Harry Potter and the legacy of the world’s most famous boy wizard

Jane Sunderland, Lancaster UniversityHarry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first film in the eight-part series, has reached its 20th anniversary. Released in 2001, it became the highest-grossing film of that year and the second-highest-grossing ever at the time (it’s now number 76). The film follows Harry’s first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as he begins his formal wizarding education.

The first film in the series came four years after the first book (of the same name) in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which is 25 years old next year. Gone, of course, are the heady days when children grew up alongside Harry Potter, queuing outside bookshops the night before the one-minute-past-midnight release of the next volume in the series.

But this enthusiasm gave rise to a very particular phenomenon, with suggestions that the Harry Potter series prompted previously reluctant readers – in particular boys – to read fiction. Indeed, massive book sales led to media declarations of dramatic changes in children’s attitudes to reading.

While this claim does have some substance, the phenomenon was not quite as suggested. Parents and grandparents often bought Harry Potter books for their children, unasked. And while many children watched the films, they did not read the books.

That said, of couse, many children did read them. And while some young purists post-2001 refused to watch the first film until they had read the book, it’s likely the films prompted other children to then go on to read the books.

In our own 2014 study of around 600 British primary and secondary school students, around half reported having read at least one of the books, and more of these readers were boys. The most likely number of books in the series to have been read was all seven – the second likeliest, just one.

A substantial minority of children clearly engaged hugely with the series as readers – and it can only be assumed this benefited their reading more generally. This level of engagement was partly because it was a series, bringing with it a sense of continuity and achievement.

Neither were enthusiasts put off by the sheer length of the later books. Indeed, this may have added to children’s enjoyment and sense of achievement. As Rowling herself has said, “When I was a child, if I was enjoying a book, I didn’t want to finish it.”

The boy who lived on?

While the films are frequently televised, and with news that Warner Bros is planning to develop a television series set in the wizarding world, the Harry Potter books no longer top the best-selling children’s book lists. After 24 years, Amazon however still ranks the Philosopher’s Stone at number ten in their list of best-selling children’s books, with the others in the series not far behind.

All this is not surprising. Harry Potter is both enduringly imaginative – the spells, the magic, the different creatures – and reassuringly familiar – basically, it’s a school story. It has memorable, appealing characters and the style is undemanding. And now, a new generation of young parents who grew up with Harry Potter may want their children to have their own Potter experience. Though it seems likely that more children will continue to watch the films than read the books.

However, Harry Potter has come in for criticism in more recent years. Many readers today may be more aware of the elitism of Hogwarts. There is an imbalance between the number of male and female characters in the series, especially teachers. Its racial diversity has been accused of being tokenistic. And it lacks even hints of LGBTQ+ characters. Rowling’s claim in 2007 that she thought of Dumbledore as gay is not even suggested in the books.

Rowling herself has also generated controversy through her comments about gender and sex in relation to the debate around transgender rights, first on Twitter and later in a 3,700-word essay in 2020.

Yet Harry Potter is far from alone in the canon of consistently popular children’s literature when it comes to most of these issues. And none of them appear to have affected book sales so far.

It remains to be seen whether such issues will discourage millennial parents from introducing Harry Potter to their own children or affect its popularity among future generations. And in this sense, only time will tell if the appeal of the books and the films will continue to endure.The Conversation

Jane Sunderland, Honorary Reader in English, Lancaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Reading Harry Potter in a new light during the coronavirus pandemic

Harry Potter’s adventures take on a new significance during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

J. Andrew Deman, University of Waterloo

This has not been the best year for the Harry Potter franchise, assailed as it has been by the fallout from transphobic comments by J.K. Rowling and an abuse scandal surrounding Johnny Depp, star of the Fantastic Beasts spin-off franchise.

Of course, this hasn’t been the best year for a lot of things as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent isolation protocols. It is curious, then, that this beleaguered franchise — so dear to the hearts of a generation of readers — and the lockdown of the global population might combine to create something with resonance, entirely by accident.

