London – Exactly 20 years ago, the first book of a new young adult series was published in the UK. The hero was a bespectacled boy wizard called Harry Potter.
Scotland, the author J.K. Rowling’s home country was the first to write positive reviews about “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.” Major British newspapers soon took note and the series gradually became the most important cultural literary phenomenon in modern Britain, breaking book sales records and resulting in a successful movie franchise, various amusement parks and a number of other lucrative businesses.
Parents were probably the most pleased with the legendary success of the series because it helped children rediscover the love of reading at a time when the internet was starting to emerge as an entertainment outlet and when Britain’s middle class was suffering from an economic downturn.
According to a 2005 study, 84 percent of school teachers believed that Harry Potter indeed improved students’ reading skilled, while 73 percent said that they were positively surprised with the series’ ability to attract students who previously did not care much about reading. The young adult book industry in Britain owes a lot to Rowling in doubling the average number of book pages in the past 20 years. The average was 140 pages, while it later rose up to 290. Publishers were no longer afraid of releasing thick books and stores were no longer worried about displaying them in their windows.
There is no doubt that Harry Potter had a major impact on the consciousness of an entire generation of Brits, who are now grown up and probably have become parents to young adults. Talk of a Harry Potter generation may not really be very accurate because even though the last book of the series was released in 2007, it still attracts waves of new readers each year and new editions of the seven-book series are released each month.
Observers agree however that the books had a political edge that became more prominent as they progressed and as Harry grew up and developed as a character. Each book represented a year Harry spent at the Hogwarts school of magic. The pressing question that should be asked now after 20 years is what impact has the series left?
Pop culture experts’ opinions vary on the matter, but they agree on the importance of this impact.
Some conservatives believed that the books promoted satanic practices, witchcraft and fairy tales. Indeed, several conservative churches in the United States burned copies of the series because they deemed them to be “satanic works” that attracted children to black magic. They described Harry Potter as the “innocent face of the satanic forces of darkness.”
Others however said that the series hold positive religious symbolism, especially in the idea of a chosen savior who will face the forces of evil while following an unwavering moral compass.
Meanwhile, some studies said that young adults who have read the Harry Potter books are generally more prone to empathize with others. They are less likely to make prejudgments when compared to those who have not read the series. A recent American research said that fans of the series are less likely than others to have voted for Donald Trump as president.
Critics of the books however have blamed them for creating “political gullibility among the British youth, who naively divide the wold between progressives and between evildoers.” These youth approach life as if it were a “Disneyland amusement park.” Others have went on to say that the books gave growing generations fake and unrealistic easy solutions and an escape from the daily pressures of living in Tony Blair’s Britain. Other critics said the series was like a young adult version of George Orwell’s dystopian classic, “1984”.
Even though the Harry Potter series turned into a lucrative marketing business, its critics were not limited to the political field, but major literary figures attacked the books, saying that they were a mix of other literary worlds. “Rowling’s only main skill lies in her ability to copy and paste old young adults books,” they claimed. This prompted the author to slam her accusers as “lacking an imagination and who only know a world of cartoons and empty reality television shows.”
Other critics condemned the violence in her books, saying that the Harry Potter world is strewn with the bodies of 158 characters.
Despite all of this, the series, which Rowling famously started writing on a napkin while sitting in a cafe when she was struggling to make ends meet as a single mother, has, thanks to capitalism, turned into a billion-dollar industry. This industry keeps a tight grip on the image rights of the books and the translation of the series into 80 languages.
The industry has however also left no room for the innocent boy wizard.