Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Pottermania defeated the country, seized it long ago and is not going to let it go. The statistics in this case has nothing to do with a blatant lie – the first four volumes of the saga were sold in such a quantity that every fourth English-speaking American, regardless of age, has the book.
However, the answer to the question “why” seems to have eluded the analysts, maliciously sarcastic and complacent-friendly. Although, language features and style of the narrative, presence of magic, psychological constituent and overall publicity of the story, are incomplete and inconclusive, the book finds its audience. People will always want to simplify life, explain inexplicable things, and just believe. This paper will try to make out the reasons of such popularity from one aspect.
If one approaches the book as a product, the only important thing is what to expect from the readers, and how to meet their expectations. There are two fundamentally different categories of customers, namely, children and adults. The main achievement of Rowling, that nobody dares to take away, is the ability to tear off children’s noses from TV screens, and keep their hands off the video game consoles. It is curious to understand what children from five to fifteen were lacking to read the books. First, it will be useful to indicate the very thing they lacked (Farndale, 2007).
“Children that had never read a book began to turn the pages, demanding more and more” (Foster, 2009). Librarians discovered not only that thousands of people read science fiction but also that they read it out without returning it back.
When one replaces the word “fiction” with “Harry Potter”, it becomes a complete coincidence. In the essay titled “Revival of the imagination”, Ray Bradbury came to conclusion that there was a small revolution in education of children about 20-30 years earlier. Children were starving for the scientific facts, and it resulted in publishing books about magic. Such books were often distributed in libraries and schools despite the resistance of the bureaucrats in the departments of public education at all levels. For Bradbury, there was no doubt that at the time of writing these words the literary policy did not enter the period of reaction. In fact, most likely, these changes were indeed irreversible. One could simply search a catalog in a library system and make sure it provided 239 books, music and video programs, which names were built on the principle of “One and a magic something”, starting with Thomas and the Magic Railroad (cartoon) to Ben Franklin and the Magic Squares (Kakutani, 2005).
Thus, it is clear that appeal to magic, no matter how ugly it may be done, for some time is a recipe for a right approach to the market of children's literature. However, such an appeal cannot be the answer to the question.
In the U.S., there is plenty of pseudomagical waste paper for children, who actually need serious, well-written books, and even series of books. Moreover, every detail of Potter’s saga reminds its possible predecessors. Tom Brown’s Schooldays with its endless rugby in the cold, mud, and revels after wins sometimes sounds just like a “translation” of Rowling’s exposure. Well before Harry, Matilda (the owner of a speaking name Wormwood just like her teacher, Miss Honey, and tormentor, Miss Trunchbull) suffered terribly from heartless adults with whom she had to live. Live chess as well as the family name of Nearly Headless Nick came from Carroll. Rowling used the idea of phoenix egg in the fireplace, invented by the children’s author Edith Nesbit for her Phoenix and the Carpet, and split it into two parts. The one became the egg to hatch the dragon and the other was a golden puzzle singing under the water. As for Diana Wynne Jones’s fans, they always start to preach loudly, recalling the idea to combine school format with magic in a bottle, getting magic to school. This idea came to the writer in 1988.
Of course, all these arguments are just examples, and any attentive reader or adult, burdened with a thorough examination on the achievements of the world literature, will find many more. For the purpose of discussion, it is possible to assert that the entire Harry Potter has been known for a long time in one or another form. Children are natural readers. They are susceptible to what they read. The only and specific difference of the Potter saga from the similar works is in the depth of the cultural layer it is based on, and in the simplicity of this layer. Rowling is a puppeteer playing without a screen, showing all sorts of fun with strings running from her fingers to the characters, stories and circumstances. A child, expecting to get another hand-made item, which is well decorated, with a fashionable pouch with the words “magical” and “mysterious” on it, gets the main rolein this show.
An adult that in his childhood survived brutal treatment like Harry will shudder from a terrible recognition, running into the technical description of the nauseating “harrow” from the convict settlements.
There would be no Rowling’s stories if there was no deep cultural layer which can collapse. In her books, she scattered all the detective finds, witty names and a couple of obvious quotations from the classics. Rowling’s books are an inexhaustible source of pleasure for those wishing to go deep into reading.
Moreover, it is sometimes impossible to resist the next jump of a cultural view. For some reason, it is not desirable to read the book to allow such mercantile considerations stand on the way to careful selection of coincidences.
Harry Potter still provides children with the semblance of the next magical adventure, the open door to the joys of reading in general. Rowling is not even trying to disguise it. Adults are expecting a children’s book to step aside to an unknown destination and find the stairs from the top of which they can conveniently overlook the literary landscape. This, by all means, is the winning position.
Joanne Kathleen Rowling wrote the book about a school and about what she wanted to see in this school. She successfully introduced child dreams to fight on the wings (or in our context - on a broomstick), faithful friends and the idea of punishing enemies in the text.
People believe that the secret of success is not in possessing the epic JK super technologies to create the best selling text, but in the natural talent of a storyteller, a narrator and a bard. The secret of success is in telling the readers about what they are mostly interested in, and in the skill to tell it in an entertaining manner (Knapp, 2003).
Another important point is that without the film adaptation of the books, Harry Potter would not be so successful and popular. With the opportunity to visualize the world and the characters in details that are lacking in the books and with the redundant bills, Rowling gave the Potter saga a new legion of readers.
The next secret of success of the project is the balance between the well-dosed share of culture and its popularized dose. The subject of poverty, hunger, orphans, street hooliganism, vile journalists, opposition of muggles and wizards, xenophobia, political disturbances, and powerless government - all that is represented in the great magic world. Harry Potter differs from some other “tales of escape” and fables like The Little Prince, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Alice in Wonderland. In addition, there is balance between the recognizable “old” (the format of the school year that is described in each book) and “the new”. This balance helps the reader to distinguish the real world from its parody and recognize its remoteness (Fry, 2005).
- Farndale, N. (July 15, 2007). Harry Potter and the parallel universe. The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/search/?queryText=harry+potter
- Foster, J. (October 2009). Potter books: Wicked witchcraft? Koinonia House. Retrieved from http://www.khouse.org/articles/2001/374/
- Fry, S. (December 10, 2005). Living with Harry Potter. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved from http://web.archive.org/web/20090602092002/http:/www.accio-quote.org/articles/2005/1205-bbc-fry.html
- Kakutani, M. (July 16, 2005). Harry Potter works his magic again in a far darker tale. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/16/books/16choc.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&
- Knapp, N.F. (2003). In defense of Harry Potter: An apologia. School Libraries Worldwide. Retrieved fromhttp://www.iasl-online.org/files/jan03-knapp.pdf