The first six books of the Harry Potter series took place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, an enchanted boarding school filled with danger, mystery and magic. But for the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling chose to deviate from her established practice by setting it in isolation. Harry, Hermione and (sometimes) Ron were cut off from their familiar routines and lives, suffering through loneliness, resource shortages, cabin fever, frustration and a terrifying new world order.

The trailer for ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.’

Transforming meanings

For a lot of people looking back on this story, it screams 2020 — it has everything but the surgical masks.

We can write this off to an accident of history, but it also connects us to a number of compelling developments in literary theory, including French philosopher Michel Foucault’s theory of the episteme, American literary historian Stephen Greenblatt’s New Historicism and British semiotician Gunther Kress’s theory of semiotic resources, all of which point (in one way or another) to the simple fact that the meaning of a text is dependent on the cultural circumstances surrounding it.

As our world changed, the cultural significance of Harry Potter changed with it.

In a pandemic society, reading lines like “the pure, colourless vastness of the sky stretched over him, indifferent to him and his suffering” takes on a new capacity for immersion. Harry’s experiences of isolation and anxiety now bring him closer to us, make him more relatable and identifiable, just as a pandemic-addled society can now, in turn, grow closer to Harry and understand in greater depth the heavy psychological toll that being cut off from his life at Hogwarts must be taking on him.

This is especially true for high school students in 2020. The interruption of Harry’s education, adolescence and general pathway to the adult world is again all too familiar to the average 12th grader, who could not possibly have expected their steady progression through the curriculum to be waylaid by a virus any more than Harry could have expected to lose his final year at Hogwarts to a Death Eater coup.

We can reach further too, and allow that deepened understanding of Harry’s isolation to ripple through the narrative, enhancing things like the joy of his return to Hogwarts and overthrow of Voldemort, or the depth of his friendship to Hermione for standing by him through the worst of it. Our familiarity with his isolation makes his victories all the sweeter.

Re-visiting literature

This phenomenon is nothing new. Consider, for example, George Orwell’s Animal Farm, a treatise on the dangers of communism, and Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel, a dire warning about government surveillance and totalitarianism. At the height of the Cold War, Animal Farm provided sharp criticism of the hypocrisy of Communist regimes, one that resonated with a western audience affronted by the so-called “red scare.”

As the Cold War diminished, so too did the immersive potential of Animal Farm as a novel, which reads as more of a barnyard fable to an audience unfamiliar with the U.S.S.R. As for Nineteen Eighty-Four, it saw a renaissance during the George W. Bush era with the passing of the Patriot Act and the surveillance initiatives it contained.

The front-matter section of 1984 by George Orwell
George Orwell’s novel ‘1984’ keeps receiving new significance, even though its original context may be unfamiliar to contemporary readers.

The point is simple: a story’s longevity and the legacy of its author are deeply dependent upon historical context, and since the author can’t see into the future, we have to acknowledge the role of chance as a co-author of some our most beloved texts. Even the Bard himself has had his fair share of happy accidents.

So where does this leave Harry Potter, our most recent literary phenomenon? Adrift, perhaps, but not entirely. Both Shakespeare and Orwell’s works acquire new meanings as the times change, and so too does Rowling’s series, which is a dynamic and engaging fictional world that has the potential to stand outside of time itself, to some degree, if it needs to.

How Harry’s journey is met by each subsequent generation of enthusiasts is changing, and will continue to change with the world that surrounds us. The perception that texts are stable entities is an illusion.

When COVID-19 went viral, Harry Potter caught it and was changed by it, just as we all were. Having a new excuse to read an old favourite in the light of a new world is by no means the worst thing in these trying times, especially when we’re all stuck at home anyway.The Conversation

J. Andrew Deman, Professor of English, University of Waterloo

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Ickabog by J. K. Rowling Released Serialized Online

The link below is to an article reporting on the serialized release of a new book by J. K. Rowling, ‘The Ickabog.’

