So, I’ve just posted a new page on my blog. This one’s a case study in media of and about the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. There are multiple good reasons to give some careful consideration to this series. Whether we love it or hate it, think it’s from heaven or the devil, we cannot deny it has held a major influence in the developing global culture of the 1990s and 2000s. And if it has already shaped our future, we would do well to consider its past.
(Remember that quote on the shaping of things to come from Helen Haste? “In the long run, what counts is how the next generation thinks. How far new ideas permeate culture is not measured just by attitude change during one generation, but by what is taken for granted in the next.” Well, this is assuredly one of those cases where younger generations will take the presence of Potter, Granger, and Weasley as a given.)
Hope you’ll find this page on Harry Potter of interest and check it out, and explore some of the resource links as a DYI (do-it-yourself) study in how Harry Potter media has shaped and continues to shape our futures, and what that could mean for cultural interpretation and missional contextualization. Meanwhile, here’s the introduction to that page as an excerpt to salt your interest. (P.S. I’ll plan to add to the section on insights from press kits and promotional items when I have time to delve into those materials as a fun investigative project!)
And while you’re at it, be sure to check out Brother Maynard’s post on Encountering Harry Potter. Anything The Bro writes is worth the read!
Excerpt – The Introduction to:
Why a “Harry Potter Page” on futuristguy?
The Harry Potter series is to the 30-and-under generations when they were in grade school and high school what The Lord of the Rings was to the Boomers as they hit high school and college age. Each presents a first-wave new-to-them universe where imagination could soar and the authors could implant amazing seeds for gospel conversations, both embedded in the plot and embodied in the characters. Each of them has introduced characters, concepts, and terms into the worldwide mindset that serve as cultural code words. (For instance: Frodo Lives! Gandalf for President. The world has changed. Middle-earth. Hogwarts. Muggles. House-elves. Dementors.)
The first Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was published in 1997. Author J.K. (Joanne/“Jo”) Rowling spent five years from 1990-1995 plotting out the entire seven-book series, and writing the first book. From there, it took two years to get published. And then the buzz grew and Mr. Potter became a worldwide phenomenon – literally a globalized literary scavenger hunt for clues in each successive novel for who exactly Harry is, and what the meaning of his famous lightening-shaped scar is. It took an entire decade for the denouement of those questions, where the final chapters and epilogue of book #7 transformed the series from seven episodes into one septological mega-epic. Meanwhile, Harry Potter books have been translated into over 60 languages and sold over 400 million copies worldwide. [The Lord of the Rings has been translated into about 40 languages, with a reported 200 million copies sold by 2007.]
Overlapping with the craze about the books, the film adaptations began in 2001 and are scheduled to complete with the release of two films depicting the massive seventh volume, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in 2010 and 2011. The first five films alone earned a reported $4.5 billion in theatrical release worldwide, making them the largest grossing film series in history thus far. (Compare to next few in line: Star Wars six movies, $4.3 billion. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, $3.0 billion. Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, $2.7 billion.)
The Harry Potter films give a relatively reasonable treatment of the material in the books. In such cases, they can’t be “documentaries of the books,” because these media do not work the same way in our brains. But the films can at least provide a “dynamic equivalent” to translate print into visual. Also, Jo Rowling gave up high royalties in order to have more control/approval on the films. This was absolutely providential so that there is a high level of continuity between books and films in the characters and overall details of the cultures and plots involved.
Beyond the books and films, a very selective range of official Harry Potter branded products were authorized. These include soundtracks, stickers, “potion kits” (i.e., chemistry sets), action figures, plush toys/dolls, photo and postcard books, board games, video games, DVD trivia games, picture puzzles, puzzle books, posters, flipbooks, prop replicas (e.g., wands, masks, Hogwarts clothing, maps), trading cards, casual clothing, lunchboxes, collectible card games, model trains, jewelry, banners, ornaments, bed linens, room decorations, and party supplies.
Different items appeal to various interests and dominant learning styles features – and, as with any story, the availability of such products is part of what reinforces the broadest possible appeal of its characters and plot, and thereby its underlying value system.
With such global saturation of the storyline and products, Harry Potter becomes a “native culture” framework to those who read the books and/or see the movies during their formative years as children and teens. For instance, suppose you described to a Potter fan the employment practices of a business (or church!) as, “They treat their workers like house-elves.” The fan will know instantly that it is an unfair and abusive work situation which deserves to be resisted, boycotted, protested, etc. (Unfortunately, I know of Christian organizations where this terrible reality applies, and once the 20-/30-somethings of tomorrow discover them, I suspect they will be highly reluctant to get involved there!)
Finally, I would suggest that there may be some VERY intriguing applications to the missional life and cultural transformation. (See the section on secondary sources near the end of this post.) That potentially makes the Harry Potter universe a veritable playfield as a familiar-enough case study with parallels for training next generations of Kingdom entrepreneurs, church planters, and social change agents. And ultimately, that’s why it was important to have a futuristguy page on Harry Potter.
For the rest of the story and a set of links for a do-it-yourself study in Harry Potter media, check my case study page on Harry Potter. Enjoy …!