The Cultural Impact of Harry Potter {Revised}

ABSTRACT

The Harry Potter series as a whole has brought about vast cultural changes on society at large. Unlike any other, it possess an incredible capability to bring together audiences across age groups and social and ethnic backgrounds. It has served as an invaluable influence on much of today’s mainstream young adult fiction, both in relation to books and on the big screen. A testament to its everlasting influence and unwavering popularity, the series as a whole has sold over 450 million books, which have been translated into over sixty different languages. The brand itself is worth an excess $15 billion, making J.K. Rowling herself the richest author in the world. It is obvious that the series had impact on society, but how did it accomplish this feat, and to what extent did it do so?

The introduction of the Harry Potter series brought about a vast number of changes and has produced monumental impacts on society at large. The most substantial impact is the resultant increase in reading levels among children and young adults as a result of the series’ publication. This impact came into fruition due to the fact that the series is composed of many differentiating themes and genres that have the ability to appeal to a vast array of audiences, and due to its effective marketing and movie production strategies.

Hogwarts

The themes and genres that the series encompasses is a testament to its popularity and resultant impact. According to Anne Alton, author of “Generic Fusion and the Mosaic of Harry Potter,” the series is a hefty conglomeration of fantasy, pulp fiction, horror, mystery, sports, and even romance (197). This “conglomeration” of themes and genres appeals to many audiences, but most particularly to children and young adults, whose minds are constantly being exposed to new and different types of literature.

However, the typical themes of pulp fiction, such as the triumph of good over evil, adventure romance, and main character relatability, are central to the series. Harry Potter, a young, orphaned boy with magical ability must overcome and defeat, with the help of his friends, peers, and Hogwarts teachers and affiliates, against all odds the most evil and powerful dark wizard of all time. Throughout his quest to vanquish Voldemort, Harry and his friends find themselves playing the roles of typical school children with classes such as charms and potions at one moment, and heroes solving some of the Wizarding World’s greatest mysteries the next. They stumble and triumph, and they fight and fall in love (Harry Potter Books 1-7). Such themes are typical of popular fiction, and they hook readers from the very beginning. According to Keller, “The absence of adult situations and explicit sex draws in younger readers who would otherwise find themselves banned by their parents from reading such sensational material.”  This, in essence, makes reading seem much “cooler,” especially in relation to children and young adults. “At a time when more and more readers were switching to other forms of media and less and less readers were actually reading books, the Harry Potter books stirred a deep, lasting public interest. That interest manifested in the massive sales of over 450 million copies around the world, translated into over 60 languages” (Vera).

The perspectives of younger audiences has been taken into account on numerous occasions when analyzing the impact Harry Potter has had on them. According to a Bookworm the Hippie article, “In 2005, the U.K.-based Federation of Children’s Book Groups took a look at what kids were thinking related to the Harry Potter Series. What they found was a trip. 59% of the kids interviewed believed that they had better reading skills thanks to the Harry Potter Series. And 48% of kids were reading more thanks to the addictiveness of the complex and enchanting story lines.” In a similar study in 2005, it was reported that in Australia, three out of four kids ages 11-13 had read at least one of the Harry Potter books. 57% of boys in the U.S. were reading the series compared to 51% of girls. At this time, the books were available in over 40 languages worldwide. This increase in reading was shocking, but as time and the series progressed, the rise was no longer limited to children. The series’ popularity became such that adults in America were increasingly naming their children after its characters:

harrypotter_graph_datawrapper

In addition to the themes evoked by the books, the book covers, which are effective marketing strategies in and of themselves, also contribute to the series’ popularity. The image below displays each of the seven books in the Harry Potter series. These book covers were not created to evoke the darker genres of horror and mystery, but were created with appeal to younger audiences in mind. The colorful, wistful images displayed on the majority of the covers may contribute to why the series was and still is so popular with younger readers, and may explain why reading levels among this group rose as a result. Even though people are being taught not to judge the quality of a book by its cover, these covers do in fact matter in the end (Book Covers: Do They Matter?).

