Friday, February 22, 2008

What Makes Harry Potter So Popular?

Since the first Harry Potter book came out, millions of people have developed "Potter Madness" and it's not just the kids. On July 21, 2007, at every bookstore in the nation, at 12:01 AM, adults and children alike dressed up as Weasleys, Harry and Hermione, stood in line to buy the seventh - and last - book in the series. News stories telling even a little of the ending contained warning that "People who do not want to know the end of the book should not read any further."

It would be easy to pass Harry Potter off as a fad, something people got carried away with, like the pet rock or disco. Doing so however would be a mistake because there is something very deep and lasting in Harry Potter that his fans connect with, something more than just a fleeting attachment to that which is popular.

Understanding the appeal of Harry Potter starts with understanding where Harry came from. Most people know that Harry lived in a cupboard under the stairs with an aunt and uncle who despised him and a cousin who pummeled him - and then he realized he was a wizard, and a famous wizard at that.

The books then go on to describe how Harry then went to Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, where he had many adventures and made two very good friends. All of this is sure to appeal to children who feel left out or left behind. Who wouldn't fall in love with a story like that?

What is interesting is that Jane Eyre, the lead character in the famous Bronte novel, lived with an aunt and uncle who despised her and a cousin who pummeled her, and when she stood up to her cousin, she was sent off to school. It turned out to be a fairly horrible school, and her life was not as exotic as Harry's, but the connection is there.

Those who want to call Harry Potter "too fanciful" or "just a bunch of silliness" would do well to think about what this series really means to its readers. They are not just books. They are stories about the Boy Who Lived. The boy who lived through a terrible childhood, the boy who made friends when he had never had a friend, the boy who became a hero in spite of feeling very ordinary, the boy who mattered to people when he thought he did not matter at all.

And the magic does not really happen because someone flicks a wand. It is not about charms and transfiguration and expelliarmus and all the wizard talk. If they try to, even the hardest-hearted Muggle can relate to the idea that Harry Potter is a very real boy, in a very real situation, and he is doing the very best he can.

That is what appeals not only to young boys and girls, but also to adults of all ages - the idea that anyone who does the best they can is bound to end up on top, eventually. Everyone wants to live a life in which, in time, all is well.

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