In Our View: Enchanting Spell
As final ‘Harry Potter’ film bows, its author’s neatest trick has been getting kids to read
Thursday, July 14, 2011
It has been quite an adventure for us Muggles.
That’s a nonmagical person, in case you didn’t know. And if, indeed, you didn’t know, then you haven’t been immersed in the world of Harry Potter.
What started inconspicuously 14 years ago with the publishing of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” has grown into a worldwide pop-culture phenomenon. J.K. Rowling’s series of seven books about a young wizard and his friends has been translated into 67 languages and has sold about 450 million copies worldwide, making it the biggest-selling series in literary history.
The first seven movies to come from those books have grossed more than $2 billion in the U.S. and more than $6 billion worldwide, making it the most lucrative film series in history.
Which brings us to a point of departure. The final movie in the series (the seventh book was split into two films) will begin showing in theaters at midnight tonight, bringing finality to something that has been a rite of passage for an entire generation. Consider this: Young adults, teenagers and anybody younger than them have no conscious memory of a Potter-less world.
Not that his world has been free of critics. Many parents have eschewed the wizard’s adventures — often on religious grounds — because of the prevalence of witchcraft. We can respect that. Parental guidance does not mean blind adherence to popular culture.
But we hope that parents who have opted to prevent their children from reading or watching the “Potter” tales have used that as a teaching moment, and an opportunity to share their values. Regardless of which book or movie or song is involved, parents have every right to ensure that their children’s influences reflect whichever values are of particular importance to that particular family.
Along the same lines, the final movie in the series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” reportedly is the most violent of the Potter films. We urge parents to be aware of the movie’s content, if that is of concern to them.
So while the series has been a phenomenon on both page and screen, we mark today as a demarcation point in pop culture. Millions of fans have grown up with Daniel Radcliffe (who plays Harry), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), the three primary protagonists of the films.
The actors all were about 11 at the time of the first movie, and part of the charm of the series has been watching them and their characters evolve, turning into young adults on and off screen while facing increasingly adult situations in the stories. The fact that the actors off screen have appeared to be well-adjusted and have avoided the pitfalls that trip many child stars has added to their appeal.
Now, for the final time, they are playing the roles that have made them rich and famous. They might or might not have long careers as actors, but the Potter that appears on the page will never age. He will remain a young wizard for generations, appealing to new crops of youngsters who can find some magic in the magical adventures.
That is the overriding benefit of the Potter saga. The books were the brainchild of an author who has gone from being a single mother on welfare to the wealthiest writer in history, all because she was able to connect with the imaginations of young readers.
Potter might be a wizard, but his most magical spell was getting millions of kids to read and getting them excited about books. That’s a pretty neat trick.