When a series is as well-known and loved as Harry Potter there’s not an awful lot left to say. But I thought I’d give it a go anyway.
For the past six months or so I’ve been rereading the series in a morning over breakfast. Not because I’m ashamed to carry them round you understand, more because I like to have something easy to read first thing in a morning before my brain really gets going. And also because the later books get a little heavy.
Which makes me one of the thousand of fans out there who got sucked into the world of magic created by JK Rowling. The books have been translated into 67 different languages bringing them to a truly global audience (see my post on the French version here) and converted into a $7.7 billion film series which has had more of a mixed reception (I’m not a fan personally). So what is it that makes Harry Potter so special?
Of course everyone will have their own take on the answer to that question but I wanted to give some of my thoughts, please feel free to share yours as well.
I was a late comer to the series, I didn’t read any of the books until the publication of the Goblet of Fire in 2000 but once I did I was hooked and I think what really did it for me was Harry’s first trip to Diagon Alley.
Rowling’s description of the amazing spectacle Harry encounters when that archway behind the Leaky Cauldron opens up had me spellbound (excuse the entirely intentional pun) and from then on I could see the magical world almost as clearly as if I was there myself. Rowling has an incredible skill in that she can write pages of description that hold the reader’s attention and allow the world to come to life. A thing that anyone who’s ever heard me talk about Bleak House will know I greatly value.
From that moment on, from discovering the sweets on the Hogwart’s Express and the splendour of the Hogwart’s Castle to the hundreds of minor details that enrich the whole world I was with Harry on every step. there was no question that Rowling’s writing allowed me to see through his eyes and it was always with a slight sadness that I closed the book and realised I would never actually see any of the things I’d read about.
There seems to be something about an author who creates a whole new world that enchants us more than novels set in our own world. Perhaps it’s because the sense of escape is greater when the story takes you somewhere entirely ‘other’ and allows you to truly leave your everyday worries behind. I think what makes Harry Potter’s world even more special is that it exists in parallel to ours so that the slightly odd man on the tube could be a wizard and the dark alley you avoid looking down could be an entrance to the Ministry of Magic. It gives a little magic to our own world and makes it that little bit more exciting to live in.
The people in the Harry Potter series must share some of the credit for making it such an unstoppable read. If we didn’t care about Harry and want him to triumph I doubt the series would have taken off the way they did.
In fact it’s the characters that make book 3, The Prisoner of Azkaban, my favourite in the series. The addition of Sirius Black and Remus Lupin gave me two characters I could really love and they remained my absolute favourites throughout the rest of the series.
And there’s something to Rowling’s writing style that just keeps you turning pages, there’s always a lightness hidden behind the most sombre of events, a witty turn of phrase or a keen observation to lighten the mood. She truly is able to make you laugh and cry at the same time and she has such a creative use of language that keeps you hanging on every word. One reason that Sir Cadogan is a close third in the competition for my favourite character.
I’ve just started reading Rowling’s latest book, A Casual Vacancy, which is billed as her first book for adults, something I have to quibble with. Millions of adults across the world have enjoyed the Harry Potter series just as much as the children the books were originally aimed at. The true success of Harry Potter is that he lives in a world which the majority of us would love to escape to and in that he speaks to people of all ages.
Which is probably the true magic of Harry Potter.
Oh and the always contentious epilogue? Personally I liked it and I don’t mind admitting it. The last couple of sentences might be a little bit cheesy but I enjoyed the finality of it all which allowed me to put the story properly to bed.