Harry Potter has morphed fantasy into a world dominating superpower. However, deep down beneath the magic and mysticism it is more than just a fantasy series.
In a post on on the website marginalrevolution Tyler Cowen writes,
"Most of all, the Harry Potter series is a social phenomenon. It's not mainly about the books. It's about kids - and often adults - sharing a common reading experience."
— Tyler Cowen - marginalrevolution
What is this common reading experience?
This common experience is prevalent in several key elements. Those elements are adventure, theme and social relevance. When mixed together they make up the general appeal that the books have garnered.
The main common experience a reader shares is adventure. We as humans seek out adventures that aren't our own. We want the mundane in our lives to be replaced with the most exciting adventures we can imagine. That is where our identification comes into contact with the world and life that J. K. Rowling has created. She brilliantly mixes previous fantasy legends with a modern day mythology of her own. She intertwines the themes of various past and current literary influences with the most popular myths, legends and magical creatures of all times. Her adventure is a mixture of all of the best stories out there.
Think of it as mixing Frodo with Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes, Merlin, Luke Skywalker and David Beckham. Put them in a setting that is a cross between Enid Blyton's Malory Towers, C. S. Lewis's Narnia and Manchester United's Old Trafford. The story is bound to be excitingly interesting—and so we want to read it.
The second common experience a reader shares is theme. The Harry Potter series crosses into many themes and bounds limitless between: Literary Satire, Mystery, Adventure, Social Satire and Children's Fairy Tales. The books are also enriched by the oldest theme in the world, Fantasy. Fantasy has been around since man first walked the Earth. You can look back at any society throughout history to see the relevance of this. Fantasy first appeared in spoken form as different cultures told stories around the campfire explaining thoughts of creation or accounts of war. They eventually graduated into writings that passed on myths of strength, courage, love and jealousy. Native American, Greek and Egyptian cultures are an example of how fantasy is prevalent throughout society. In our modern world it was the likes of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis that really made fantasy popularized to the world. It is through Harry Potter that J. K. Rowling transcended fantasy into a cross genre masterpiece.
The final common experience a reader shares is in the social relevance of the story. Throughout the Harry Potter books J.K. Rowling uses common situations and personal encounters as a way to create connectivity with her readers--both kids and adults. With the use of strong emotions like danger, hatred, friendship and jealousy she draws us in and taps into our own feelings. The physical catalysts and reactions of the storyline along with the stereotypes she has woven within her chaos theory unites our lives with those of her characters. Will all of these social aspects the reader and the characters become one. A creative writing professor at Colorado State University said in a fantasy/sci-fi workshop:
"The myths a culture tells define that culture."
— Todd Mitchell - Author and Professor
I believe this is true when there is a connection with readers on a emotional and intellectual scale. I also believe this connection can not happen if social relevance is not present in the writing. For a story to touch a society it must hit at the heartstrings of the people within that society.
the end it is the adventuresome nature, the wide scope of themes or the "crossing of the lines" and the human emotions mixed with social interaction that make up the three main common experiences that attribute to the popularity of the Harry Potter series. It is easy to see how difficult it will be to follow in J. K. Rowling's footsteps.