Harry Potter: Guardian's Icon of the DecadeBooks
As 2009 comes to a close, newspapers continue to take stock of the decade, compiling lists which look back the past ten years. Tonight, the Guardian has such a list, naming the Harry Potter series as one of their "Icons of the Decade." In this profile, the newspaper goes through the history of the series, noting its impact on the world of publishing, presence in Hollywood, and influence in literature. Calling Harry Potter "the first new global superhero of the 21st century," the Guardian highlights the decision of author J. K. Rowling to have her characters age throughout the series. It goes further, mentioning the universal popularity of the books among different age groups. Quoteage:
Admittedly, this concession to nature also caused problems. Readers who joined the hero with The Philosopher's Stone were probably close to the school year he was in. But, by the time Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published in 2007, the core audience for the series stretched from 8 to 21, with original readers now joined by primary schoolers who had caught up late with the early books and films. But because Rowling intentionally deepened and darkened the sequence as the cast met adult appetites, the later stories were not suitable for the boy wizard's youngest new fans, leading to tears at bedtime.The article goes on to take stock of the ways in which the series lead change throughout the decade, particularly changes in the publishing industry. The paper continues, 'Harry Potter was able to rewrite so many rules of publishing: leading the New York Times to introduce a separate children's bestseller list and bookshops to open at midnight on publication day, selling 11m copies of the final volume within 24 hours in Britain and the US.'
Rowling's decision to let her characters grow up is one of the most fascinating aspects of the project. The movies followed this model by having the major characters played by the same actors across what will be eight films by 2011 (the last is a two-parter), the changes in their voices and bodies regarded not as continuity errors but dramatic realism.
The recommended age-range of the stories also introduced another controversy. Until the 21st century, a fully educated adult seen reading juvenile literature on public transport would expect to receive pitying stares and possibly even a visit from social services.
However, Harry Potter was responsible for the common sight of people between their 20s and 70s sitting on trains or lying on beaches gripped by fiction that they would previously have bought only as gifts for children or grandchildren. To reduce the stigma, Rowling's publishers introduced the practice – later extended to Philip Pullman as well – of the novels being produced in two different jackets: kiddie-garish, wrinkly-pastel. My personal view is that older readers should pick on something their own size, but this vivid evidence of the universality of Rowling's appeal is a major reason that she and Harry Potter will stand as one of the most remarkable phenomena in the history of popular fiction.