If you read the title of this post and think, as many have asserted about me in the past, that I’m all jealous of Ms. Rowling and her success, well, you’re, obviously, correct. However, that’s not what this is about, and I truthfully have no ill thoughts about Ms. Rowling as she’s created an amazing media empire as well as a crazed and dedicated following…all on a few silly stories she wrote about witches and wizards.
Okay, that’s obviously over-simplifying it, but I’m not here to talk about J.K.. I’m here to talk about the fact that my daughter (and less interestingly, my son) was officially introduced to Harry Potter this past week. I mean, she did catch one of the movies at the drive in when she was an infant, but although she claims differently, I’m mostly confident she has no knowledge of the event.
This past weekend we decided to see how she’d react to the first film. In three words, she dug it. Shrieking and cheering throughout the film like I’ve seen only on the rarest occasions in other films (such as the Rancor scene in Return of the Jedi), she got instantly pulled into the movie. She was ready for anything and everything, and, although she was aware that there were 7 more movies after this one, was also certain that Harry would die at any given second.
Sure, she got a little overly concerned/scared on a number of occasions, meaning she needed to be cuddled and whatnot, but she loved the movie.
Which meant, of course, that she was ready to read the book for bedtime the following night (she would have done it that night, but I had already let her stay up way past her bedtime to finish the movie, etc).
I don’t think she’s ready for the book yet…Although she had just watched the movie and got deeply into it, whenever a new character was introduced, with the lengthy description of what they looked like, which, of course, matched the film depiction to a T, I would ask her who it was…she would just answer with, Harry Potter!
She’s smart…but I think that many words before bedtime might have just broken her brain a bit. We’re still working on it, but, yeah.
However, whilst going through this process of re-watching, re-reading the first story, something I haven’t done ever (meaning, I’ve only read and watched them once), I couldn’t help but think of how insane of a spectacle this whole thing really is. I mean, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone was no deep thinking book. It was fun and introduced us to a clever new world, but it was, for all intents and purposes, a kid’s book, as it was intended to be. However, I remember when I first picked up the book, based mainly on the fact that it pissed off most of the Christians at the time because they hadn’t read it yet, and finding myself instantly transported as well.
The end of the book was silly, I didn’t come out of it thinking that it was the most amazing thing ever written. But I still wanted more.
And that seems to happen to so many people with these books. My kids, who are quite young, want more, ready to watch the next movie already, even considering how silly the Chris Columbus flicks are. And then I read about folks nearly my age who re-read the entire series yearly. I remember when I was at Disney World on my honeymoon, when Deathly Hollows (the last book) came out, I saw people everywhere, inside these parks that cost a fair amount of money to get into, reading the book, people who had up to twenty years on me.
This is a phenomenon that appeals to all ages, and apparently, hasn’t stopped. This isn’t the only such phenomenon, obviously. Star Wars is another such item that I can think of. The current movement with superheroes is another that seems to cross age lines. Pixar movies in general also have the same appeal, but not nearly the same following.
But why? I mean, when you read the first book and really tear it apart for what it is, the plot is really rather lazy. The methods in which things are resolved are also, again, rather lazy. Rowling developed greatly as a writer throughout the course of those 7 books and I believe that Deathly Hollows is some amazing writing, but that first book, it didn’t work hard at complicated resolutions because its intended audience didn’t require it.
But the unintended audience still loved it.
As an author, I like to dissect the successes of others. Not so much as to attempt to emulate their work, but to try and determine what actually caused them to be so successful. To try and figure out what actually makes their work so appealing to the masses that it doesn’t matter the gender, age, or learning.
Here’s my take. Obviously, relate-able characters are important. Placing a character in the protagonists spot that the reader can become one with is a great way to get the reader/watcher to fully integrate with the story. It’s an important starting point in a lot of ways, but I also don’t think it’s what truly causes things to mesh with a reader/watcher. I mean, look at characters like Luke Skywalker or Bella Whatsherface (from Twilight). Those two are some of the blandest protagonists ever, yet they don’t take away from the appeal of the movies. Honestly, Harry himself is a rather bland character in the first book, relying on Hermione to do most of the heavy lifting and not really applying himself until the very end (in which, actually, the mirror does most of the work as well).
I’ve come to the decision that it’s all in the world building. When A New Hope starts showing you all these crazy creations from Jim Henson’s Workshop, combined with this deep history of bounty hunters and moisture farms and blue milk, and, of course, the mysterious Jedi Order, well, you get pulled in, wanting to know more about how this world works.
I remember when I read Sorcerer’s Stone (sorry rest of the world, but that’s the one I read, there wasn’t a Philosopher in sight), it was the first chapter that hooked me, the chapter before we even actually knew anything about Harry. I wanted to know about these weirdos in robes and people who could turn from cats to people and what these weird words like Muggles meant. The first chapter crafted a magical image of a new world that hid beside ours..and they had something to celebrate that I just needed to understand.
I believe that the success of Harry Potter lies right in that first chapter. I know I personally wouldn’t have read any further than that if it hadn’t pulled me in (as it was sitting on the back of a toilet at my parent’s house and I decided to give it a try).
Unfortunately, I’m pretty bad at first chapters….
Anyways, this is just my long-winded way of saying that my world is quickly being inundated with Harry Potter once again. I’m not entirely unhappy about it, but I have the feeling that my daughter will quickly become overly obsessed…and my robe budget is pretty thin.
Have fun out there!