The “Harry Potter” series might be over, but the adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermione will be a staple on children's and academics' bookshelves alike for years to come, said professor Susan Napier of Tufts University and former Japanese literature and culture professor at UT.
Napier spoke to an eager group of “Harry Potter” fans and academics on Friday at the Harry Ransom Center about the “Harry Potter” books' place in the tradition of British fantasy, its explosive fandom and the cultural implications of the series.
“'Harry Potter' is a phenomenon. It has changed the way people are looking at reading,” Napier said. “The books have been translated into 70 languages, 450 million copies have been sold and the movies grossed $6.4 billion.”
Yet the “Harry Potter” series is not the first of its kind, as there has been a long precedent for many of the themes presented in “Harry Potter”, Napier said.
“Themes in Harry Potter are consistent with British fantasy tradition,” Napier said. “Look at “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Caroll, which features Alice, a regular child, polite, decent and not brilliant but very believable as the young heroine in a foreign and amazing world.”
In the 20th century, C.S. Lewis's “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, similarly featured a group of innocent children entering into the magical land of Narnia, Napier said.
“J.K. Rowling was effectively using currents which have been seen before in British children's literature,” she said.
Like the British children's literature that preceded it, “Harry Potter” presented a strong contrast between reality and fantasy, allowing readers to escape through their own imagination.
“Fantasy is a way to process trauma and one's childhood fears, such as abandonment and death, that children have,” Napier said.
The “Harry Potter” series was a way for young readers to escape the normality of everyday life and peer into a world of magic, she said.
“'Harry Potter' shows the delightful idea that just around the corner is a magical world if you can just pass platform nine and three quarters,” Napier said. “We all like to believe a little bit of magic exists — it gives us liberation.”
Rhetoric and writing senior Katherine Bridgeman grew up reading the “Harry Potter” series.
“I think that 'Harry Potter' is a part of the classic genre of British fiction,” Bridgeman said, “This is our generation's version of 'The Lord of the Rings.'”
Psychology senior Aaron Lemke said he believes “Harry Potter” will remain an important part of society's culture.
“People will continue to want to dissect the story of 'Harry Potter' for years to come,” he said. “Kids will still be able to appreciate the story in the future.”
It will not only be the reruns on television or The Wizarding World of Harry Potter section in Universal Studios that keep the story alive for years to come.
“Just like my parents wanted me to read C.S. Lewis, I will want my kids to read 'Harry Potter,'” Lemke said. “When you present something that you care about, they will know and appreciate the meaning of the story.”