It’s weird how ideas grab you and won’t let go. I sat down to think about what to write about for this Wednesday’s post and two seconds after my butt hit the couch cushion: Harry Potter. Then I thought that was quite absurd. But the idea held fast and wouldn’t leave me. Why should it, anyway? It has the right to stay, the duty to pester, the responsibility to blossom into something tangible.
So I will write about Harry Potter.
I didn’t jump on the Harry Potter bandwagon as early as everyone else. I was still in grade school when the first was released in 1997 and didn’t read any of them until about 5 years later. My late arrival at the party was actually a positive, as I got to read the first four back to back to back (to back). I can’t really remember how hooked I was at the time, but I must have been, considering how fast I went through them.
Whatever the case was back then, I’m hooked now. The summer of 2007 I read the 7th book in about two days. My friend, who never reads….anything….at all, finished it about a day after me. Harry Potter, Hogwarts, and the world of wizardry had become a phenomenon.
Before I get into it, I must say that I do contribute some of it to luck, good timing, and a catchy name. If the first book was called Justin Key and The Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling would still be working towards her dream instead of living it. On the luck side, I feel like works as impressive as Harry Potter have been done before, but random factors tend to determine what catches on and what remains a diamond in the rough. As for timing, pop culture needs fads and has a short attention span. If Mr. Potter would have shown up a little earlier or later, he might have been lost amongst the crowd.
That all being said, give credit where credit is due. J.K. Rowling created a new, seamless world with Harry Potter. Much like J.R.R. Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings saga, she took the time to give her universe its own rules, vocabulary, and history. There’s Hogwarts and the wizarding world, both cultural wonders seeping with creativity. She created her own sport with Quidditch, making sure to form something unique and fitting to her world rather than just any new element that could fill in the space. For non-muggles, learning, adolescence, love, social hierarchy, etc, etc–they were all different, unique to how magic changes the environment. Even the prisons weren’t your standard lock-ups. She took our world and turned it upside down, rebuilding all the things we take for granted and made us rediscover them.
I guess what I’m getting at is the scope of what she did. There are really some great displays of the good ‘ole imagination in her seven novels. And the writing isn’t too bad, either. She created characters with recognizable traits, ones that we could ultimately relate to and fall in love with. The reading is easy enough for young people to handle well, but still clever and witty to keep older generations along for the ride.
As writers, it’s important to recognize largely successful works, not because you should strive to meet the same type of success, but because you can learn to recognize what elements are deemed valuable by a general audience. I’m not saying it’s important to go mainstream, but if the ability to tell a good story is an acquired skill, the ability to appreciate one is innate, so millions of people can’t be wrong. At the core of every story, creativity and magic (yes, I said magic) should reign supreme. Even if you’re not creating a new world, you can include wonders that will stick with your readers as valuable experiences. This could be in the form of emotional voyages or new comedic territory. Or even unconventional ways to create suspense. You’re the boss of whatever world you create, so have fun with it.