Harry Potter is a series of children’s books written by a British author J. K. Rowling. The series later had a movie franchise that was as successful as the book series. The series has huge popularity, critical acclaim as well as commercial success all over the world. The series is often considered to be the cornerstones of modern young adult literature. The series has also had its share of criticism, such as concern about the increasingly dark tone with the series’ progression, as well as the scary violence scenes it portrays. It has been more than 20 years since the first book of the series has been published, but it still has not lost its topicality. Furthermore, it continues to be so popular that the author continues to extend Harry Potter world with movies like “Fantastic Beasts and where to find them”. Along with the younger Potterheads, Harry Potter series have attracted a wide adult audience as well. The following analysis aims at discussing the reasons that make the book interesting not only for kids, but for adults as well.
The reason why so many kids like the books as well as the movies is that magic and wizardry are fascinating for kids. The series is so carefully and in detailed written that many kids believe in the world that Rowling has created and dream of becoming a part of that world. But not only do kids believe in the magical world that Rowling has created, but teens and adults do as well. This factor has had some backlash from conservative religious groups: these people believed that there is evil in the mystical storylines, accusing the author in promoting witchcraft. They even burnt the books as a sign of protest.
The fact that the series is enjoyed by adults can be confirmed by the research carried out by Scholastic. According to the research made in 2000 35% of Harry Potter readers are adults, and in a couple of years the number reached 50%. That is why the books are sold in two versions: with a cover for kids and a darker cover for adults. Some universities even offer Harry Potter-based courses, where the series is academically discussed and analyzed.
The first reason that many adults like the series is that many people simply grew up with the series. The series is nostalgic for many adults, bringing back memories of when they were kids. For many people childhood is considered the happiest time of their lives and the series bring back those memories. Hence, the series and the heroes have become a link between childhood and adulthood for many people.
But the fact is that not all Harry Potter fans or Potterheads started to be interested in the series as kids. In this respect, some adults might like the series because no matter what everyone needs some magic in their lives and the series is a perfect way to bring some magic into their everyday lives. The search for magic in hope to escape from reality has created “kidults”.
Adults trying to run away from the dullness of reality has emerged the new phenomenon known as kiduts (kid+adult). Kidults are adults whose interests are usually typical to those of kids. Kidults are basically what people would call “young at heart”, adults who strive for escapism. For some it is a chance to recapture the careless raptures of childhood, for others it is a chance to escape the hassle and hardships of adult life, while for others, it is both.
A fantasy world here serves as not only an escape from reality but as a source of inner peace becoming kind of a therapy helping to overcome personal and inner psychological problems and at the same time inspiring to take an action. Hence, adults trying to run away from the dullness of reality is one more reason why so many of them are fans of Harry Potter.
Mature feelings and experiences
In her books Rowling touched upon the topics that are from the experiences she herself has had such as loss of a parent, depression and other struggles of life. True, many kids might experience loss of a loved one at an early age but statistically in adult life losses are more. That is why many adults can relate to Harry and as they understand the feelings he has, they feel closer to the hero. The topic of depression is also widely discussed in the books presented by dementors, making it more targeted for teens and adults rather than for kids as kids are less likely to experience depression than teens or adults. In the series, people can also witness the effects of severe teenage trauma exemplified by Sirius and Snape, and some adults can relate to them as well.
The characters Rowling has built are mostly not black and white: they have their shortcomings along with their good sides. When comparing the books it can be observed that while in the first book the characters are either good or bad, in the following books the border between good and bad started to slowly vanish. This can be explained with the fact that when writing the first book the author had in mind the idea that book is going to be targeting kids, and for kids it is easier to understand that something is either good or bad, there are no in betweens. As the first book became popular with adults as well, the characters became more complex and more real. The readers started to notice that the positive heroes of the series that at first seemed to be perfect are not as perfect as they seem and those belonging to the dark side are not as evil and have some good in them. At some point all the heroes start to have such real personalities that it becomes really difficult to understand who in on which side making the series more trilling for the reader/observer. Unlike in other kids’ books such as the Chronicles of Narnia, where the main heroes are perfect in all the ways, in this series the heroes, theirs relationships, conflicts and generally human interaction is close to reality. Heroes are not idealized, they are the way they are with all shortcomings and good qualities. J. K. Rowling mentions it through Sirius Black: “Besides, the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”
Not as simple as it seems
The series also has very serious literary roots, mixing various novel genres. It has characteristics of gothic novel. Interestingly enough, when the mode was at a peak of its popularity during second half of 18th century, mostly women wrote in this mode. Gothic novel is a novel of horrors and secrets and in Harry Potter we can find a lot of peculiarities of this mode.