For more visit:https://bookriot.com/j-k-rowling-releases-serialized-novel-the-ickabog/

Galloping gargoyles! Is Harry Potter losing his (earning) power?

Louise Grimmer, University of Tasmania; Gary Mortimer, Queensland University of Technology, and Martin Grimmer, University of Tasmania

By the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter in 2017, over 400 million Harry Potter books had been sold worldwide and translated into 68 languages. In spite of J. K. Rowling’s rejection by a dozen publishers before her success with Bloomsbury, Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone became one of the best selling books of all time.

The film franchise of the books grossed US$8.5 billion (almost A$13 billion), book sales totalled US$7.7 billion (A$11.7 billion), US$7.3 billion (A$11 billion) has been made from toys and merchandise, and US$2 billion (A$3 billion) from DVD sales. The Harry Potter “empire” has an estimated total worth of US$25 billion (A$38 billion).

With bars, theme parks, fan conventions, mugs, costumes and knitting patterns going gangbusters, it seemed the little wizard could do no wrong. Words like “muggle”, “quidditch” and “Hogwarts” have become part of our vocabulary. But more than a decade since the last Harry Potter book was published, it appears the lucrative spell is wearing off.

For the wool wizards.

Page to screen to stage

Since the end of the beloved series (the last book in 2007 and film in 2011), there have been two spin-off stories: the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and the play Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, both released in 2016. The film’s sequel Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald was released in 2018.

The first Fantastic Beasts film performed reasonably well at the box office, grossing US$814 million worldwide (A$1.2 billion), which is within the earnings range of the first eight Harry Potter films.

However, the Fantastic Beasts sequel resulted in less box office revenue than the first, at US$654 million (A$1 billion) globally, the lowest grossing of all the “Harry-verse” films.

Subsequent questions have been raised about how the third planned film will perform, let alone the rest of the five-film series that had previously been mooted.

The Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play is broadly considered a West End and Broadway success and has toured internationally. Despite the huge amount of money invested and the creative approach taken in promoting the production, ticket sales have seen a considerable drop in the past year (50% since their peak).

Harry Potter franchise revenue streams.
Statista, CC BY

A turning point

In and of itself the play was always going to be a challenge: it is a two-part production which means theatre goers have to buy two tickets and attend twice. The producers say it is intended to be seen “in order on the same day (matinee and evening) or on two consecutive evenings”.

This makes cost a problematic factor. It’s also a big time commitment. The play has a rather daunting running time of around two hours and 40 minutes each time, making a total duration of just over five hours. That’s likely to be too much for many young fans.

It’s hard to imagine anyone but Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson playing the central roles onstage.

And about those “young fans”. When the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets movie debuted in 2002, 60% of the audience was under the age of 15. This cohort are now in their 30s and this age group is considered as “non-theatre goers”. In the UK the average theatre audience member is 52. The average age of the Broadway theatregoer is 42 years old. Australian audiences at musicals and operas were last estimated to be predominantly between 55 and 74 years of age in 2014.

Another huge part of the appeal with the books and the films is the incredible fantasy world presented. Though audience members were encouraged to #keepthesecrets, transferring the magic of film CGI to the stage is an obvious challenge.

Another issue could be the recasting of Harry, Hermione and Ron. Not only are the famous three played by completely new people, but they’re no longer the young mischievous kids who captured our hearts.

The play, also published as a book, is set 20 years on from the last film, and Harry and the gang are all grown up. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have become so cemented as their characters, it is a stretch for audiences to accept anyone else in these roles.

Losing momentum

As well as challenges with the play, there are reports that ticket sales for theme parks and book sales are also slowing. Perhaps this is to be expected, given the nature of marketing “momentum”.

Marketers build momentum through exposure of their brand, product or service and through generating excitement. But eventually, when a product has been in the market for a certain period of time, momentum inevitably slows. Demand subsequently drops and may fall away completely.

