In 2000, literary critic Harold Bloom published the article “Can 35 million book buyers be wrong? Yes” in The Wall Street Journal. This article described J. K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, as being filled with clichés and altogether unworthy of the attention it was receiving. “Why read,” Bloom asks, “if not to enrich mind or spirit or personality?”
The high praise that the Harry Potter series has received in the past decade for getting children (and adults) to read is dismissed by Bloom as a reinforcement of mediocre writing. “Can more than 35 million book buyers, and their offspring, be wrong? Yes, they have been, and will continue to be for as long as they persevere with Potter,” he says.
But persevere we have! I have to wonder what Bloom would say now, in 2007, when Potter has become an even formidable opponent to his critics. I myself resisted reading the series for nine years, dismissing it as “just for kids” until the summer of 2006, when I finally broke down, got hooked from the first page of the first book, and read the existing six books in just two months.
Like millions of other fans, I had my copy of book seven, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, reserved months in advance of its July 21, 2007 release date (amazon.com sent theirs out in boxes adorned with owls and other Potter-related illustrations).
One woman of my acquaintance lined up around the block to pick up her reserved copy at a local bookstore, then rushed home and read the entire 759-page book in one night.
Even more amazing is the fact that this kind of frenzied reading is commonplace -- indeed, Potter’s fans’ dedication appears to be unmatched in the literary world.
So what is it that Rowling has done? What’s her secret? Considering that Rowling is the world’s first billionaire author, this question has cropped up quite a bit, but it’s not only the “recipe for financial success” that most of the devoted fans crave, but a way of understanding just why this series appeals to so many people, young and old -- to discover the secret so that we can put a name to the phenomenon we are celebrating.
I remember loving books about magic, about strange schools, about loyalty amongst friends, etc., when I was growing up (and indeed today), but there’s something about the Harry Potter series that continues to spark fascination and goes an extra step towards enthralling the masses. One could hypothesize all day about possibilities, but in the end I personally just end up feeling thankful that Rowling has created something that has given me so much reading enjoyment.
A life-long avid reader of all kinds of books and a graduate student in English, I truly cannot remember the last time I devoured a book like I did the most recent Potter episode, nor can I say of any other group of books this large (about 4,000 pages make up the series) that I will probably read every word again. . .and again.
So, if you can no longer contain your curiosity as to just what all the fuss is about and decide to sample the stories, I envy you your impending first reading of the Harry Potter books. In the seventh and final installment of the series, Rowling dedicates her work to her various loved ones, and to “You, if you have stuck with Harry until the very end.” Try to “stick with Harry,” to “persevere with Potter,” and you might be surprised to find yourself waving pens around shouting spells or shamelessly and anxiously awaiting your own owl-adorned package in the mail -- promising the final installment in a series that is not so much about reminding you of what it is to be a child, as what it is to indulge your imagination.
If that doesn’t “enrich mind or spirit or personality,” I don’t know what does.
By Blaire Zeiders