The whole story is full of secrets starting from the very start when the hero finds out about being wizard and that there is a magical world living side by side with ours. Voldemort, the main anti-hero of the series is the representation of horror, who is also vailed with secrets. During the ruling of “the one who must not be named” is characterized as the darkest of times making it once more the horror of the story. Even the idea of Hogwards adds up to the series being gothic, as in a gothic novel there should be a castle and Hogwards is a perfect representation of it. Portraits and tunnels found in the castle also are indicators of a gothic novel.
Harry Potter is also a bildungsroman. Bildungsroman is a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the hero from youth to adulthood in which character change is extremely important. In the series the reader is an observer of the main heroes’ transition from childhood into adulthood. Even the author mentioned that the death of Hedwig, who is Harry’s pet, is intentional, as it signifies the end of Harry’s childhood, the literal death of it.
Connection and reference to real historical events
In the world of Harry Potter 2 wars have taken place: the first one is the First Wizarding War which was a major conflict with foundations as early as the 1940s, marking the original “reign” of the Dark Lord Voldemort and the Second Wizarding War, which refers to the conflicts, stemming from Lord Voldemort’s second rise to power.
This is mentioned because of two reasons: the first reason is the fact that people do love the topic of war in literature as well as cinematography. There are a few reasons for this: 1. It helps people release their inner aggression in a safe way. 2. The topic of war glorifies noble concepts such as heroism, honor, sacrifice, courage. 3. According to evolutionary psychology men used to be hunters and this left their brain in a state where they enjoy seeing weapons, fights and wars.
The second reason is the fact that the wars that took place in Harry Potter world have many references to real historical events. In the books the World War 2 and fight against national-socialism and fascism, the most actual and widely-discussed topics of 20th century is discussed indirectly. The main anti-hero and his followers are the representation of Nazism and its ideology. Nazis subscribed to theories of racial hierarchy, identifying themselves as an Aryan or Nordic master race, aiming to create a German homogeneous society based on racial purity, while eliminating everyone that was considered non Aryan. Like the nationalists, the Death Eaters, who are Voldemort’s followers, are obsessed with the ideology of pure-blood and want to eliminate all the “muggle-borns” to live in a homogeneous society based on racial purity.
Like the Nazis, the Death Eaters have their special symbol which is the dark mark that is considered a great honor among the leader’s followers. Even the special “uniform” the Death Eaters wear is borrowed from the right-radical organization, the Ku Klux Klan. Only unlike the Klan, that wore white robes and hoods, the Death Eaters were such outfit in black.
Fights that modern society faces today
There is a theme of prejudice and tolerance running through the story becoming one of the main lines of the series. The most prejudiced ones in the series are the muggleborns or “mudbloods” dividing the wizarding community into those who are prejudiced against wizards born to non-wizarding parents, and those who hold no such prejudice. Other acts of prejudice or intolerance include intolerance towards warewolves, making people like professor Lupin veil who they really are. In the series Lupin’s condition stands for illness with a stigma, like HIV or AIDS. Another act of prejudice is the bulling of people that do not act and think like their surrounding like Luna Lovegood, who symbolizes people with mental illness (“Luna” means “moon,” and the moon is a mythological sign of mental illness). Intolerance towards the ones that are not like us is seen in the modern society as well, making the series more reliable for the audience. Those being bullied or those that used to be bullied can rely to the heroes and the struggles they face. The topic of tolerance in the series is believed to have a good effect on the readers: according to the study people that read the books developed better attitudes to groups of people that are stigmatized, such as immigrants, refugees and homosexuals. The paper titled “The greatest magic of Harry Potter: Reducing prejudice” appeared in “Journal of Applied Social Psychology” notes that it is the reader’s identification with the protagonist Harry Potter and their disassociation with the villain Voldemort that lent to the empathy effect that readers demonstrated.
Another important topic the series touches upon is the topic of feminism. Rowling, herself experiencing sexism at the beginning of her career and being gently forced to use her initials instead of her full name to make her work acceptable to boys, who are believed not to read books written by women, made girls and women in her books very powerful. Even the anti-heroines are strong and powerful women who face the world and its struggles with determination to win. The heroines of the series also experience sexism in the series, but they never give up. Hence, Rowling tries to teach and/or advise young girls as well as women to never give up and stay true to themselves. True, sexism against boys is not really discussed in the series.
In conclusion, taking into account the above-mentioned factors, Harry Potter truly appeals to adults with its harmonious mixture of literary genres, references to historical events and the actual topics the series touches upon. And, after all, people of all ages need some magic in their everyday lives.
Author: Tatev Tumanyan. © All rights are reserved.