Thousands of Harry Potter fans are camped out at London’s Trafalgar Square for a chance to see the premiere of the final Harry Potter movie. How did a book character manage to get such a following? Metro spoke with Michael Drout, Professor of English at Wheaton College and an expert on fantasy literature.
The “Narnia” series and the “Lord of the Rings” are excellent books. What makes people go gaga over “Harry Potter”?
Fantasy has become popular anyway, but the drawback with Tolkien and C.S. Lewis is that they take themselves to seriously. The fate of the universe is always at stake. J.K. Rowling took fantasy and inserted humor. She’s also very good at creating characters. Her characters are not the cardboard characters you usually get in fantasy.
But why do people relate to Harry Potter?
He’s literally a Cinderella story, and he taps into the idea that anyone can be the most important person in the universe. He’s also moral compass of sorts: he’s loyal and he knows what’s right and wrong. And like all fantasy, the Harry Potter books put readers into a position where they can change the world. Also, Rowling doesn’t get enough credit for being a decent writer. A typical fantasy writer invents 3-4 different languages and has 20-page explanations for everything. In Harry Potter readers learn how things work because Harry himself is learning.
Has Harry Potter become a cult?
Harry Potter fans have some cult-like aspects, but they don’t act out. Harry Potter is a social phenomenon because the Harry Potter generation grew up reading the books together. For many of my students, Harry Potter has been their reading childhood. Things like that happened with the “Star Wars” movies, but it has never happened with books. And despite the crassly commercial marketing, Harry Potter has been a force for good. He has gotten young people reading and thinking about good and evil.
What will happen now that the books and films are over?
Rowling will probably write prequels, but they won’t be as successful. The spell will be broken.