It has been almost 20 years since J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone made its quiet debut. The first print run consisted of a modest 500 copies, 300 of which went to libraries, according to The Independent.
Harry Potter became a Phenomenon
We know what happened next: Readers embraced the book about a young orphan who finds his home, and his destiny, at a boarding school for wizards and witches. Six more novels would follow, along with eight movies, an interactive website, and a stage script. As of this writing, upwards of 450 million Harry Potter books translated into more than 65 languages have sold around the world.
The series’ record-breaking figures are as nothing compared to the global conversations around Harry Potter’s story, carried out in real and virtual spaces – libraries, bookstores, theaters, and especially social media. Perhaps most moving are the popularity of the topic “What Harry Potter Means To Me” and readers’ responses to it. They tear at the heart: bullied children who find consolation through the evolution of Neville Longbottom; lonely children who find hope in the friendship among Harry, Ron, and Hermione; struggling children who find inspiration in Albus Dumbledore’s wisdom.
The Harry Potter series was transformative for many people
In addition to these transformative personal expressions of the series, a 2014 study led by professor Loris Vezzali suggests reading Harry Potter can promote empathy for marginalized groups. Vezzali and his group conducted three studies with elementary, high school, and university students. Those who read and discussed passages specifically relating to prejudice in the novels were found to have improved attitudes towards disadvantaged groups in their communities. A key factor may be the novel’s fantasy setting, as Vezzali told Scientific American: In a world of muggles, pure-bloods, house elves, etc., readers’ preconceived notions and biases don’t find familiar footing.
Will Harry Potter continue to resonate in 100 or 200 years? Barring access to a time machine (or, in Potterverse terms, a time turner), no one can say for certain. We may notice, though, the literary elements and devices the books share with classic novels produced by such literary luminaries as Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, Mary Shelley, and Geoffrey Chaucer (to name just a few). In Harry Potter, as in so many classics, we have the orphan’s journey, the tragic hero, the concept of literary alchemy (purification through suffering) as well as the use of allegory, satire, and tragic irony. The list could go on and on; college courses have been designed around and books written about the subject.
Do children benefit from reading and discussing Harry Potter in school?
This intersection of empathy and art raises a question worth considering: Would children benefit from reading and discussing Harry Potter in school? Give that the novels can foster communal bonds and prepare children for the more challenging – because it’s language, references, and allusions are unfamiliar – classic literature read in the upper grades, I would respond with a resounding yes.
About Sally Allen’s Book
You may find Sally Allen’s book, Unlocking Worlds: A Reading Companion for Book Lovers on Amazon.
More great Harry Potter content on The Awesome Muse
Have you visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter? The one at Universal Studios Hollywood is fantastic!
You may also enjoy some delicious Pumpkin Butterbeer Cookies too!