Is Harry Potter Still Relevant?

by Richard Davies

The eighth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, comes nine years after the publication of the seventh installment in this famous series and 20 years after JK Rowling released her first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. After all these years of Hogwarts and wizardry, is Harry Potter still relevant to today's readers? Let's examine the evidence.

Harry Potter is still relevant - the evidence:

1. The books are still being read. When I attend our town's annual used book sale, the Harry Potter books are sold out within the first 10 minutes of this two-day event. Even the most off the beaten track bookshops this side of Flourish and Blotts still offer the Harry Potter series. The publishers issued illustrated editions (colouring books too) in 2015, which was no small investment. Demand continues to exist.

2. The characters still resonant with children, particularly Hermione. The best example is Halloween where Harry and Hermione costumes are commonplace, and I often open the front door to be greeted by eight-year-olds wielding wands. I even attended a Harry Potter-themed debate contest this year where everyone was in costume. The continued fascination regarding Hermione's role in the series has been interesting - wasn't she the brains in this outfit from the start? Sure Harry was brave but Hermione's character became smarter and more resourceful as the story went along. Harry pretty much remained Harry (except he became a moody teenager). Her strength and determination, particularly in The Deathly Hallows, continues to inspire girls around the world. Our fascination with Hermione has been intensified by Emma Watson's own personal development into a person of influence - she addressed the United Nations on gender inequality in 2014.

3. Fans hang onto every word publically uttered by JK Rowling. Her tweets on Brexit, Donald Trump and Scottish independence made headlines around the world. If Rowling tweeted her shopping list, then it would be front page news. She's the woman who turned the book world on its head and had children lining up outside bookstores at midnight. Frankly, she remains one of the most influential people.

4. The Harry Potter movies live on (and we'll be first in line for tickets to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). They stand up pretty well although Harry, Ron and Hermione all seem so small in that first one. We might not have time for another read of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix but we just might watch the movie again.

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Harry Potter is no longer relevant - the evidence:

1. The Harry Potter generation of readers circa 1996-2007 grew up. Right now they have bigger fish to fry such as bringing up a family, paying the mortgage, finding work, and dealing with a world that seems to be tearing itself apart at times. These serious matters have been quite challenging for the so-called Millennials. Reading another Harry Potter book isn't on their agenda.

2. At the time, the Harry Potter storylines were perceived as becoming darker and darker as the series progressed. But in reality, Harry's adventures are soft stuff compared to what children have read since 2007. Dystopian fiction is everywhere. The Hunger Games sees children killing children. The Maze Runner series is also all about survival. The Divergent trilogy is set in post-apocalyptic Chicago - not a boarding school in northern England.

3. JK Rowling moved on. She wrote a dark comedy called The Casual Vacancy about English provincial politics - local elections isn't a subject close to the hearts of most Harry Potter fans. And then she shifted into crime writing with The Cuckoo's Calling writing as Robert Galbraith. These actions showed that even this incredibly talented storyteller has to move on sometime. Arguably, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a step too far - flog this thestral no more.

4. Children are now almost entirely driven by technology. They may be too busy Snapchatting, Instagramming and playing Pokemon Go to give an owl's hoot about the latest installment of Harry Potter. However, Rowling has done a good job of staying relevant by creating a digital space for Potter fans through Pottermore.

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