Harry Potter's patrimony

Harry Potter's patrimony

July 18th, 2011 in Opinion Times

Historians, who take the long view, probably aren't ready yet to agree that the Harry Potter franchise - books and movies and everything that has evolved from them - is a cultural phenomenon that will stand the test of time. Most everyone else, it seems, is ready to agree that J.K. Rowling's creation is one for the ages.

The opening of the final "Harry Potter" film, "The Deadly Hallows, Part 2" on Friday gives credence to that view. Fans of all ages here packed movie houses for the midnight premiere. Heavy demand for tickets continued all of Friday, and exhibitors clearly expect it to continue. More than 50 showings a day are scheduled during the weekend.

A popular movie rarely is a history-maker. If films - or books - become classics, it is because they have staying power. Potter has that.

Names, words and phrases from them are becoming part of the linguistic and cultural landscape, and the books sell steadily. The real legacy of Rowling's creations, though, is best calculated by criteria other than sales. It should be measured by the hold the books - the foundation of the franchise - has on young readers.

The Potter books have fueled an explosion of interest in reading for pre-teens and teens. Millions of kids were hooked by the first book and have read every title since. That's especially true for boys, who are notoriously difficult to engage in regular reading. The Potter books, most agree, have helped to improve habits in that demographic group.

The useful relationship between Potter movies and books remains strong, too. A spokesman at the Barnes & Noble bookstore at Hamilton Place said Friday that the excitement about the new movie had prompted increased interest in Rowling's works. "We have a special table with Harry Potter items. We've definitely been replenishing it."

The Potter legacy does not come without some controversy. Rowling's novels do have some detractors. They argue that the books (and presumably the films) are unsuitable for youngsters because they glorify witchcraft. In a few instances, complaints have prompted removal of Potter books from public libraries or schools. That's a shame.

Most adults who have read the books know those who call for bans are wrong. The books spur imagination, not belief in witchcraft. Besides, parents, not schools and libraries, should determine what kids read. If a parent thinks the Potter books are dangerous, let him or her withhold it from their child. Other parents should be allowed to make the choice for their kids.

Most parents approve of the Potter books and the joy of reading they can instill in youngsters. A survey a few years ago showed that about a fourth of all people 12 and older in the country had read at least one Rowling book.

Harry Potter helped create a generation of eager readers. Weekend movie attendance and renewed interest in the novels suggest that Potter power endures - and that the cohort of readers now coming of age also will succumb to the Rowling-Potter magic and the love of reading it inspires.