The Harry Potter Phenomenon

Order of the Phoenix is the fifth book in the Harry Potter series, the escape into the world of witches and wizards through the eyes of Harry, the lovable, only slightly mischievous wizard whose parents were murdered by the evil Voldemort when Harry was just an infant and whose soul, during the murder, somehow connected with the evil one himself. The series documented Harry’s progress from his first year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, when he first found out about his roots, through each year of school, and deep­er into his battle with Voldemort.

The anticipation of the fifth book was an international phenome­non. The previous four books had sold nearly 200 million copies in more than 50 languages. Nearly 10 million copies of Order were preprinted, and more than 6 million of those sold the first day of its release. It was the fastest-selling book ever. Susan was one of those 6 million customers. Stacy had begged her to take her to the Barnes & Noble party and prepurchase the book “in case they run out.” Susan had also been looking forward to the release of the new book and had wondered how long it would take her daughter to read it before Susan got to read it.

Although targeted to ages 9 to 12, the book reached younger and much older readers. Everyone could partake in the Harry Potter phenomenon. You didn’t have to be one of those who loved “fantasy” literature. Harry was, really, an ordinary boy. Everyone could sympa­thize with Harry’s childhood as an orphan raised without love by his aunt and uncle and bullied by his spoiled cousin. it is that seemingly ordinary front to Harry that allows us all to accept without question the extraordinary part of his being a wizard. Once we accept that he is a wizard, we can partake of and enjoy all that the world of witches and wizards has to offer—Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans (be care­ful which one you try), Quidditch (a game played on brooms), giants, werewolves, dragons, screaming plants, the feasts at Hogwarts with the ghost Nearly Headless Nick, potions that really work, and the evil spirit of Voldemort. Everyone, too, wants to visit Hogsmeade and indulge in a hot butter beer! Author J. K. Rowling has designed an entire realm by integrating new experiences that readers desire with the best of what readers remember and long for in historical context, such as Victorian England and quaint villages.

One of the most interesting parts of Rowling’s world is Quidditch. It is a complete game that combines elements of competitive field games such as lacrosse, cricket, hockey, and roller ball with athletes playing in the air on broomsticks. What a great innovation to take a symbol, the witch’s broom that is associated with scary women in black, and turn it into a vehicle for a game that children play. The Wizard of Oz had immortalized the flying witch when the spinster schoolteacher on her bicycle turns into the Wicked Witch of the East during the cyclone. Rowling redefined witches on brooms as inviting playmates.

Her books have inspired girls and boys to read—not just short stories, but huge volumes—and they cannot get enough. How many parents like susan do you know who were forced to stand in line to make sure they could get the first available copies of the latest install­ment? Just when kids’ primary interests appeared to be digital enter­tainment and the Internet, Harry Potter turned them back to the printed word. There has not been a dedication of this magnitude in children reading for entertainment since dime novels about cowboys and the Wild West hit bookstores in the United States and Europe around the turn of the last century.