Product campaigns – and Harry Potter is indeed a product – need certain elements to be successful. It all starts with marketing the right product, promoted with the right message to the right audience at the right time. Marketers add momentum into this mix and voila – you have marketing gold. The Harry Potter franchise ticked these boxes in a way that few brands have ever done, providing wonder and delight to audiences worldwide and riches to its creator.

Over 20 years later, the highly successful book and movie franchise, and all its various spin-offs, may finally be losing momentum.

Perhaps another fictional character will take his place. There are no doubt authors sending their pitches to a dozen publishers right now and hoping this will be the case. Or maybe Harry Potter was a once-in-a-lifetime wizard.The Conversation

Louise Grimmer, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania; Gary Mortimer, Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, Queensland University of Technology, and Martin Grimmer, Professor of Marketing, Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New Harry Potter Books

The link below is to an article that takes a look at the 4 new Harry Potter books.

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4 New Harry Potter Ebooks

The link below is to an article that looks at the release of 4 new Harry Potter ebooks (which have already appeared in the Kindle store by the way) by J. K. Rowling.

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Fantastic Beasts – experts explain the mysterious real life questions behind JK Rowling’s magic tales

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Johnny Depp as Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

Nikk Effingham, University of Birmingham; Anna Cermakova, University of Birmingham; Heather Widdows, University of Birmingham; James Walters, University of Birmingham; Michaela Mahlberg, University of Birmingham, and Stephan Lautenschlager, University of Birmingham

Even in the real world there are witches among us, and fantastic beasts – and a touch of magic, too. And so to mark the release of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, these experts have answered some of the more mysterious questions behind JK Rowling’s magical fiction. And they’ve made a series of short video explainers, too.

What would we see in the Mirror of Erised?

Professor Heather Widdows, John Ferguson Professor of Global Ethics

The Mirror of Erised (“desire” backwards), features in the Harry Potter films and The Crimes of Grindelwald. It is a magic mirror that shows “not your face but your heart’s desire”. When Harry – the neglected, lonely orphan boy – looks in the magic mirror, for example, he sees himself surrounded by a happy, loving family. His heart’s desire is to be loved and not alone.

The moral of the Mirror of Erised – and the Harry Potter universe is full of morals – is that the truly happy person sees only themselves as they really are.

But could many of us do this? In our increasingly visual and virtual culture, what many of us would likely see if we looked in the Mirror of Erised is an improved, perfected body, the imagined self, the Perfect Me. This is the self we are constantly working on. The self we imagine we will attain if only we stick to our diets, go to the gym and perform the prescribed tasks: brushing, pumping, plucking, creaming, firming, smoothing and erasing.

This is the self we seek to invoke in our doctored and digitally remastered selfies. The thinner, firmer, smoother, younger, you. Still you, but the better, best or even – if you believe the language of the beauty business – the “real” you.

Is there equality in the world of witches and wizards?

Michaela Mahlberg, Professor of Corpus Linguistics and Dr Anna Cermakova, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow

In a captivating scene in Fantastic Beasts, little Modesty Barebone is playing hopscotch and singing:

My momma, your momma, gonna catch a witch,
My momma, your momma, flying on a switch,
My momma, your momma, witches never cry,
My momma, your momma, witches gonna die!

This ominous song alludes to the historical witch trials. The trials mainly focused on women and girls – and these historical connections contribute to the negative connotations we have of the word “witch”. Indeed, in today’s language, “witch” often refers to an unlikable, unpleasant or ugly woman.

But things are different for the word “wizard”. Wizards tend to have positive qualities, being wise and brave, for example – think of Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings books – and there are also positive expressions, such as “computer wizard”. The word “wizard” is also used less frequently than “witch”.

And so the words “witch” and “wizard” make a rather unequal pair. How Rowling’s Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts series shift and question the meaning of these words for today’s children is really quite remarkable. She makes some witches (such as Hermione in the Harry Potter films) good, and some wizards, such as Grindelwald (played by Johnny Depp in the latest film) bad, subverting the old stereotypes. At the same time, it is interesting to see how our real world gender inequalities are mirrored in Rowling’s world of magic.

