Harry Potter has forever changed the face of young adult fantasy literature, and has arguably affected all fantasy literature, for all time. The Harry Potter legacy is simultaneously a blessing and a curse to any novel that can be even remotely compared to the seminal heptalogy.
Case in point: I went onto Amazon and searched for Slathbog’s Gold, book 1 of the Adventurers Wanted series. I then went to the reviews section and searched the reviews for “Harry Potter”. Now let’s be clear. Slathbog’s Gold is absolutely nothing like Harry Potter in any way except that it features a young boy who encounters a magical world. And yet my search provided me with such gems as:
…[this book] is outclassed by Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Harry Potter…
…This book was better then [sic] the Harry Potter books…
…If you loved harry potter [sic] then you will love this book as well….
…At certain points it reminded me a bit of Harry Potter…
I read, and research, a lot of young adult fantasy novels, in pursuit of reading material for my children, and I encounter such inappropriate comparisons on a regular basis.
The Harry Potter series of books is unique in history. There will probably never be anything quite like it ever again. I’m not saying that Harry Potter is the best literary work ever. I won’t even try to claim that it’s the pinnacle of young adult fantasy. So then what exactly is Harry Potter in the grand scheme of things, and why will every fantasy story be compared to it for decades to come?
Harry is well written
Granted it’s not Charles Dickens. To my knowledge, there’s no deep symbolism in Harry Potter. In fact, when the series tries to wax philosophical (most notably in the seventh novel) it feels unnatural and forced.
But the discord of these sections is so pronounced simply because the rest of the series flows so unaffectedly. Let’s call it what it is. Harry Potter is fun to read.
Harry matures with the audience
Harry is still somewhat unique in this regard even today. The seven books were released in the 10 year period between 1997 and 2007. In The Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry is 11. In the events of The Deathly Hallows, he is 17. I believe that a large part of Harry’s success can be attributed to the fact that he and his main audience grew up together at approximately the same rate.
It’s not only the characters who matured, though. The subject matter gets considerably heavier the further you go into the series. The first couple of novels are clearly geared towards adolescents, and are very light, episodic fare, with just a hint of foreshadowing here and there. Later novels, though, are weighty tomes, full of teenage angst, deceit, destruction, and death.
I think it’s fair to assume that the series would have received much less attention had the first installment been more like the last.
Harry deals with serious issues
As I mentioned in the previous section, the Harry Potter books get into some pretty weighty subject matter. Harry and his friends (enemies? friends / enemies?) deal with a wide array of issues including severe bullying, exclusion (both actual and perceived), emotional and physical abuse, the loss of loved ones, teenagers who want to be adults, various forms of self-doubt and guilt, and all manner of romantic confusions.
The challenges faced by the Hogwarts protagonists resonate strongly with an audience who has struggled repeatedly with similar issues. Harry lives life. Life amplified, but still life.
Harry was a cultural phenomenon
Beyond all of this, aside from all of its merits, and ignoring all of its flaws, the Harry Potter series was undeniably a phenomenon. It started out with word-of-mouth. Have you heard about those children’s books about a school for magicians?
Within just a few short years, everyone knew about it. The new releases were heavily advertised in bookstores across the nation. The first movie was in theaters six years before the release of book seven, and it was a box office smash, earning over $900 million world-wide.
Over the next several years, as books and movies continued to tumble in on a regular cadence, the public response built like an avalanche to a frenzied anticipation that preceded the release of the final novel in the series. People discussed endlessly: Is Snape good or evil? Did he really kill Dumbledore?
To find out the answer, people pre-ordered books by the millions, and stood in line on the day of release. Some even took vacation from work, or skipped school to read the conclusion of Harry’s journey.
According to Wikipedia, all 7 of the Harry Potter novels are among the top 20 best-selling books of all-time.
Harry is forever, and always, unique
I will say it again. There will likely never be another series of books like Harry Potter. The franchise produced seven novels and eight movies in the fourteen years between 1997 and 2011. The movies collectively grossed $7.7 billion in world-wide sales. The books have collectively sold almost 450 million copies.
Harry has changed the landscape of literature forever. An entire generation of fantasy lovers was born from reading about the boy who lived. Every young adult fantasy novel written, both before and after, has been privileged to bask in the light of Harry. Every young adult fantasy novel written, both before and after, will live in Harry’s shadow.
One thought on “Well it’s not Harry Potter…”
One of the later books came out and David Skidmore gave someone a ride to one of the big midnight release events at a major book store. He left her there, went to Wegmans, bought the book, and came back while she was still in line.Read more …