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The final installment in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is due out this fall. Based on the latest rumors, it appears as though the world may not have to wait as long as previously thought to find out what happens to our favorite Boy Wizard.
While we wait for the final verdict, we can take a look back at the series through the prism of Hollywood celebrity and examine the changing roles of young men and women in contemporary American culture.
A Change In Attitudes
To begin with, let’s consider the Harry Potter series as a whole. Pottermore, the online companion to the last book in the series, was just this year announced. The site will feature original writings from J.K. Rowling as well as new stories that expand upon the world of Harry Potter. It also features the sort of information we’ve come to expect from the Harry Potter series: Professor Dumbledore’s death, the revelation of Voldemort’s true identity, and so on.
What’s interesting is the site was only made possible because the Harry Potter series grew in popularity over the years. As Pottermore’s Executive Director, Susan Cohen, told the New York Times, “Our fans have grown up with Harry Potter and now that they’re adults, they want to know more about J.K. Rowling’s world.”
The series not only changed the way we look at young adult literature, it also caused a shift in the publishing industry. In the past, YA literature was seen as a niche market aimed at teenage girls, who made up a significant portion of the audience for these books. Now that the stigma surrounding YA has largely died, publishers are looking to establish themselves in this area, which has led to a boom in the number of YA books being released each year.
Though the Harry Potter series is perhaps most well-known for its central character, his creator, J.K. Rowling, has said that she never intended him to be just a gimmick to sell books. In an interview with NPR, she said:
“I feel that people have gotten so absorbed in Harry Potter and haven’t been paying enough attention to the themes underneath it all. The themes are there, they’re just buried under all that magic.”
When it comes to young adult literature and its dominant male protagonist, there seems to be a tendency for people to either root for him or hate him. The series has been covered by everyone from The New York Times to The Washington Post. Even the late Christopher Hitchens, in his review of the first book, said:
“The boy wizard is such an amazing creation that one is tempted to believe in magic again.”
Indeed, even those who didn’t like the book ended up feeling sympathetic to Harry Potter. Hitchens himself went on to describe the character as “pure, sweet, and innocent as a summer day.”
The Rise Of The Boy Genius
One of the things that makes the Harry Potter series so fascinating is that it reflects the social change that occurred in the decades following World War II. It was a time when young people were encouraged to pursue independent study and work-study, and with the advent of the Women’s Rights Movement, many more young women started to enter the workforce. This led to a change in the way children were raised, with more of them becoming independent and self-sufficient, while their parents worked longer hours to make ends meet.
Rowling has also said that she modeled some of her writing on this independent spirit, particularly the female protagonists of her famous series. In an interview with Time magazine, she said:
“I can say from my own experience that it was fantastic when the women’s movement began in the ’60s, because it enabled women to have more career choices than before. My daughter is now at the stage where she’s entering the workforce. She’s 25 and she’s doing really well. She’s just completed her PhD and is about to embark on her career. So I think it’s just fabulous that she has choices that her mother and I didn’t have when we were her age.”
It wasn’t just about choices for young women. There was also an increase in the number of children who were allowed to express their emotions, challenge the status quo, and question authority. For some, this may have been a reaction to the more traditional family structures that were prevalent at the time.
This social change may also be why many of the Harry Potter books have such a happy ending. At a time when few other books for young people would dare to hope, the Boy Wizard was able to realize his dreams and help others in the process.
‘I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar’: For Those Who Follow Harry Potter, The Rise Of A Modern-Day Warrior Princess
Perhaps the biggest surprise of Pottermore’s announcement is that the site contains some pretty shocking revelations about Harry’s parents. Specifically, J.K. Rowling revealed that Harry’s dad, James, was a Death Eater and that his mother, Lily, was a member of the Order of the Phoenix. As a result, Harry grew up believing that his parents were his greatest enemies.
Though the news will come as a shock to fans, it’s not exactly a secret that the father of the Boy Wizard was, in fact, an anti-Semitic, white supremacist Death Eater. While on the run from the Wizengamot, the wizards’ council, Voldemort cast a Patronus to protect Harry and his mother from harm. It is this same Patronus that James Potter cast, intending to kill Harry and Lily.
Voldemort then took pity on the couple and allowed them to live, marking the moment when Harry truly became his own man. It is this sacrifice that makes James one of the series’ most revered characters.
Since then, Rowling has said that she considers her Harry Potter novels to be her ultimate feminist manifesto. In an interview with The Guardian last year, she said:
“I think there’s also something really powerful about seeing women standing up for themselves and not being victims, being strong and thinking for themselves. And I love the fact that Harry’s a guy’s guy and he likes to have fun but he also has a bit of a feminist side to him.”
Even before its release, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was already regarded as a major motion picture event. In fact, it’s predicted to be the most expensive film of all time, with production budgets rumored to be around $500 million. With Warner Bros. footing the bill, it would be a safe bet to assume that they’re not willing to spend that money just to make a quick profit.
Though many still question whether or not Rowling’s books are for adults or children, one thing is for sure: with a story as complex and intriguing as the Harry Potter series, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a feature film adaptation any time soon.