On June 26th, 1997, the book publishing world was forever changed with the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The series restructured the industry for publishing children’s books, with the New York Times even creating a brand-new children’s bestsellers list because of the popularity of the series.
The popularity of Harry Potter impacted not only publishing, but the lives of readers. Much of the millennial generation grew up waiting for the next Harry Potter book, anticipating the next movie, discussing fan theories online, and writing fanfiction. An extensive online community was created for the series—a community transformed by the fictional world Rowling created.
The Science of Harry Potter
Many scientific studies have been conducted on the benefits of reading the Harry Potter series. The main conclusion: reading Harry Potter makes you a better person. Studies show that reading Harry Potter:
Harry Potter fans are also less likely to support Trump, drawing parallels between him and Voldemort; JK Rowling herself even said that Trump is worse that Voldemort. Given how intolerant Trump is of minority groups, this isn’t surprising, especially since Harry Potter is also shown to make readers more accepting of those that are different from them. Though the series itself is often criticized for its lack of diversity, Harry still befriends and fights for creatures and wizards oppressed by the rest of wizarding society, like Dobby and Professor Lupin.
In addition to tolerance, readers of the Harry Potter series are also more likely to be more sympathetic; throughout the series, Harry is shown to be kind to those that might not be considered his equals. For example, after Dobby’s death, Griphook the goblin is surprised that Harry would physically dig a grave for Dobby instead of using magic, because house elves are considered so much lower than wizards. These actions resonate with readers, making them want to be more like the characters they idolize in the books.
Hermione Granger, the brains behind all of Harry’s plans, is one of the most idolized characters from the book. A few years ago, fans even made a video, parodying Hermione Granger as the main character of the series. As Tanya Parker points out in her article, “Hermione, SPEW, & The Activism of the Potterverse,” Hermione often suffers abuse because of her blood status yet still actively fights for equality and justice in the wizarding world. It’s Hermione, not Harry, who constantly questions the prejudices that exist in their society, and it’s Hermione that attempts to do something about it, even if it isn’t quite the right way to go about it (like freeing all the House Elves without consulting what they want). Valuing Hermione for her intelligence and activism instead of her appearance makes her a strong role model for young women readers; it shows them that they can also make a difference and be valued for their intelligence, despite what society leads them to believe.
Given the way that reading Harry Potter makes you a better person, it’s no surprise that it inspires activism in its readers. The books have long been tied to activism; JK Rowling includes many metaphors about real-life activism, and the characters themselves are working against a tyrannical leader, Voldemort. The characters easily become a real-life inspiration for fans to be active in their own communities; there are even studies showing that the series has inspired the millennial generation to think more politically and become more active in politics, fighting their own real-world Voldemorts, like Vladimir Putin, Steve Bannon, and other oppressive world leaders.
Some fans were so inspired by the series that they created an organization to bring together other fans who wanted to make a change in the world: the Harry Potter Alliance. The Harry Potter Alliance was originally founded in 2005 by Andrew Slack to bring attention to human rights violations in Sudan. The organization quickly gained momentum, and now has chapters in countries all over the world.
Since their founding in 2005, the Harry Potter Alliance has achieved many things to decrease world suck:
- They engaged over 400,000 fans in convincing Warner Brothers to change their chocolate sourcing to Fair Trade Chocolate.
- They raised over $123,000 for Partners in Health and sent 5 cargo planes of supplies to Haiti after the catastrophic earthquake in 2010.
- They donated over 250,000 books to children need across the world as a part of their Accio Books Campaign.
Now, the HPA has expanded their organization to include other fandoms, like Pokemon, Marvel, and Avatar, to create campaigns to make the world a better place. Through the activism of the characters in the series, fans of all kinds have been inspired to make a difference in their own worlds, rather than just use the series as a means of escape.
Through the internet, fans are able to band together to make a difference now more than ever. In the series, Harry isn’t able to defeat Voldemort on his own; it is only with the help of his friends and mentors that he is able to defeat the Dark Lord. Harry, Hermione, and Ron show fans how they can be involved and make a difference in their own community through relying on one another and staying active. They might inspire things like:
- Creating awareness of the oppression of minority groups, like Hermione does with SPEW.
- Donate books to a charity, as reading creates awareness and empathy.
- Join a community and fight against oppression together, like Dumbledore’s Army.
The Importance of Harry Potter
There’s no denying that Harry Potter has made a profound impact on society, and reached a larger level of influence than any other book series for young readers to date. The activism seen in the series is coming to life as fans fear the oppression resulting from the current political climate. Harry Potter is inspiring fans to be the change they see in the series.