With the fifth installment of the Harry Potter movie franchise – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – in theaters right now, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — the seventh and final book of the series poised to hit shelves on Saturday, the excitement of people across the country – young and old – has reached a fever pitch. Order of the Phoenix grossed $44 million in its first day of release, the highest opening Wednesday gross ever for a movie. Deathly Hallows is the number one seller on Amazon and has sold more pre-orders at Barnes and Noble than any other title in the chain’s history. Midnight release parties have been planned. The internet is rife with rumors, speculation and spoilers, some credible, and some not so much.
More…All the furor leaves many adults – those poor, benighted souls who haven’t read Harry Potter – scratching their heads. “It’s just a kids’ book,” they say. “Those books are so long,” they say. “It’s about wizards?”
I myself am a card carrying member of the Harry Potter fan club. I’m not going to any midnight release parties, but I did pre-order my copy of the Deathly Hallows from Amazon MONTHS ago. I consider myself an early adopter – I read the first three books back in 1999 shortly after they were released in the US – and I have converted many (including my husband, who initially scoffed at me, and has spent the last month rereading all the books in the series in anticipation of the Deathly Hallows) into Potterphilia. As such, I consider it a duty, nay, a mission, to offer up the following:
TOP FIVE REASONS WHY YOU (YES, YOU), A THINKING ADULT, SHOULD READ HARRY POTTER
5. Harry Potter is Interesting. J.K. Rowling didn’t just plunk some wizards down in modern or mythical Britain, give them wands and call it a day. The wizarding world she created, while co-existing with our world, is complete to the smallest detail, from their educational system, to their government, to how they cook dinner. The level of detail in the books is marvelous – wizards don’t collect baseball cards that come with a pack of gum – they collect wizard cards that come with a chocolate frog. Newspaper photos in the wizarding world move and talk. To read the Harry Potter books is akin to reading a travel narrative or an anthropological study – you are totally immersed in another world.
4. Harry Potter is Universal. Liked Lord of the Rings? What about Star Wars? The Harry Potter books draw from the same universal archetypal myths: the hero, the quest, the underdog, the battle against evil. These themes are familiar, yet can always be reinvented. They help the Harry Potter books strike a chord in nearly all of their readers. The Harry Potter Books are above all about coming of age – of the movement from childhood (which is not idealized, but holds its own pain and terrors) to the sadder, more complex world of adulthood. That’s something we can all relate to.
3. Harry Potter is Literary. Anyone who has studied literature in general, or English literature in particular, is going to recognize certain tropes which place Harry Potter firmly in the canon of British literature. The orphaned hero, placed in the care of neglectful, slatternly guardians (very Dickensian, or maybe Jane Eyre), is rescued by an aging, wise mentor, and finds himself a special role to play (King Arthur anyone? What about Tolkien? (or X-men)). Rowling addresses the class conflicts that are pervasive in British literature from George Eliot to Evelyn Waugh, with the clash of the “Purebloods” versus the “Mudbloods” and the “Blood Traitors.” She even brings in the old English conflict between the Normans and the Saxons (Ivanhoe), giving the good characters stout, Anglo-Saxon names, like “Longbottom”, “Weasley”, and “Dumbledore,” while the baddies are all Norman French “Lestrange”, “Malfoy” and of course, “Voldemort.” Kids miss all this stuff. Adults appreciate it.
2. Harry Potter is Complex. One of the arguments I often hear adults make against children’s books is that they are too simplistic. While the Potterverse has its fixed poles of good‘uns and bad’uns (for your reference, Harry is good, Voldemort is evil), the characters and the world in which they exist is not so clear cut. Harry’s beloved long-lost parents show streaks of adolescent cruelty; the wizarding government, in attempting to confront evil from outside, is subject to corruption from within and overstepping its power (sound familiar?); and Harry himself is a teenager – prone to boorishness, an inability to control his temper, and short-sightedness. Then there is Severus Snape – a possible double agent, but nobody knows (until Saturday) whose side he is really on. The world of Harry Potter, like our own, is not a simple one, and with adulthood for Harry comes the growing realization that things are not always black and white.
1. Harry Potter is Good. It’s just a great read. The books are packed with adventure, humor, tragedy and romance. Grown women have been known to immerse themselves totally in the books, pausing only for air and sustenance, or to squeal with delight in anticipation of the next volume.
I guess you could call them … magical.