Are there real life Fantastic Beasts?

Dr Stephan Lautenschlager, Lecturer in Palaeobiology

In the Fantastic Beasts series, the audience is introduced to a range of weird and wonderful magical creatures: from winged horses and thunderbirds to demons and mischievous furry animals, which look like a cross between a mole and a platypus. While some of them might have been inspired by living animals, many of the beasts in the movies would seem to be too fantastic to be true if we encountered them in the wild. However, this might also be the case for many of the real-life fantastic beasts which inhabited this planet long before humans.

The evolutionary origins of modern animals date back more than 500m years, while the first traces of life itself go back as far as 3.5 billion years. Over that period of hundreds of millions of years, many animals which can only be described as fantastic beasts have evolved, conquered the water, land or air, and eventually become extinct again.

But proof for their existence is documented by their fossilised remains. In fact, the fossil record is full of fossil fantastic beasts and, as palaeontologists, we attempt to revive some of them. Not in real life, but by studying their fossilised skeletons to reconstruct their appearance, their biology and their behaviour.

What role do we play in the wizarding world?

Dr James R Walters, Reader in Film and Television Studies

The wizarding communities in the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts films live among ordinary people – the muggles, no-majs and non-magiques. These lives are sometimes intertwined as magical incidents spill over from one society to the next.

But who are these ordinary people? The monstrous Dursley family who abuse their magical nephew, Harry Potter? The childlike Jacob Kowalski, who cannot be trusted with the secrets of the wizarding world and must have his memory erased? Or the oblivious masses who feel only the effects of magic without seeing their causes? In these films, non-magical humans are often peripheral, inconvenient or even negative elements.

As ordinary humans, we are the muggles. In these worlds, we would be background details or minor complications. And yet the films allow us to become part of the magical world, as we move through its landscapes and share its secrets. We shake off our ordinariness and become temporary members of a society more spectacular, but less human. So, the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts films possess a magic common to all of cinema. As we watch the films – something I discuss further in this podcast – we are not ourselves. There, in the darkness, these films cast their spell of invisibility over us.

Will we ever be able to ‘apparate’?

Dr Nikk Effingham, Reader in Philosophy

In the world of Harry Potter, the wizards can magically move around, vanishing from one place and appearing in another. They might use “floo powder” or “portkeys”, or “apparate” away. And they can also move through time! Using a “Time Turner”, a witch or wizard can travel back into the past. But doing so is risky – who wants to end up like Madam Mintumble who travelled back to the 15th century and ended up ageing five centuries?

But if you’re careful, the skilled magician can manage to pull it off, as we know from when Hermione Grainger, from the Harry Potter stories, managed to regularly travel back in time to fit in her studies. Or when the protagonists of the books managed to push the boundaries of safety when they went back to save Sirius Black and Buckbeak the Hippogriff.

But does this make any sense? What does teleportation involve? Does being careful when we’re back in the past make a difference? And is time travel even possible? I can’t say whether time travel is physically possible (you’ll have to ask a physicist) but in my latest research, I argue that it is at least theoretically possible – like many things, we can’t rule out its possibility without first learning more about the physical world around us.The Conversation

Nikk Effingham, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Birmingham; Anna Cermakova, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow, Centre for Corpus Research, University of Birmingham; Heather Widdows, John Ferguson Professor of Global Ethics, University of Birmingham; James Walters, Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Studies, University of Birmingham; Michaela Mahlberg, Professor of Corpus Linguistics, University of Birmingham, and Stephan Lautenschlager, Lecturer in Palaeobiology, University of Birmingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

J. K. Rowling Sues Former Assistant

The link below is to an article reporting on J. K. Rowling suing her former assistant for scamming her out of money which was spent on cats and other things.

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