Harry Potter has become a cultural icon over the past two decades, and nowadays there is everything from Harry Potter bars and clothing lines through to wand shaped makeup brushes and theme parks dedicated to The Boy Who Lived.
What, I fear, is being lost among all this obsessive marketing, is the sheer simple joy the novels bought to children and the adults who paid for and read them on their behalf. I myself was only a small one when the books were becoming popular, and I used to love being read them so much I memorised whole chapters. There was always someone you could relate to, whether you liked reading, were forgetful or were scared and confused, or all of the above.
The focus on friendship was strong but not in your face, and Rowling has a way of writing novels which are both deeply relatable for young people and completely unpatronising. There was a nice message at the end of every novel, and, perhaps uniquely, the novels grew with their audience. As we reached our teens and started to crave more gore and grown up messages, Harry and his friends delved into ever more dangerous situations. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was the turning point for me; when I read that novel I found that these had ceased to be kid’s books and had morphed into real literature.
This was another great aspect of the series; its combination of wizardry, classical tropes and latin phraseology made the novels intellectually stimulating in a way that many children’s series can only aspire to be. Young readers were galvanised into voracious appetites thanks to the Harry Potter novels (I for one was driven to seek out ever more complex books to read or have read to me).
It was when the novels were made into films that people started to obsess; I was not a big fan fiction reader for many years, but now I can see that with the visual representation of the books fanaticism started to become mainstream, and Harry Potter is one of the few obsessions which is actually cool these days. The films became cult viewing and the merchandise that they spawned is now almost endless. You can buy literally anything Harry Potter related, from baked goods right through to condoms and toilet seats (for the utterly obsessed). However, I do feel that we are now missing the point. Many people who have never indulged in the sheer joy of receiving the latest novel for Christmas or a birthday and having to graciously sit around and small talk with the gift giver before sneaking off at the moment it is polite to do so to devour three chapters, racing through to find their favourite character, can never count themselves as a true fan and will never understand the childlike joy these books evoke without the merchandising and the product placement that followed in the wake of their success.
I am also dubious about the constant addition of new information provided via author J.K Rowling’s fan site, Pottermore, as well as various reissuing of the books which add new revelations. Recently we found out the Professor Sprout and Professor Flitwick had a fling, as well as the revaluation a few years ago that Dumbledore is supposedly gay. Whilst I do not entirely agree with Roland Barthes’s notion that the author is dead once their work has been published, and that their opinions and thoughts on the work are entirely irrelevant, I find this constant meddling in the world of Harry Potter to simply be a ploy to incite continued fascination, which will eventually impede on readers’ enjoyment. There is something to be said for simply reading or re-reading the novels and finding enjoyment and revisiting happy memories, and I do not think that corrupting them with pointless pieces of information which do nothing except slightly alter our perceptions of the novels is worthwhile.
Overall, now that the books are a cult phenomenon, there is something to be said for going back and just re-reading them. Ignore the Harry Potter bedspreads and the Golden Snitch fidget spinners; behind the bullshit there are some truly lovely messages to be found.