30th Jul 2010
Bookish Birthdays: Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling
Tomorrow sees the birthday of two famous members of the literary world: author J.K. Rowling, and her famous creation, Harry Potter. Rowling couldn’t have chosen a more perfect birthday for her hero. Falling in the summer holidays, just a short while before the start of the new academic term, she started each novel with the effects summer had on her ill-suffering protagonist (at the hands of the beastly Dursley family), before whisking him off by train or flying car to the mesmerising world of Hogwarts.
When re-reading childhood favourite The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy recently, I was struck by the similarities between Hogwarts and Miss Cackle’s Academy for Young Girls. Whether or not Rowling was inspired by Murphy, there is no doubt that children have always loved stories of witchcraft, wizardry and magic, and will continue to do so. There is something alluring about a school that teaches such an enchanting and mysterious syllabus. One only needs to look in the children’s section of any bookshop or library to see that children pour over stories of clumsy protagonists, spells-gone-wrong, and any school where the children might have more power than the intimidating teachers.
Murphy’s books are superb, and illustrated to perfection, but she writes for a younger audience. J.K. Rowling goes further, taking us through a case study of adolescence in a deeper way, controversially unafraid to bring death, loss and love out of her toolbox.
Having queued for two hours after midnight on the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I was struck by the diversity of Potter devotees. In that bookshop, I observed children up past their bedtime, students in groups doing Harry quizzes and grown men dressed as Lord Voldermort, as well as professionals and pensioners, all unable to wait a moment longer than they had to for the final instalment.
Has anything taken the place in our hearts since Harry fought his final battle? Some might argue that Twilight fever has taken over the supernatural genre. Though it attracts a more specific audience – predominantly women with a penchant for romantic heroes – the Twilight saga has continued as the crossover book for teenagers and adults, outselling everything else on the shelves. Like Harry, Twilight’s Bella Swan is thrown into a world of otherness, with antagonists, excitement and danger. I have witnessed women in offices devoting whole work hours to arguing the debate between vampires and werewolves, and noticed a secondary school teacher’s car with a sign inside saying “Mrs Edward Cullen drives this car.” The crossover book continues to dominate the market.
There’s no arguing the influence that J.K. Rowling has had on literature and the media. For the past few years, it was hard to walk into a supermarket, a toyshop or a newsagent without seeing something Potter-related on your visit. Children who might not otherwise have bothered reading for pleasure made an effort to follow the adventures of the boy wizard. Adults could be glimpsed on trains and park benches with a copy of Harry’s adventure – the shyer ones opting for the special adult cover. J.K. Rowling’s writing reached many, from all walks of life, and will continue to do so.
So, many happy returns to JKR and Harry for tomorrow. If the saga hadn’t ended, we might be looking forward to a flying birthday cake or a visit from a strange creature prophesying the future. Perhaps we should all reach for a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and start celebrating all over again. Just be ready to devote another chunk of your life to the series, because once you start, you really won’t be able to stop.
A box set of all the books will set you back £68.40, from Amazon.
Post by Rachael Brook
Harry Potter birthday cake from Superhero Parties