It’s been 15 years since the “Harry Potter” series was released in the United States, casting its spell on readers of all ages.
Sept. 1 marks the big anniversary for “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” and the series remains as popular as ever. Bookstores have sold more than 160 million copies of the “Harry Potter” series in the U.S. and nearly 500 million copies worldwide. The series has been translated into more than 70 languages, was adapted into eight blockbuster films and has even inspired a theme park, making author J.K. Rowling a household name.
John Cech, director of the Center for Children’s Literature and Culture at the University of Florida, said the story of an unlikely hero’s triumph over evil appeals to young people across country lines, contributing to its massive popularity.
“One of the primary fantasies of young people is that they were really born with special talents,” Cech said. “They had these gifts that nobody really knew about. And of course that’s true for Harry. He doesn’t have a clue who is parents were. And to a large extent, that’s how we all feel.”
Every time a new book was released, fans everywhere flooded bookstores clamoring for a copy. Book Gallery West owner Jan Fronk remembers the frenzy during the 2007 release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the seventh and final installment of the series.
The novel sold 15 million copies in the first 24 hours of release worldwide, making it one of the fastest-selling books in history.
“Just a lot of book sales very quickly,” Fronk said. “A lot of people pre-ordered the books so they would be guaranteed a copy on day one. A lot of people came in, picked up their book, took it home, read it all night and came back and said, ‘I’m done with the book. I’ve spent the last 12 hours reading it.’”
One of those all-night readers was bookseller and self-described super fan Casey Robbins. Robbins has five series-inspired costumes, which she wears to conventions. She donates to the local Quidditch team and is well versed in all things “Potter.”
“I mean, I have the Sorting Hat song memorized,” Robbins said. “Like, I’m one of
those. I can quote chapter one of the book. Do you want it in British English or
Robbins’ favorite book in the series is the sixth one, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” It’s the book that holds the signatures she’s collected from most of the stars of the film adaptations.
“Most of them,” Robbins said. “The real jewel in the crown would be meeting J.K.
Rowling, but she’s quite elusive.”
“Potter” isn’t just fandom and fantasy. Professor Dror Abend-David teaches “Harry Potter and the Holocaust” at the University of Florida. The Hebrew and Yiddish professor says the series can be read for more than its literal plot, and his class explores the deeper themes within the text.
“Everything magical in ‘Harry Potter’ is eventually psychological,” Abend-David said. “It’s all the magic that we experience every day, only put in a supernatural and gadgety and fun way.”
It’s been six years since “Deathly Hallows” was published, and two years since the final film was released. But it looks like Harry and friends are here to stay. The Alachua County Library District alone holds 1,400 “Harry Potter” items, including printed, audio and eBooks. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was checked out 224 times in the past year, and that rate is just as high for the rest of the books in the series. Erin Tippin, Senior Library Manager for Youth Services, said the books are requested at least once a week and that the series has boosted literacy by helping kids discover they love reading.
“Once kids got hooked into the series, they obviously read book one through seven, and then they found out that they did enjoy reading. There are some kids who came into the series not avid readers and they left the series discovering that they like to read and would try other things, too.”
The success of Harry Potter has triggered a wave of new, young adult fantasy novels like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” series. Fifteen years later, fans and experts agree the impact of “Harry Potter” on children’s literature and publishing has yet to be matched. It seems the magical tale of “the boy who lived” will leave its readers spellbound for years to come.