Cardinal Column #7: Harry Potter

(Editor’s note: This is probably my least favorite of the columns I’ve ever done, mainly because the topic is – I don’t think – all that interesting. I was trying to build off my topics from my third column with a target at a broader audience, and I do think that I got the point across in that regard. As a whole though, it’s too much of a mainstream topic and relies on more speculation than actual knowledge of the series. Honestly, my main views on Harry Potter are probably best summed up by this OOTS comic.

Oh, and I also have only read the first one of the series since this column was published – not out of any dislike of the series, in fact I thought the first one was pretty damn good – but that I haven’t found the series interesting enough to seek out the others. I mean, I’m sure I’d enjoy them if they came into my possession and I’m also sure that they’re well done, they’re just very low on the pecking order. I suppose this comes from being so deeply rooted in the Tolkien camp of fantasy writing I may as well be entwined in Fangorn forest.)

At last, Chappell and Potter meet

Originally published in The Daily Cardinal, November 30, 2005

If there’s one thing the world of literature suffers from, it’s a lack of excitement when something happens. Unlike movie previews for “Star Wars” which are often more exciting than the actual film when released or video games like “Halo 2” ordered weeks in advance, books just don’t command public interest when they come out.

There is an exception that proves the rule however, and that exception takes the form of a teenage wizard in round glasses. In only a few years, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has become the most entrancing and anticipated series of books in the world, commanding more attention than some elections and profits authors can barely dream of.

Just this year, the sixth book “Half-Blood Prince” beat the Hollywood box office with over $100 million of sales in 24 hours after its release, and the film adaptation of “Goblet of Fire” racked up $400 million worldwide in two weeks. And it’s not just Mrs. Rowling making a profit off this attention: according to the publishing research company Simba International, fantasy and sci-fi books have seen an 8.5 percent sales increase in the last five years, nearly twice what all other consumer books have seen.

I admit I’ve never been a large Harry Potter fan, partially because my allegiance has belonged to “Lord of the Rings” for years and I just can’t bring myself to trade my beloved Shire for Hogwarts. Also, I do the bulk of my reading when I can catch a spare minute during the day and my overcoat pockets weren’t designed with a 700-page hardcover book in mind.

However, with some time on my hands over the Thanksgiving break I decided it was finally time to see what all the fuss was about, so I paged through a few of the books and viewed a few of the films. Sadly, I didn’t have time to read through all of them (Thanksgiving is never long enough for anything past eating) but what I saw convinced me that my earlier excuses have only kept me from getting into some fantastic books.

For starters, while Harry Potter is written as a children’s book it is in no way intended just for children – the atmosphere of dragons, spiders, unicorns and werewolves is familiar to any fan of horror and fantasy, and can easily be appreciated by those fans as well. The books also get darker as the years progress, displaying that Rowling understands her audience is growing up in between books and is ready to experience adult fear and death.

Rowling’s work also has a lighter side with that classic British sense of humor that makes authors like Douglas Adams so enjoyable, a sardonic wit that can go over your head the first time and leave you cackling the second. Her characters – the gentle giant Hagrid, the prankster Weasley twins – all have unique traits and actions that make them stand out, and leave readers disappointed when they don’t show up after a few chapters.

But Rowling’s greatest strength in the Harry Potter series is the fact that she has made it an actual series, with characters that actually develop from book to book. By tracking a single group of characters over seven years moving through years of school, Rowling isn’t just writing a series – she’s showing readers how a group of people grow up, and illustrating that even when they have to deal with basilisks and wands their growing pains are very real.

It’s that blend of humanity and fiction that have made Harry Potter books so beloved all over the world – and have helped expand the world of fantasy to heights “Lord of the Rings” gave it in the 1960’s. While I haven’t yet had a chance to crack into the books seriously I applaud Rowling for all her work has contributed to the field of literature, and have hopped on the bandwagon of those curious to see how her saga ends.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have at least 4,200 pages to start reading and little motivation to stop. I hope my professors understand good literature takes precedence over finals.


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