Kid-Lit in a Globalised World
Harry Potter – the boy who lived and will live on – perhaps for centuries? On the 26th June 2017 it’s 20 years since the first HP book Philosopher’s Stone (Sorcerer’s Stone) saw daylight. Since then the world has seen a tremendous wave of potterisms – not least as new words in all the 79 languages the books have been translated into. Even if you’ve never read a word from the books or seen any of the movies, you better understand what are dementors, what means apparate and disapparate and who Umbridge is, or you’re in trouble.
Author: Andrew Blake
Publisher: Vastapaino 2004, Finland (the Finnish edition)
Original language: English
Helmet Reading Challenge 2017, number 12: A book about politics and politicians.
Andrew Blake went on to analyse the Harry Potter phenomenon as early as 2002 (original edition), only five years after the first HP book was published. Harry Potter had already then became an international best-seller. Blake sees Harry Potter as a right-on-time answer to the call of the 1990’s new educational politics in the UK.
Harry Potters have certainly been hailed as a saviour of the reading hobby in many countries. Even more so, they have saved numerous publishing companies from hardship or downright extinction. For the British publishing house Bloomsbury, the series has been a goldmine. For the 20th anniversary of the series, Bloomsbury has put together an appropriate celebration with – of course – new editions of the HP books.
Andrew Blake gives credit to the skillful marketing of Harry Potter series. Its original success was largely created by word-of-mouth, but as it started to fly, Bloomsbury and J. K. Rowling have held the reigns with an expert touch. At the time of the publishing of Blake’s book, the story of Harry Potter was just in the beginning. Now, after 20 years it doesn’t take much of a wizard to say that it has taken more than clever marketing and suitable UK educational politics to move the series around the world in a tsunami fashion.
Even Blake recognizes some reasons behind the inevitable international success of the series, but he didn’t have the entire series to analyse at the time he wrote the book. Had it been so, he might have had more profound views on the themes and characters of the series.
Rowling has combined in unprecedented way the eternal battle of the good and bad with modern values of equality and tolerance and based her story on ancient myths we all carry in our cultural history and (even unconsciously) recognize and feel familiar with while reading about the adventures and challenges of Harry, Hermione and Ron.
Rowling has created an enigmatic main character, but not one fighting his battles alone – the three friends are a team and above all, they share the values of friendship. It is baffling how little there is romance in Harry Potter compared with many other YA fantasy series, but it has clearly been a well-thought out choice. Even when the characters reach their teens, the budding romances are always very clearly subplot and British in their style – moderate and understated. This keeps the series suitable for all ages till the very end and also keeps the much fretted boy readers included (who could be lost with even a hint of a categorization towards romantic fiction). J. K. Rowling has thus also skilfully avoided the pitfall of triangle dramas (the trope of this kind of trios).
In its core HP series is surprisingly relatable to any reader. Take away the magical elements of the story and what do you have? Young people trying to find their way in the world that challenges them and their beliefs and values relentlessly – who would not relate to that? The series presents all the frustrations of the modern world from politics to media practices, from the school system to infinite need of the human race to create ways to exploit others.
But fantasy is not just an icing on the cake in Rowling’s universe. She has weaved it into the story in a way any author would envy. It is a whole, living universe of her making, which is fully evident in the way it allows spin-offs to be born and reveals a carefully though-out backstory. She uses her magical universe to create tension, suspense and humour. Even the way her characters use magic tell readers about the character’s nature and intentions.
It would be interesting to read what Andrew Blake would say about the Harry Potter phenomenon now, 20 years later.
The beginning of it all:
And the whole story: