Can it be 20 years since the world was first introduced to the lightning-scarred young wizard, Harry Potter? Yes. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in Britain on June 26, 1997. Now, with hundreds of millions of copies sold worldwide, it’s safe to say J.K. Rowling’s saga of The Boy Who Lived has achieved a level of fame rare for the literary world.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of the Potter books on both books in general and YA fiction specifically. The massive success of Potter kicked open the floodgates for a renaissance in young adult fiction not seen since Lewis and Tolkien released their dueling visions of high fantasy.
Much has been written about how and why Potter ended up so popular. In some ways, the story’s simplicity drew people in. A lonely boy finds friends, grows up and learns who he is, albeit in harrowing and fantastic ways. There are the allusions to the world in which Rowling lived while writing the book who make her a household name worldwide. She added those familiar scenes into her magical story, and a new hero walked onto bookshelves everywhere.
But there is much more to it than that. Some have said the real appeal of Potter is how it transcends genre, age and, really, any sort of definition. Read and loved by grade schoolers and grandparents – and everyone in between – Harry Potter’s adventures captivated. Were there plot holes? Sure. Did anyone care? Only the most jaded online “critics.”
There are certain literary qualities of Potter too. Rowling managed to tell a very familiar tale in a new and interesting way. Potter was a vulnerable savior figure, a perpetual underdog, as well as a born leader…who, also managed to be a goofy, screw-up of a kid. His foibles managed to be endearing, even as they were infuriating for readers who hoped he would, finally, learn.
And he did learn. Mostly, the hard way. Of course, Harry’s readers learned too. Many teachers have directly credited the Harry Potter series for inspiring reluctant readers to dive into a book. Others have said the surge in Potter sales, as well as subsequent books published on Potter’s coattails, helped keep bookstores in business when eReaders were all the rage. That’s speculation, but can you recall another book that caused people to line up at midnight just to get their own copy? That was a regular occurrence when new Potter books were released.
So, happy birthday, Harry Potter, and congratulations J.K. Rowling, the author who single-handedly inspired millions of readers and the next generations of authors too.