The Power of Pottermania

A scrawny little boy with messy hair and special powers—she stumbled upon this idea on a train ride back home. It took her 6 years to complete the first book, followed by a relentless search for a publisher. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone finally released on 26th June, 1997 with an initial print of 500 copies. Today, the book has sold 107 million copies. The entire series has sold a whopping 450 million copies, making it the best-selling series of all time! Moreover, it has been translated into over 73 languages worldwide, including Ancient Greek. Through her books, Rowling managed to create something very special. Something more than a series, more than a collection of favourite characters. She created a phenomenon. Pottermania.

The Harry Potter series did not just gather a regular fan-following; it garnered an exceptional, extraordinary fan-base—intense, frenzied, obsessive, and ardent. ‘Potterheads’, as they are called, occupy every part of the planet, sweeping societies around the world with this craze for over a decade. One has to be a Potterhead to understand the strong emotions the series evokes.

But what makes the series so popular? Why do we love it so? The book that started off as being primarily a children’s series grew and continues to grow beyond its target audience to appeal to individuals across the ages. Lisa Damour asserts that the Potter appeal lies in its ability to speak to the dynamic and unconscious conflicts children encounter as they begin their journey into adulthood. The fears and insecurities depicted, along with a strong bond of companionship, make the stories particularly significant for children and preadolescents. It is this reminiscence of preadolescence that hooks adults as well.

The true power of the series, though, lies in the books’ ability to channelize an entire generation into book-readers. A study by Yankelovich and Scholastic found that a little over half (51%) of Harry Potter readers aged 5-17 did not read for fun prior to the series. 89% of the parents believed that reading Harry Potter helped their children enjoy reading more, while 76% asserted that it actually helped their child’s school performance.

Given the rise of Pottermania early in the century, the American Psychiatric Association had one session dedicated to Harry Potter in its 2001 annual meeting. It focused on using the stories to establish rapport with young clients and to elicit their responses to situations. It was soon revealed that almost all attendees (adults) had read at least two books!

Consequently, employing Harry Potter as a therapeutic tool was explored. Noctor investigated the books from a psychoanalytical perspective and explained the appeal it may hold to young people with mental health difficulties.  Through Harry (a character that had endured immense suffering through the loss of his parents at infancy, an abusive childhood, and the countless battles that he had to face), he pointed out the importance of seeking help and recognising one’s thoughts and feelings rather than suppressing them. Laura Oldford studied the manner in which Harry Potter was a valuable tool in promoting acceptance and change for various illnesses, finding that fictional environments like Hogwarts could provide a creative and socially applicable context for therapeutic learning.

Studies have also investigated how Harry Potter may be making the world safer for children. Stephen Gwilym found that on Harry Potter book release weekends, the Emergency Room admission for individuals aged 7-15 went down by almost half, suggesting that this population possibly refrained from engaging in risky behaviour during this time. 

Importantly, though, the series had a direct influence on its fans. Attracting people from all age groups across the world, the series built around itself a loyal, passionate fan-base that continues to flourish, placing the series third in the most-read books in the world. Fans grew up with Harry, seeing the world from his perspective. And this coming-of-age experience influenced their perception of the reality they lived. In perhaps the most important study about the series, Loris Vezzali found that reading Harry Potter instilled a sense of empathy among its readers and helped them view stigmatised minority groups (refugees, homosexuals, and immigrants) with reduced prejudice. Sensitivity portrayed in the series towards Muggles and ‘mud-bloods’ played a vital role.

The wizarding world of Harry Potter, in fact, has had a more direct impact – Potterheads are emulating wizardry in reality. The famous drink of the wizarding world, Butter Beer, now has a real world recipe, and is served at Harry Potter theme parks and bars around the world. A new genre of music named Wrock (Wizard Rock) has evolved – celebrating the series through rock music. Harry Potter symposiums and conventions are frequently held and bring forth in-depth research papers. In fact, the University of Durham offers a complete course called ‘Harry Potter and the Age of Illusion’. But one of the most exciting aspects of this process has to be the International Quidditch World Cup. It is a formal series and the sport is played by over 300 teams from 20 countries!

Pottermania has been and will continue to be an influential force in many ways. It is a culture, a passion, an identity. And for all those seemingly ludicrous adults and passionate children, this phase will never end, because whether it is by the page or the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home. 

Chinmayee Kantak