When Lady Geek Girl asked me to write a post about the entirety of the Harry Potter franchise, I agreed without thinking too hard about it. Now, as I run around my house like a chicken in the Headless Hunt, trying to get ready for Otakon this weekend, I’m starting to wonder how you can possibly comment on all the effects of the Harry Potter books, movies, fandom, and mythos on the world in one cleverly-worded article. But what the hell, I’m going to try anyway.
On June 30th, 1997, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in Britain. I would be ashamed to say I wasn’t at the midnight release, but I respectfully submit that I was only seven years old at the time, and no one knew the impact this boy wizard was going to have on the world as a whole. (There also wasn’t a midnight release, but whatever.) When it was published in the US, they changed the book’s title to Sorcerer’s Stone, because marketing executives were worried that “philosopher” sounded too dry and wouldn’t attract young readers. (This did not seen to be a problem with later books, where made-up terms like “Deathly Hallows” and “Azkaban” just increased rabid fan desire to find out what they meant.) There were some people who didn’t read them or didn’t like them, but they blew most of the world out of the water, topping The New York Times bestseller list for almost two years. (All of this info is from the Wikipedia page, if you were wondering. Never say I don’t cite my sources.)
The books introduced not just characters we as readers could love and hate, and not just exciting plots, but a deep and complicated and realistic world. The characters were fallible and well-rounded, the mythos was solid and believable, and the stories inspired people. And oh, did they inspire people. I mean, there was Harry Potter merchandise before they even held auditions for the movies, and it sold. People (myself included) write essays about minority representation in Harry Potter and get into fights about what house is the best (I identify as Ravenclaw, but logically each house has their merits and downfalls). Borders, God rest their corporate soul ran an ad campaign with their Harry Potter 7 preorders where you could declare via bumper sticker whether you trusted Professor Snape or thought he was a very bad man. (My laptop wore its Trust Snape sticker with pride.) Harry Potter isn’t just a series you read in your leisure time (although it certainly can be); Harry Potter has inspired a way of life.
In November of 2001, the boy wizard moved from the page to the big screen, and proved just as popular on film as in print. The movies have been wildly successful, and for people like me who were small when they premiered, watching them has been like growing up with Harry Potter. (Not that the books weren’t like that as well, but the visual of tiny baby Dan Radcliffe next to 2011 DanRad is craaazy; Mary Grandpre’s illustrations are great but just not the same.) They’re also the root of crazy controversy—for fans at least, who are always griping about what has been left in and what has been cut. And it can be argued that some of the movies (in my opinion, from the fifth onward) have the potential to be very confusing to people who haven’t read the books. And I have to agree with the people who disliked the “IT ALL ENDS” ad campaign that ran with the movies, because just like Hogwarts is always open to those in need, Harry Potter is never over for those who wish it to keep going.
I can pop in Sorcerer’s Stone right now and feel like I’m eleven and waiting for my own Hogwarts letter again, or I can crack open the end of Deathly Hallows and cry like a baby about the unfairness of life. That’s a tangent, though, and as far as the movies are concerned, I’d personally rate myself satisfied-though-not-dead-chuffed-or-anything with the job they’ve done; overall, I think they’ve told the story in a way that pleases me as a fan, and I suppose that’s what matters.
The movies and the books together have inspired a franchise on a previously-unheard of level. It’s freaking huge. There’s a bloody great theme park based on one book series. Literally no other single franchise can offer that. There’s Pottermore, the still-slightly-mysterious web continuation of the Harry Potter experience. There are literally millions, if not billions, of dollars’ worth of merchandise available, and it’s not all “Weasley is our King” T-shirts and lightning bolt key chains. You can buy everything from actual Bertie Botts’ Every Flavour Beans for a dollar a box to a $500 wizard chess set or a real gold Time Turner. (Magic unfortunately not included.)
On the topic of magic: Harry has caused controversy from his early years, as backward people who didn’t trust their kids to know the difference between fact and fiction tried to have him banned from schools and libraries as paeans to witchcraft. However, despite this or because of it, he’s inspired more kids (and adults) to read than any other fictional protagonist. Harry made people want to pick up a book—any book—and find out what happened. Really: childhood literacy rates increased greatly because Harry Potter offered them a gateway into reading for fun. Not bad on top of all that saving the wizarding world and whatnot.
I can’t possibly wrap up a post about Harry Potter without talking about the fandom. Oh, the fandom. We are arguably what has kept HP going all this time, and we are what will keep it going for decades to come. We are the people who care above and beyond. We are the ones who go to the conventions. We are the ones who dedicate hours and days of our real and valuable time to delve deeper into the tricksy, complicated, and beautiful world that JKR has created and who love her characters enough to want to play with them ourselves. We are the ones who have written literally millions of fanfiction stories and made hundreds of thousands of videos and pieces of artwork that investigate those parts of characters that didn’t get to be revealed in books, those relationships that we think do or don’t hold merit, and those ideas that we wish had been pursued. We are the reason it doesn’t all end with the premiere of the second Deathly Hallows movie. The Harry Potter fandom has created friendships and romances in real life; it has literally helped save lives through fan-run charity auctions and drives; it is a living testament to the power of Harry Potter’s message of love and tolerance.
What started with “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of No. 4, Privet Drive” has grown into something truly greater than the sum of its parts. We thank you, Mr. Potter, for teaching us about life, love, and loss, and we thank you even more deeply, Ms. Rowling, for sharing your rambunctious boy wizard with all of us.