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What makes Harry Potter so compelling?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Sorrows, Jun 16, 2018.

  1. Sorrows

    Sorrows Death Eater ~ Prestige ~ DLP Gold Supporter

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    I was thinking of this the other day. What exactly about Harry Potter made it a global phenomenon? At its core it is not a particully novel concept. It uses many tropes we have seen many times before in children's books: child finds hidden magical world, child is the special one, child solves the mystary and saves the day etc etc. So what was it about the first few books of this series in particular that connected so strongly we are all still here a decade later?

    Personally I think there are a few parts of the first book in particular that made it so compelling and it starts with the Hogwarts letter. There are many 'child discovers hidden magical world' stories out there for obvious reasons, it's a fun daydream for anyone. But most of those stories have entrence to the magical world be exclusive to either only the protagonist or maybe a small group. In HP a letter can come to any child, you can imagine it happening to you (if you read it before 11 you definitely fantasised about it.) Much like any wardrobe might lead you to Narnia, anyone might get a letter and go to Hogwarts.

    Once at Hogwarts the books follow a very familiar format, at least for the first 3. It's a boarding school mystary story. These was a very popular genre in the UK for years because it involves minimum parental oversight and lots of opportunities for adventure. Kids find a mystary, kids solve mystary and thwart the bad guy themselves through pluck and courage, kids get rewarded with housepoints. Its gone a bit out of fashion now but JK almost certainly read these kinds of stories growing up. All she did was add magic and raise the stakes repackaging a tried and true formula.

    Not that this is a criticism, after all Star Wars was essentially fantasy troupes in space. She hit on a winning twist to an old formula and it worked out great. What parts of those first books do you think contributed to their massive success?
     
  2. arkkitehti

    arkkitehti Groundskeeper

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    One thing is definitely the worldbuilding; Rowling didn't really even try to do unique worldbuilding beyond wizards (and even there she used a lot of existing tropes), but co-opted pretty much all existing fairy-tales into the universe, with a small twist explained by Statute of Secrecy and misconceptions by muggles. It immediately created an almost impossibly huge universe based on all previous fantasy, and that allowed imagination to really go wild.

    It's almost ridiculously easy to imagine that Narnia actually exists inside Harry Potter universe, and that the wardrobe was just some weird experiment by some eccentric wizard, and the books written by C.S. Lewis are based on a distorted memory remaining after botched obliviation...
     
  3. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    There are many elements intrinsic to the books which made the HP series sucessful:

    - Very accessible writing.

    - Page-turning plotting.

    - Simple but distinctive characters.

    - Good humour.

    - The sheer charm of the world, which makes you want to live there. Ultimately, Harry Potter is one of the few fantastical universes where you would actually want to go - most of them are far too grim to risk it.

    - Magic which more represented how the typical person thinks about magic (in a fairy tale manner) rather than what the traditional sci-fi/fantasy crowd were used to (i.e. a magic system which can be off-putting to casual readers).

    However, while these all contributed to the book' success, none of them are sufficient to explain just how amazingly successful the books were. That is in fact a result of the context the books found themselves in, which cannot be replicated. These include:

    - Bringing the "boarding school" genre to a new generation who (apart from the small number of enthusiastic readers) were not familiar with stories like Malory Towers and St Clare's.

    - Bringing fantasy to a large number of readers who had previously ignored it. In many ways, Harry Potter was the start of the movement of nerdiness into the mainstream, which Marvel and Game of Thrones have continued.

    - Bringing urban fantasy to a large number of readers who had previously not encountered it. Prior to Harry Potter, most fantasy was of the high fantasy type, set in another world. Urban fantasy of course existed, but it wasn't a significant part of the market. The juxtaposition of magical and Muggle was novel to a lot of people and added to the "you want to be there" aspect. It was so easy to imagine yourself in the world.

    - Excellent marketing which turned the books from a success to a phenomenon.

    - The "Facebook effect": once enough people had read the books, other people ended up reading them just to fit in.

    - The way the release of the books was spaced out, resulting in anticipation building between books and allowing people to grow up with the characters.
     
  4. Sauce Bauss

    Sauce Bauss Minister of Magic DLP Supporter

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    I would say the timing of it was also pretty much perfect. The start of the internet and its global cultural impact but before it consumed all other forms of media. The number of American adults who haven't read a single book the last year has gone up by half since the last HP book came out.
     
  5. Zombie

    Zombie John Waynes Teeth ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    It's just so weird to not read. HP hit all the right things for me as a younger person and still does in a lot of ways.

    Taure covered a lot of relevant points.
     
  6. Arthellion

    Arthellion Lord of the Banned ~ Prestige ~

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    Saw a really disturbing Jimmy Fallon segment. Think they were in california.

    Person went around asking people to name a book. Any book. Most couldn't. One person replied,

    "I haven't read a book since high school.'
    It was said with pride.

    Quite disturbing.
     
  7. Agent Zero

    Agent Zero Seventh Year DLP Supporter

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    To me, it was the simplicity of the series.

    Most of the magical world mirrored the muggle one that all readers knew. There very few truly magical concepts. The ministry was the government, brooms were like bikes, Quidditch was like football, etc. It's why the world building worked so well; rather than building a world from scratch Rowling merely added on to the existing one.

    Plus, most other fantasy stories tended to introduce more esoteric concepts like fae/fairies, necromancers, special types of magic, etc. These concepts are usually a bit hard to keep track for younger readers. The closest Rowling got were the Hallows and Horcruxes.

    Let's also not forget how relateable it is. Sure, it's set in a boarding school but it mimics even public schools a fair bit. Most kids always have that one teacher that everyone hates (Snape), they rarely ever see their headteacher (Dumbledore), they usually have two close friends (But usually a wider circle of less close friends).
     
  8. vlad

    vlad Banned ~ Prestige ~

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    Was gonna answer then read what Taure wrote and don't really have anything left to say.

    What makes it compelling from a fanfiction angle is that the world building is delightfully flawed. Rich enough to build off of, but with plenty of holes to fill in yourself. If Rowling had gone the route of as Taure says, a magical system, or tried to develop an answer to everything beyond, 'it's magic, bitches', I think the fandom would be much impoverished.

    As is, the books gave us a glimpse of a deeper world, but canon is seen entirely through the eyes of a not-entirely-trustworthy narrator with limited interests in some areas and exaggerated ones elsewhere. It's a perfect construction site.
     
  9. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    On a related note:

     
  10. zugrian

    zugrian First Year

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    To me, it's all about Hogwarts. She took the classical four elements/four humours idea and put it in a school where you get to learn magic. That's truly a brilliant idea, and its why people still argue about which houses their friends, celebrities, characters from other forms of media, etc. would be a sorted into.

    Just the idea of going to a special school to learn to use cool powers is one of the reasons the X-Men is still such a huge comic series-- especially if you remember how that particular trope saved the movies with First Class after how terribly received Last Stand & the Wolverine origins movie were.

    But the 4 houses is the simple thing that puts Harry Potter over the top in my opinion.
     
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