Will Harry make it through? Can Voldemort return to power?
Those questions are on the mind of every fan awaiting Saturday’s (July 21) release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final installment in the young wizard’s tale.
But larger questions loom after the final page is turned—like, what will fans read now? And can any new series replicate Pottermania?
“A lot of fans are asking, `What will I do in my spare time without Harry Potter?’” said Jeff Rudski, professor of psychology at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa.
“I anticipate that for the hardcore fan who spends three hours online, writes fan fiction or does fan art, we’ll see some mild depression and withdrawal, some sleep and appetite disturbance within 24 to 48 hours of finishing the book.”
He and his students have even developed an online survey to gauge fans’ emotional responses. They took a standard drug/alcohol addiction survey and applied it to Harry Potter.
The survey takes into account, among other things, the level of involvement fans have with the Harry Potter community, how often they read the books or watch the movies and how eagerly they await the final book. They are asked to rate the intensity of their feelings based on statements like “Nothing would be better than reading Deathly Hallows right now” and “My desire to read Deathly Hallows seems overpowering.”
Rudski’s hypothesis is supported by discussions taking place on Harry Potter message boards across the Web. The most devoted Potter followers gather online at sites like mugglenet.com, www.the-leaky-cauldron.org and hpana.com (The Harry Potter Automatic News Aggregator)—Web sites with vast communities.
Mugglenet alone attracted more than 27 million visitors in 2005 with pages upon pages of trivia, fan fiction, editorials and even an encyclopedia of the magical world.
In one thread on HPANA.com titled “What are you gonna do when finished with book seven?” responses included crying and feeling depressed.
Rudski predicts fans will turn to their online communities for comfort. “I’m willing to bet there is going to be a whole lot of commiseration,” he said. “A lot of people discussing their feelings.”
More than 325 million copies of Harry Potter books have sold worldwide since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone debuted in the U.K. in 1997. (When released in the U.S. the following year, the title was changed to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.)
A boon for publisher Scholastic, midnight release parties are the highlight of the summers for many fans.
J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard created a following that can only be described as magical—crossing all cultural, economic, age and gender lines. The books have been translated into 65 languages and spawned five movies.
What is it about Rowling’s novels that has caused such a frenzy?
“First, the Harry Potter books, whether by design or by happy accident, clearly appeal to an amazingly wide children’s audience,” said Craig Svonkin professor of English at the University of California Riverside, who organized a Pottermania conference in 2005. “Perhaps even more interestingly, the works have appealed widely to adult readers.”
In 2000, the New York Times altered its Best Sellers List to incorporate a children’s category, which kept the Harry Potter books from clogging the top spots in the fiction category. No matter what the list says, the adventures of “the boy who lived” are not just for kids. Scholastic estimated that approximately 30 percent of the readers of the first three books were older than 35.
“I think (Harry Potter) is fiction for everyone,” said Laura Kennett, a librarian in Columbia, S.C., at the Richland County Public Library. “I’ll see adults come down here to check them out. It’s just that basic story of good versus evil. Harry has everything and nothing at the same time. People really relate to him.”
Harry leaves behind a sizable pair of shoes to fill.
“I am not sure any one series will take the place of Harry Potter, at least not right away,” Svonkin said.
“These sorts of amazing fan responses are rare because there are so many factors needed to create this sort of literary `perfect storm.’”
Some of the series currently in print and poised to take their piece of the Potter pie include Christopher Paolini’s Eragon Inheritance trilogy, about a young boy and a dragon. A hit in its own right, Eragon has been made into a movie.
Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander and his Underland Chronicles, the tale of a young boy who falls through a grate in his apartment building and into another world, is also a Scholastic series.
Artemis Fowl, the story of a cunning child genius and criminal mastermind, is referred to by its author Eoin Colfer as Die Hard with fairies.
As for new books on the horizon, it is anyone’s guess. “I wish I knew,” said Wanda Jewell, executive director of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. “That is the sort of thing that publishers spend so much time trying to figure out. It is magic.”
A main ingredient of the Potter magic formula was adult fans who read the books as ravenously as children.
“I think that the Harry Potter books, and many other fantasy works, appeal to children and adults because they explore real-world issues through allegorical or symbolic means,” Svonkin said.
Rowling uses Harry and the magical world to address controversial issues, such as racism. For example, many “pure blood” wizards reject other wizards with mixed heritage. They are called mudbloods—a wizard with at least one muggle parent. Draco Malfoy refers to Hermione Granger as a mudblood.
Rowling also explores the evils of slavery through house elves. And throughout the series, Harry loses many people who are close to him.
These are very serious themes stuffed inside a fantasy world.
Publishers and bookstore owners don’t have the benefit of Professor Trelawny’s crystal ball.
“You can never really tell if something is going to become a hit,” said Carrie Graves, who owns The Happy Bookseller in Columbia, S.C., with her husband, Andrew. “There are some great children’s books out there, and many people like them, but they don’t have the universal appeal of Harry Potter.”
Plenty of popular children’s series existed before Harry Potter—the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and The Babysitter’s Club to name a few. But none have had the impact of Rowling’s tales.
“Harry will be sorely missed, but I think he has ultimately done more for the children’s publishing industry by opening up the possibilities,” Jewell said. “It has busted the myths that boys don’t read and fantasy doesn’t sell.”
Rowling’s ability to reach non-readers is reflected in her books’ high sales.
“Teachers tell us all the time how important Harry Potter books have been to reach out to kids who were not big readers,” Graves said. “It has even gotten some adults reading again.”
For Jordan Slisher of Westminster, S.C., Harry Potter was a life-changing experience. “Harry Potter helped me overcome a reading disability,” the 14-year-old said. “It gave me confidence and my friends stopped making fun of me.”
Slisher was a national winner in the 2007 Letters About Literature Contest sponsored by the Library of Congress. After a nine-week school reading project, Slisher had to write a letter to an author. He chose to write Rowling and tell her that Harry Potter had changed his views of reading.
Slisher is eagerly awaiting the final book, but has already picked up another series to ease the transition out of the Potter world.
“I’m definitely going to read fiction books,” he said. “I’ve read some of the Artemis Fowl books. They’re not nearly as good as Harry Potter, but they’re pretty good.”
No matter what is following on Harry Potter’s heels, Rowling has left a legacy of children’s writing to which all fantasy newcomers will be compared.
“The Harry Potter books just have this magical combination of great writing and a fascinating plot and a wide appeal,” Graves said. “I don’t know how soon that will happen again.”