It’s hard to think of many media franchises as culturally significant as Harry Potter. This year the first book turns 20, and while it’s been two decades since we were first introduced to the boy in the cupboard under the stairs, Harry Potter’s impact on society and pop culture just keeps growing, with no apparent ceiling in sight.
There’s no way to put a finger on what makes something so out-of-the-world successful as Harry Potter. There are numerous factors, such as the fact that it appeals to all demographics, or the fact that the books (and movies) grew up with the reader, or the fact the books tangentially touch on social issues and teach invaluable lessons.
The books are particularly special for their ability to relate to any reader. It’s quite easy for anyone to find themselves in characters like Hermione, Ron, or any of the other kids in the book who don’t quite fit in. What makes Harry Potter different, and thereby more successful, is that there isn’t a higher clique the kids are vying to get into. Everyone at Hogwarts doesn’t quite fit in, thereby no one is the “cool kid” that you see in many young adult books. Every student in Hogwarts is still trying to find him or herself (like most of us)—struggling to understand and come to terms with their newly discovered abilities.
Additionally, there have been many studies that suggest the books have had an impressive, positive impact on children. According to the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, the greatest magic of Harry Potter is that the series reduces negative attitudes and prejudices towards different groups, especially among younger readers. While the books separate students into houses and creatures into different species, what it really endorses is family, and finding friends who care for you, despite their physical or social differences. Throughout the seven books, many inter-house and inter-species friendships and relationships are made. After all, the main story arc concerns Harry’s fight against Lord Voldemort, who believes in a social structure in which “pure-blood” wizards are the ruling class.
However, probably the biggest reason Harry Potter has become such a gigantic cultural phenomenon is the magic of the series has transcended generational gaps, becoming a favorite both in the classroom and at home. Parents—many of who grew up with the books—have become just as interested in the books as their children. Many families and friends see Harry Potter-themed events as a chance to spend time together, by attending conventions or book gatherings, watching the movies, or going to the theme parks. This has helped the book to not only live on in the classroom but in social circles as well, making it a relevant topic in everyday conversation and modern pop culture.
For now, Harry’s standing in pop culture remains strong and will only get stronger in the foreseeable future, with five more movies in the works and three new books set to be released soon. Undoubtedly, Harry Potter is here to stay for the long run, and no one is complaining.
By Molly Tracy