USA Today: How Long Can Harry’s Magic Hold?

In USA Today’s ‘Life’ Section, page 1, above the fold, with a picture of Harry and Ginny, the best selling newspaper in America asks “How long can Harry’s magic hold?” It is a rhetorical question, right? The article is only to announce that the last trailer of Half-Blood Prince film will be released online tonight at 9 pm. Would any other film or book franchise get this kind of cover story treatment for the most recent release of a trailer? Another rhetorical question…

Harry’s magic is holding up quite well, thank you very much. The ‘Shared Text’ of a generation or three is so much a part of the public imagination today I cannot imagine it losing its “hold” or being supplanted anytime soon. Only books that caricature or echo the elements of its success, I suspect, will sell in this league or engage readers in similar fashion.

Your thoughts?

Comments

  1. revgeorge says

    You’re right. There’s my thoughts. 🙂

  2. Red Rocker says

    It’s an interesting question. Many ways of looking at it and trying to answer it.

    Number of HP books sold? Number of movie tickets sold? Number of articles – popular and literary – and scholarly texts published and sold? Number of references in the media and on the internet? Sales of Potter-related merchandise: wands and hats and cloaks and those ubquitous scarves, posters, and a thousand-and-one types of cheap and not-so-cheap bric-a-brac? Number of JKR interviews? Number of fan clubs? Number of blogs? Number of visits to the blogs?

    Number of people reading the books? Number of kids dressing up as a Hogwarts character? Number of kids pretending to be HP or Voldemort or Dumbledore?

    Number of people thinking about HP? Number of people whose writing is influenced by the experience of having read a HP book, seen a HP movie, or heard others discussing HP?

    Someone would have to actually go out and collect data in order to be able to answer those questions.

    I do have two little facts, one based on personal observation, one on a quick Google. Personal observation tells me that there are many fewer contributors to the two blogs that I frequent (this one, and the HogsHead) as compared to July 2007. Google tells me that Bloomsbury has made less money in 2008 than in 2007 – some 6 Million Pounds less – although about .8 Milllion Pounds more than they expected to make:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7974226.stm

    Both of which suggest that interest is down. But that is to be expected. The extremely high original rate of sales/interest was based on a large reserve pool of readers who didn’t know the outcome. That reserve is now gone. The only people who’re buying the book now (except for libraries restocking worn editions) are the ones who missed the first wave. Not sure how many there are available in the second wave. And the other interest group woulr be the rising new generation of readers.

    I think that that would be a target you’d want to keep an eye on. As the new generation learns to read, and reaches the age of, say, 8-10, how many of them start reaching out to HP? In other words, how popular is HP with the emerging readers? If those kids want to read HP even after having seen the movies, then I think we’re getting closer to the concept of shared text.

  3. Some long length of time, exactly how long to be determined….but certainly eternally. Whatsoever things be good…think on these things. In the shared Trinitarian existence, I rather think some Harry fans will be honouring God and extolling His Presence in Harry, as well as proclaiming how God used Harry in their lives. It will make for interesting conversations…………..

  4. I can’t see that it’s going to fade any time soon. My brother-in-law, who hasn’t read the books, and might not have seen any of the movies, knows how much I read and watch Harry. He sent me an email tonight, with a link to the new trailer to ask if this was something new. Cute – a way to send me a forward without it really looking like a forward.

    Anyway, I find the books as fresh and engaging every time I read or listen to one. Right now, however, I’m taking a Harry break and listening to Fellowship of the Ring, also one of those enduring books. 😉

  5. revgeorge says

    I’m not sure looking at it quantitatively is the best way to judge and gauge how much staying power HP has. Certain that’s a valid way and can be helpful in some ways. I just don’t think, though, that quantity of books sold, merchandise hawked, even number of commentators on blog sites gives a truly defining, qualitative picture of HP’s staying power.

    After all, the numbers for Dickens & Austen probably aren’t too good either right now. But Austen, who wrote in the late 1700’s & early 1800’s, still has enough staying power to influence a young English & Classics major in the 1970’s & 80’s so that Austen’s style & influence is felt in one of the biggest series of the late 20th & early 21st centuries. Austen still has enough power to also influence a Mormon mother who writes vampire literature of dubious quality but enormous popularity.

    And I’m sure Edmund Spenser’s numbers aren’t too great right now. But through a frumpy English professor named C.S. Lewis Spenser has come down to millions of people nowadays, even if they don’t know it.

  6. revgeorge says

    Quite right, Arabella. I don’t think any of us expected the massive amount of interest in HP to continue once the series was complete. Certainly I’m with Red Rocker in that I don’t follow as many HP blogs or podcasts as I did before the series ended. Most simply weren’t that good or the podcasters were annoying but I followed them just for the wide ranging speculation. Now I’m down to listening to 3 1/2 podcasts & following three blog sites & one news site.

  7. I think one of the most interesting questions is whether or not authors writing books in the wake of Harry will help or hinder ongoing enthusiasm for the books in the coming years. It seems as though authors writing for young people today almost have no choice but to take Harry and his success into consideration as they write (even if it’s only to try to write something completely different!). While the echoes (or in some cases knock-offs) of the HP books are a kind of backhanded compliment, unless some really good books are written, I think kids could tired of weak Harry imitators. Whether that will make them appreciate and become more enthusiastic readers/defenders of HP or just tired cynics, I don’t know.

    Where I write book reviews (epinions) a parent and very good reviewer recently posted a review of *The Lightning Thief.* I’ve not read the book, but found it intriguing that this reviewer was bemoaning the fact that it was so heavily influenced by Harry Potter. She clearly believed that more and more people are writing books “like” HP, and to her, as an adult reader, that seemed derivative and a bit boring. On the other hand, she admitted that her kids loved this new book, and seemed to imply that its Harry influence was probably part of its appeal.

