The Harry Potter series by J. K Rowling, as we obviously all know, has become an incredible literary phenomenon, the likes of which we probably aren’t going to see again any time soon. The books have sold hundreds of millions, the films have generated over $7 billion dollars, making it the second highest-grossing film franchise of all time, just behind the Marvel Universe. It has theme parks, it has video games, it has countless merchandising opportunities, and more. It’s currently benefitting from its own brand colouring books, an illustrated version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (can’t wait until they tackle the fifth one!) and now the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play and the Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them film. Harry Potter, in short, is awesome.
So in what ways is it awesome? Let’s find out!
1. It’s encouraged countless children to read
This is probably one of the biggest reasons as to why Harry Potter is awesome. Reading in general is great but Harry Potter has been especially encouraging for boys to read books and considering that it can be difficult getting boys to read in comparison to girls, Harry Potter can only be a good thing.
Back in 2005, when everyone was eagerly waiting for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Waterstones published a report that revealed 59% of children felt that reading Harry Potter improved their literacy skills and nearly half said that Harry Potter encouraged them to read more books. The survey, carried through the Federation of Children’s Book Groups, also found that 84% of teachers believed that Harry Potter has had a positive impact on reading abilities and two-fifths of the profession cited the books as being helpful class resources. Children’s book buyer at Waterstones at the time, Debbie Williams stated:
‘I think that Harry Potter has had a big impact on literacy and particularly in encouraging boys to read more books. Following Harry Potter there has been a real demand from boys aged nine to 14 – traditionally a group that was not interested in reading books. Reading books is now cool and has a playground credibility, and boys want to have read the latest thing.’
(And while this was said in 2005, I still think it’s pretty relevant. Especially considering how I’m just finishing my Publishing Masters and that Debbie’s one of my tutors. She knows a lot of stuff. So we’ve heard a lot about publishing going-ons. :D)
In much more recent news, psychology expert and management professor Adam Grant believes that parents should encourage their children to read Harry Potter, particularly in light of the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as he believes the books teach originality and morality and could also teach children to be more emphatic and less prejudiced.
“As you learn about Muggles and how they’re looked down upon by wizards, you actually generalize that to other groups and say, ‘You know, maybe we should not stereotype people or discriminate against them based on something they have no control over whatsoever.'”
2. Harry Potter has benefitted the sales and careers of many other children’s authors
The success of Harry Potter showed publishers and booksellers that there is a powerful market waiting for the right books after all. As Harry Potter got many children into reading, they also started to explore other books and each time a new Harry Potter was released, other children’s books also saw a rise in sales. Frances Hardinge, author of The Lie Tree, also pointed out that ‘the Harry Potter series helped to open up the crossover market, letting adult readers overcome their preconceptions and self-consciousness about reading children’s fiction and allowing those books to find a wider audience’. So reading Harry Potter has begotten more reading essentially and children’s literature has going pretty much from strength to strength ever since.
Also, would you believe that many publishers wouldn’t take J. K Rowling’s first book because they thought it was too long for the 8-12 year old market? Well, that’s definitely changed for children’s books as a whole as it turns out that yes, children can read long stories if they find them engaging enough.
3. Reading Harry Potter as children has encouraged reading as adults
According to a Guardian article in March, millennial women (i.e. those now in their 20s and 30s), who grew up reading Harry Potter are now driving sales in other genres.
Nielsen Bookscan statistics show that fiction sales were up 5.2% last year, with crime and thriller novels making up 29% of the market, the second-largest genre behind general and literary fiction, which was worth 41%. The crime sector is estimated to have increased last year to a record volume of over 25m copies sold – including ebooks – with thrillers such as The Girl on the Train helping massively. 67% of this sector, also known as ‘grip-lit’, is bought by women with 25-34-year-olds representing the biggest proportion. Bookbrunch editor Neill Denny sees these trends as the influence of a “Harry Potter cohort”, stating that “a generation of women in their 20s and early 30s, who grew up reading Harry P otter, are now energising the book trade.”
As a sidenote, other millennials have reported how the books have changed their lives from finding a love of reading and writing to stopping self-harming and learning that you sometimes need the support of friends. Such is the influence that books can have.
4. It’s encouraged people to write
I discussed fan-fiction in previous posts and that Harry Potter has over 738,000 individual stories on fanfiction.net alone and that’s not even counting the crossovers. So clearly the series has encouraged a lot of young people to start writing stories and fan-fiction is an excellent place to start polishing your writing skills before moving onto original fiction. And it’s just so much fun!
Out of all these people, it’s quite possible that some have made the leap to publishing their own works. And as we have seen, many children’s authors have benefitted from the Harry Potter influence with increased sales. So in that sense, Harry Potter has provided enjoyment not only from reading but writing as well.
5. It influenced a lot of childhood games and made everyone want to be witches and wizards
Admit it. If you were growing up in the nineties and noughties, you pretended to have a wand and ride broomsticks and fought epic magic battles against each other. I know I did.
6. It’s made children’s books be taken seriously
My tutor Debbie Williams took on the post as children’s buyer at Waterstones just before the Harry Potter phenomenon erupted and from her admission, children’s books really were not being taken seriously then. Not many wanted the job because children’s books were organised so haphazardly. Publishers have only recently caught onto the idea of marketing and children’s books were publicised even less than adult books. While children’s books like anything by Roald Dahl and C. S. Lewis have been lauded as classics, they still weren’t taken that seriously. But now we have a plethora of children’s books, actual marketing (could be improved admittedly, but at least there is finally marketing), proper organisation of children’s books, academic interest and lists of recommendations for the best children’s books. Harry Potter changed the children’s market in so many ways.
So the Harry Potter influence is still incredibly strong. Will J. K Rowling be able to leave it alone in the future? Possibly not; how do you let something so incredibly successful go? But whatever happens, Harry Potter has undoubtedly left an incredible influence on our generation and it may continue to inspire others!