Schoolchildren all over the world have grown up alongside Harry Potter and co. Bidisha discusses how JK Rowling’s immaculate fantasy world has supplied a surrogate family to a generation. Here’s a little:
Harry Potter. Orphan, abused child, myopic magus, messiah. Since 1997, across seven novels, billions of readers of all ages and races and both sexes, all over the world, have stayed up by wand-light (remember the incantation? Lumos!) to read about the legendary wiz.
Clearly something is going on that cuts deeper than simple story excitement, fan fidelity and a romping adventure. This kind of phenomenon, in which a story becomes a permanent myth before our very eyes, comes along not once a generation, but once an epoch. When I saw the first Potter film, the audience was full of kids the same age as Harry, Ron and Hermione. The young viewers, the child actors and the fictional Gryffindor trio have grown up at the same time. In a genius of casting, chemistry, production speed, longevity and contract negotiation, nearly all the major character cast has stayed the same, bolstering the feeling that Harry’s magical family is an extension of our own, and that its world is continuing in real time as we go about our business here.
Potter is at once the ultimate wish fulfilment and the ultimate nightmare. There is the dark magical world that recognises children’s experience of cruelty, injustice and violence, their long psychological fallout and the victims’ desire to transcend. Or, if not to transcend, then to gain allies in the form of a powerful surrogate family, and then to revenge themselves. To those who have grown up with the films, Ron is the ultimate laidback best friend, the Great Hall feasts are the ultimate comfort food, Hogwarts is the ultimate playground. And that surrogacy is echoed in the stories themselves: the school is the home Harry never had; the Weasleys are the parents he never had; Ron and Hermione are the siblings he never had; Voldemort’s desire to kill him gives him something to do because before (like so many Potter fans are, surely), he was frustrated in suburbia.
Read the rest here.