Book Covers

This book series in particular is a main contributor to the rise and popularity of young adult fiction. Harry Potter’s grip on society brought about an interest in the fantasy genre that had not been seen since Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. The series provided the boost that was needed to kick start the current generation’s fascination with young adult fiction. It can therefore be argued that without Harry Potter’s inspiration, book series such as The Hunger GamesPercy Jackson, and Twilight may never have existed. The chart below from the Association of American Publishers displays the increase in popularity of children’s and adult fiction books, from 2011 (release of final Harry Potter movie) to 2012. It is both obvious and apparent that reading levels are on the rise.

ChartHP

A cause of Harry Potter’s impact on children and young adults is the ability for the series to be made into a popular and successful movie franchise. Harry Potter, unlike most other popular books or films that came before it, was able to merge audiences across generations. In the past, movie producers focused on creating films targeted specifically at adults or specifically at children. “But Harry Potter changed that, conjuring up a massive crossover audience for its films, transfiguring the movie world and box office into something safe for everything from sparkly vampires, to, of course, the boy, now a man, with a lightning bolt scar on his forehead” (Vera). By providing a corresponding movie franchise, audiences will be more likely to want to read the corresponding books, and as a result will produce a substantial increase in reading levels that no longer exclusively includes children and young adults. The links below lead to the trailers of the first and last movies. Notice how although both retain their sense of magic and fantasy, the first movie possesses a far more innocent and child-like undertone than the last, thus accurately displaying Harry Potter’s appeal to children and adults alike.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Trailer

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 Trailer

J.K. Rowling’s left marks on society that had not been placed by any fictional writer since the latter half of the 20th century. Because of her imaginative, creative, and innovative writing skills, the Harry Potter books have sold over 450 million copies (falling behind only the Bible), have been translated into over 60 languages, and have spawned eight films, all of which have landed on the list for the top 20 highest grossing movies of all time. The series has spawned merchandise of any and every kind, both edible and non-edible, and has even resulted in the creation of its own theme park. It attributes to why reading levels have increased among children and young adults, why young adult fiction books are so popular in the 21st century, and why the movies they spawn are equally popular and successful. Through her literary ingenuity and unparalleled dedication, J.K. Rowling began one the most substantial literary movements of the century.

WORKS CITED

Alton, Anne. “Generic Fusion and the Mosaic of Harry Potter.” Critical Perspectives on Harry Potter. Ed. Elizabeth Heilman. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis Group, 2003. 197-200. Print.

Fisher, Sarah. “The Rise and Rise of Young Adult Literature – Pepperdine Magazine | Pepperdine University.” Pepperdine Magazine Pepperdine University. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.

SpeakOutStandOut. “Why Has Harry Potter Had A Huge Impact On Society?” Teen Ink. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2014.

De Vera, Ruel S. “How Harry Potter Changed the World.” Inquirer Lifestyle. Philippine Daily Inquirer, 16 July 2011. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

Keller, Emily. “Crafting a Masterpiece: The Genre Mosaic of Harry Potter.” E-Vision Journal of First-Year Writing. E-Vision, n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.

Aquino, Judith. “The Brilliant Methods That Made Harry Potter A $15 Billion Brand.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 13 July 2011. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.

“J.K. Rowling Net Worth.” TheRichest The Worlds Most Entertaining Site JK Rowling Net Worth Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.

Boog, Jason. “Adult Hardcover Revenues Down Nearly 7%.” Mediabistro. N.p., 11 Apr. 2013. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.

Matthews, Dylan. “Before Game of Thrones, No One Named Babies “Khaleesi.” In 2012, It Beat the Name “Betsy.”” Vox. N.p., 9 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York, NY: Scholastic Press, 1997. Print.

—. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York, NY: Scholastic Press, 1998. Print.

—. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York, NY: Scholastic Press, 1999. Print.

—. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York, NY: Scholastic Press, 2000. Print.

—. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York, NY: Scholastic Press, 2003. Print.

—. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. New York, NY: Scholastic Press, 2005. Print.

—. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York, NY: Scholastic Press, 2007. Print.

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