A fairly strong argument can be made that J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” novels are in fact the most popular novels ever written. Granting that the worldwide audience and methods of publication make it easier to sell 350,000,000 novels than it was in, say, the days of Charles Dickens, the popularity of the Potter novels is nothing short of a sensation. Any one of the six puiblished before this weekend is, by itself, a better selling novel than any other novel of your lifetime, with only “The Da Vinci Code” in the same league, and #7 will presumably sell just as well. Rowling’s seven novels have, according to some sources, sold as many copies as Stephen King’s 50+ books combined. (Don’t hold me to this claim, though, as it’s hard to get firm numbers.)
Now, I’ve read them all and enjoyed them, but I enjoyed lots of other novels and they didn’t sell 75 million copies each. The Potter novels are a true sensation; people line up for them to get them at midnight, show up at public readings, argue about them, dress up like the characters. The marketing and movies have pulled in billions. Only the aforementioned “Da Vinci Code” is even close in terms of widespread appeal, and I think most will agree it’s not going to have the same staying power. “Harry Potter” will probably become a children’s favourite for decades to come.
I’m not asking “why are they so popular?” in the sense that I dislike them, I’m asking the question seriously. What, precisely, is it about the novels that has made them such a sensation? What themes, characterizations, or other aspects of the tales have made them part of every (non-fundamentalist-Christian) child’s book collection?
I remember that one of the things that struck me about the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was that Rowling spent so much of the book giving insight into Harry’s terror that he will not be accepted by, or be thrown out of, Hogwart’s. (It was a theme that was largely most in the movie, which is one of the reasons the movie seemed dry to many people.) It was very powerfully brought across, and fear of non-acceptance would seem to me to be something all kids can identify with. But the books continued past that into other themes.
What do YOU think has made the Potter books such a gigantic success?