is a giant appeal factor, as these books allow readers to really enter a new world with things and events we have never been able to experience.”

Of course, the magic is a huge appeal. Diving into that world provides a thrilling escape for its readers and viewers.

Harry Potter was the right story at the right time, said English professor Fran Dolan.

Andrew Blake, a Harry Potter lecturer at University of East London in London, England, said it has been widely acknowledged that Harry Potter inspired young students to love to read, a feat many teachers struggle with to this day.

“The fact that the books encouraged kids to read formed a massive bandwagon attracting business sponsors, governments and so on as well as readers,” Blake said in an e-mail interview. “And in all the books, the kids find out stuff by reading and researching – it really is about education, in the sense of growing up through the acquiring and deployment of knowledge.”

It’s all about location. The fact that this story revolves around the iconic Hogwarts School really promotes education, and may even make it kind of exciting.

So that’s one part of the multi-faceted mass appeal of the franchise. But how do the films factor into this extreme popularity?

“For fans, it’s just more fan service and something that they can further enjoy along with their books,” said Travis Schumer, a junior political science major. “For non-readers it’s an accessible way to access the series.”

This accessibility contributes enormously to the franchise. Despite its readership promotion, most of the kids and young adults today need the visual aid of a film to hang on to a series.

“It’s very hard to determine if there’s a link between quality and popularity,” said Eric Smoodin, American studies professor. “There’s certainly a link, though, between interest in something and popularity, and people are clearly interested – for a bunch of different reasons – in Potter.”

These themes – good versus evil, the value of friendship and the basic concept of morality – provide the backbone for the novels. The context, jokes, spells and characters all dance around a wild fantasy, but at the end of the day, there is a good guy and a bad guy.

This is what makes the books so irresistible. This basic human struggle is undeniably what makes the series so universal, and emotionally magnetic to readers, Dolan said.

“Some critics of children’s literature argue that [the series] tends to depict a polarized universe of good and evil.  I would argue that those polarities often collapse in children’s books,” Dolan said. “That’s especially true in the Harry Potter books, in which one must continually reconsider who is good and who is bad and what good and bad mean and who decides.  The moral complexity of this universe, especially as the series unfolds, is one of its pleasures.”

There are basic human elements in the story that almost anyone can relate to, and one of the most important of those elements is the main character.

Harry Potter, the man (or boy) himself, has been one of the biggest draws of the series. According to Blake, his plight, both externally and internally, propel the story and the characters surrounding him.

“The books, and to a lesser extent the films, deal with an identity in crisis, thus retelling the traditional fairy tales, present in virtually all cultures, about the orphaned or abandoned child’s struggle to find out who she or he is,” Blake said.

The struggle of self-discovery is something every teenager goes through, everywhere on the planet. And that’s another unique quality about this series: many students today were teenagers when Harry was.

“This series affects our generation because the majority of fans were Harry Potter’s age when the first one came out, so they have grown up with him,” Dubowe said.

So now, after riding along with Harry, Hermione and Ron for almost 15 years, we finally put Harry Potter onto his shelf, or under the stairs in the cupboard, but within reach, so we can grab it anytime we want.

BRITTANY PEARLMAN can be reached at arts@theaggie.org

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