A look back at our favorite, monopolizing children’s book
By Chelsea Theis
7/7/07. A day that will go down in history for many, a day that was the beginning of the end — Harry Potter would fight evil and win for the last time. He wouldn’t be back. This was it.
Along with millions of other kids, Harry grew up with me. He was also the same age as über-fan J.D. Crosbie, 17, when the first book was released.
Crosbie’s recent pain caused him to create the Facebook.com group, “Finishing Harry Potter 7 Is Like Destroying the 7th Horcrux of My Childhood.” Starting the group one hour after he finished the final chapter of book seven, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” he came back 24 hours later to find the group had over 100 members — and he hadn’t even invited his friends. His “homage to the end of an era” currently has 20,556 members.
This really comes as no surprise. The Harry Potter series caused The New York Times to create a new bestseller list in order to give other books a chance at being read. Who else but Harry Potter would have that kind of power?
Book four of the series in the U.S. had an initial print of 3.8 million, the largest in publishing history. The first three books had been on the Times’ Bestsellers list since being released, so before the release of book four, The Times revamped its list — the first revamping in 16 years. Complaints from publishers (not Scholastic, of course) that Potter was “depriving the public of access to other popular fiction” also caused The Times to create a Children’s Bestsellers list… that Potter is still dominating. Oh, and by the way, those 3.8 million copies flew off the shelves. Scholastic got smarter for the seventh book — an initial print of 12 million books was ordered, just for the U.S.
The best part about the Harry Potter series is, well, that kids actually read it. I remember when the first book came out and I saw a story on television about the surge in children’s reading rates because of Harry. My younger sister, 11 at the time, started begging for the book so she could read it too. She actually used the argument that “everyone else is reading it!” Now that’s my kind of peer pressure. Suddenly it was cool to read.
A survey from Waterstone (the U.K.’s leading bookseller) conducted in 2006 revealed that Harry Potter has helped children improve their reading skills. Forty-eight percent of children even said that Harry Potter books made them want to read more.
But it isn’t just kids reading it. My mom, who is a parent, a teacher and an adult read the books. As a parent she was happy to see her children reading. As a teacher she was happy to see her students reading. As an adult, she just wanted to read the books herself. And now Harry Potter is taking a stab at the adult market, with “Adult Editions” of the book. Same great text, more sophisticated cover. (Check out Amazon.com for details).
Harry’s memory will also live on for decades with the help of movies, action figures, apparel and (let’s not forget) the real live Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans, candy adapted from the books. For those who don’t already know every flavor means every flavor; two new kinds, sausage and relish, join the ranks of earthworm, sardine, booger, rotten egg and — everybody’s favorite — vomit jellybeans.
I personally got to experience the mania behind Harry Potter this summer at the Scholastic headquarters in New York City. Before the seventh book’s midnight release, Scholastic had blocked off an entire street, creating “Harry Potter Place” complete with whomping willow. I can say with confidence that I will never see so many little girls dressed as house elves ever again. And I will probably never have another little boy point his wand at me and yell “Confringo!” As I actually cringed at his attempt to make me explode, the realization that I was still in one piece brought me back to the fact that I was in New York City, not Hogwarts. His mom, dressed as Professor McGonagall, apologized and dragged him off toward the “Muggle Board.”
The news now is that the “Harry Potter Effect” may have reached its peak and started a decline. A federal study conducted this year by the National Endowment for the Arts revealed that children’s reading rates are reaching a drop-off. Dana Gioia, who oversaw the study, said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, “I respect the Harry Potter craze because it got millions of kids to read a complicated series of books. The trouble is, reading one big book a year is no substitute for the habit of daily reading. What we need is Harry Potter every week.”
Many disagree with this study, insisting children have discovered the love of reading through Harry Potter. My mother is one of these people. “My students find other books that are just as interesting and exciting. It’s opened up their imaginations,” she said.
There is also a lot of speculation that J.K. Rowling will start another series. Perhaps it could be a side story on Dumbledore? Rowling recently announced during a book tour stop at Carnegie Hall that Hogwart’s headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, is gay. The crowd answered with applause. A few days later in Ontario, Rowling announced it was “freeing” to out Dumbledore. Will tolerance be Harry’s next evil to tackle? Crosbie said “I think lifting some of the taboos in contemporary literature is highly commendable, not to mention adds some juicy back story and insight into one of the greatest literary mentors of all time.”
And Harry Potter has already tackled so many taboos, such as multiculturism and tolerance. Are you a ‘pureblood’ or a ‘muggle’? Well it doesn’t matter if you’re Harry’s friend. Rowling has stated that the books are “a prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry.” Not to mention, Harry and his friends constantly question authority and the press, er, Daily Prophet. With Harry on their side, kids might actually think for themselves.
While the question of Harry’s future popularity — and its effect on children — still hangs in the air, fans everywhere are now wondering what to do with themselves. Crosbie, who created the group in tribute to the end says now that no more Harry Potter books are coming out, he will have to return to his other favorite pastimes — rewriting binary code, Dungeons and Dragons and analyzing perfectly good television. Other than that he is looking forward to the last two Harry Potter movies, and is trying to cope with his now overly mature life. “Some part of me… us… has gone to a better place now. Voldemort’s dead. So is our childhood.”
Chelsea Theis is a senior journalism major who still would make love to Albus Dumbledore, even if he is gay. Email her at ctheis1[at]ithaca.edu.