    I have very little doubt about the lasting longevity of HP — they’re good stories that people love reading again and again, and we’ll have a whole generation of kids growing up and wanting to pass these books on to their kids! But I do wonder if we won’t see (certainly in our lifetimes) some overall waning of HP enthusiasm. It’s bound to go in waves…

    Red Rocker, I think you’re spot on about keeping an eye on emerging readers too. I’m frankly curious to see how my daughter is going to go for these books in a few years. She’s a young 6-almost-7 and really isn’t ready for them yet. She’s also not very tuned into media and has no clue about the hoopla. She knows her mom loves them though. 🙂

  8. Arabella Figg says

    What we experienced with the Potter saga was unprecedented in scope. The books as they were published were a giant worldwide “watercooler” experience, as speculation ran rife through multiple generations; it was part of the fun of the experience. Now that the books are completed, this fervid speculation and argument, that was so thrilling and engaging, is over; now, it’s analysis of the finished product under discussion, not nearly so compelling.

    Thus, while the tsunami surge is over, I believe HP can hold his own quite well. Sales will not be in the stratosphere like they were, but we have a saga that’s really an Instant Classic. Children (and adults) will still be reading it; authors will strive to match Rowling’s success; the series’ influence and meaning will still have its power. I don’t see the magic being over; but the storm it rode in on will definitely wane. And that’s to be expected.

  9. Speaking of a generation of new readers, my sister is in a bit of a quandary with her 9 year old daughter. My niece has read the first three books and wants to keep going. However, we all know that the series becomes much darker as it progresses and there are themes and concepts that are probably not suitable for a 9 year old. What to do? Hold each of the books back until she reaches a certain age? Difficult to do since her older brother has the entire series lying around on his bookshelves. (Good luck Beth with your daughter when she’s older!)

    I believe the books have longevity. And for those of us who are big fans, don’t the books already have longevity in our lives? 🙂

  10. Lily Luna says

    My 9 year old daughter has read all 7 books at least twice. She will be doing a 4 week Harry Potter summer camp at her school designed for rising 4th through 8th graders which will cover all 7 books. So I think it would be okay for your niece to read the remaining books, especially if she is interested in them. A lot of children’s literature covers some pretty dark themes: Hobbit/LOTR, Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series, Narnia series, and plenty of others.

  11. Um – to Lily Luna, sorry if I sound sharp, but-

    Please, please, please, will people stop referring to LOTR as “a children’s book”? It is not! It was not written for children, but for adults, and there’s a lot in it that children cannot understand. Not that this should keep them from reading the books, (Tolkien’s) of course! There is nothing objectionable in them, except for the violence, and I loved them as a child. But even then I knew they weren’t “children’s books” – any more than Dickens, whom I also loved at the same age. I speak as a librarian and writer and great defender of children’s lit, btw. Saying that LOTR are not “children’s books” is not trying to build them up at the expense of Potter or other children’s books. It’s simply stating a fact.

    The Potter books were actually written for children, I believe. In spite of that, there’s a good deal in them that I personally find objectionable. But most kids will be able to cope, and I wouldn’t make a great fuss about a nine-year-old reading ahead. I’d just encourage her to come to a trusted adult if she’s disturbed or needs to talk, and let her at it – or maybe read them with her, and debrief after reading together. This is the way my sister-in-law did it with her young boys.

    In spite of the Wizard rock phenomenon, which I love, I don’t think the “Potter” books are classics, and I think interest in them actually is dying down. They very much express the spirit of this age, and for that reason, I guess, they’ll be of interest for awhile, but I hope we’ll go on – or back – to better things. I, for one, am trying to extricate myself!

    Just my two cents.

  12. Arabella Figg says

    RevGeorge, either I missed it earlier in reading your comment, or it’s new…but you got the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man! Only those in on your Godzilla gravatar discussion at Hog’s Head would know what this is about, but you have me on the floor, laughing my head off. How fit for a migraine day.

  13. Lily Luna says

    Sorry to misclassify the Hobbit/LOTR, although I’m pretty sure the Hobbit was shelved in the children’s section when I was a kid (probably was in both children’s and adults for that matter).

    The first two Harry Potter novels are more like children’s lit in terms of length and age of main characters, but I don’t think the series as a whole should be consigned to children’s lit in any perjorative sense. We seem to be getting back to a previous discussion chain. Can books with children as main protagonists be classified as adult literature? The Artemis Fowl series seems to be although the character for which it is named is a child/teen. Yet it is being read by children. The Hobbit also is widely read by children. A lot of fantasy/science fiction is read by older children and teens. I guess you and I disagree, mary, on whether the Potter books are classics, but I think they have about equal merit with LOTR and at least I didn’t stop reading them halfway through out of utter boredom as I did with Two Towers.

    Well, now that I’ve managed to offend LOTR lovers everywhere (including my husband), I’ll stop.

  14. Luna, “the Hobbit” is a children’s book and was published as such. LOTR is an adult book, and was published as such. Artemis Fowl is a children’s book, was published as such, and usually finds itself in the teen section of the library (I’m a librarian).

    Books with children as protagonists can definitely be classified as adult literature. I’d name “The Violent Bear it Away” as one example.

    As to Tolkien and Rowling – well, tastes differ, don’t they? I loved Tolkien deeply from late childhood on, when my dad introduced me and my brother and sister to the books. Rowling I enjoyed until I hit HBP. I didn’t like that book, and I found DH frustrating, annoying, and – often – a crashing bore. Have I now offended HP lovers everywhere?!

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