Harry Potter Series

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Harry Potter Series

Harry Potter novels are the literary phenomenon of the late 1990s. The first in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in the U.K.) appeared in 1997. Fewer than four years later, over sixty-six million copies of the first four books had been sold. The series is set to run to seven books, one for each year Harry spends at the wizarding school called Hogwarts.

Harry Potter novels have been credited with starting a boom in children's reading, but adults read them, too. The books are a common sight among rail and bus commuters. They even come in different dust jackets to appeal to readers of different ages. The Harry Potter series is the work of British author J. K. Rowling (1965–), who claims to have invented the boy wizard and Hogwarts school on a train journey between Manchester and London. The success of the Harry Potter series has made Rowling one of the best-paid writers of the 1990s. In the space of a few years, she has been transformed from a low-income single mother into an internationally famous multimillionaire author.

In the world of Harry Potter, people are divided into two groups, muggles and wizards. Muggles are ordinary people. They have no magical powers and include the boring Dursleys, who take in the infant Harry after he becomes an orphan. Far more interesting than muggles are the wizards. Rowling's books celebrate misfits and outsiders, and Harry is special, even among wizards. As a baby, he survived an attack by Lord Voldemort, a wizard so evil other wizards will not utter his name and refer to him only as "He Who Must Not Be Named." Lord Voldemort's magic killed Harry's parents but left him with only a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. For this reason Harry is a celebrity in the wizarding world, but his fame also means he is the target for Voldemort's wicked plans. Rowling has said that her stories will become darker as Harry ages, promising still more dangerous adventures in his battle with He Who Must Not Be Named.

From age eleven, Harry attends the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There he takes fun-sounding lessons like "Potions," "Care of Magical Creatures," "Defense Against the Dark Arts," and "History of Magic." But like any school, what happens outside of lessons is usually much more exciting. Harry and his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Grainger make secret trips to see Hagrid, the school's good-natured giant grounds-man. They visit the wizard town of Hogsmeade and sneak around the corridors of Hogwarts hidden under Harry's invisibility cloak. Hogwarts itself is a magical castle, complete with ghosts such as Nearly Headless Nick and the Bloody Baron. Best of all is the game of Quid-ditch. The rules of Quidditch are almost as complicated as those of cricket, a sport played at muggle schools in England. Quidditch is exciting and dangerous. It involves flying on broomsticks and two teams who risk life and limb to catch the elusive flying ball, the Snitch. Harry of course is a fine player. The school is divided into "houses," and each has a Quidditch team. Harry's house is Gryffindor, and he is Gryffindor's ace "seeker" player who goes after the Snitch.

Despite their success, the Harry Potter novels have attracted controversy. An American author, Nancy K. Stouffer (1951–), has claimed similarities between Rowling's work and her 1984 book The Legend of Muggles, featuring Larry Potter. Meanwhile, some religious groups have argued that Rowling's novels encourage an unhealthy interest in witchcraft and the occult. Harry Potter fans have not always been treated well by the media companies that now control their hero. Warner Brothers, makers of the 2001 film of the first Harry Potter novel, have e-mailed owners of Harry Potter fan Web sites to persuade them to give up their domain names.

In 2002, the Harry Potter phenomenon showed no sign of stopping. The books are at the center of a merchandising industry that includes textbooks on the subjects Harry studies at school and the rules of Quidditch. It is even possible to buy a "Nimbus 2000" broomstick, though the buyer would have to be a wizard to make it fly. Over Christmas 2000, a major British national radio station devoted its entire Boxing Day (December 26) schedule to a reading of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by actor Stephen Fry (1957–). Whatever their weaknesses, Rowling's novels have managed to hold their own against distractions such as games consoles, teen pop stars, and the Internet (see entry under 1990s—The Way We Lived in volume 5). Each new installment in the series brings a media frenzy and a wave of excitement from the fans. Like the "Narnia" books and the Nancy Drew series (see entry under 1930s—Print Culture in volume 2), the adventures of Harry Potter have enriched the lives of a generation of children and their parents.

—Chris Routledge

For More Information

Planet Potter.http://www.wonderfluff.btinternet.co.uk (accessed on April 2, 2002).

Routledge, Christopher. "Harry Potter and the Mystery of Ordinary Life." In Mystery in Children's Literature: From the Rational to the Supernatural. Edited by Adrienne E. Gavin and Christopher Routledge. London and New York: Palgrave, 2001.

Scamander, Newt (J. K. Rowling). Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. New York: Arthur A. Levine, 2001.

Shapiro, Marc. J. K. Rowling: The Wizard Behind Harry Potter. London: Griffin, 2000.

Whisp, Kennilworthy (J. K. Rowling). Quidditch Through the Ages. New York: Arthur A. Levine, 2001.

Zipes, Jack. Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children's Literature, From Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter. London: Routledge, 2000.

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