The Boy Who Lived is Going Strong Eighteen years on

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Following the books, a generation of pre-teens wanted to receive a letter from Hogwarts and board a train from King’s Cross Station’s Platform 9¾ to the hallowed school where Harry was a student. But what was interesting was the books also caught the fancy of young adults. Debasish Bandopadhyay, professor of English with Vidyasagar University, observes, “The Harry Potter books are interesting because they bridge the gap between children’s and fantasy fiction. When the books first appeared in book stores across New York, they were published under two jackets, one was meant for children and the other targeted young adults. Likewise, the books were stocked both in the children’s section and the adult fantasy section. This was a marketing strategy that helped the books cut through a wide readership that ranged from young children, adolescents, young adults and adults in general.”

Adept marketing aside, it requires some investigation to understand the themes of the book that took so strongly to the heart of its audience. Tathagata Mitra, a postgraduate student of English literature and also an avowed Potter fan feels, “The imaginative premise of the plots have always attracted me. But what really sticks in the end is that Harry is a real person.”

Harry Potter’s accessibility as a real character despite of going to a school for wizards and witches have always struck a chord among its readers. Taking off the layer of the fantastical, the narrative works as a simple story of growing up and the struggles of adolescence. Add to that the sparkling wit and empathy with which Rowling touches even her minor characters and the adults are equally hooked. Sanjukta Sharma, a homemaker and an avid reader, thinks that the Harry Potter books should be inducted into the syllabus of schoolchildren. Among other things, she likes the fact that the books celebrate friendship in an age when virtual friends overshadow the need for real, human friends. Her 11-year-old son gleefully rattles off his favourite characters — an eclectic mixture of Hedwig, Harry’s pet snow owl, Hagrid, the friendly hirsute half-giant, and Hermione, Harry’s brainy and self-assured friend.

On the other hand, themes of purity of lineage that becomes integral as the books accelerate in their plots, can find obvious parallels with contemporary history. The final books draw the struggle between Voldemort and his clique of ‘purebloods’ and the egalitarian wizards who support the ‘Muggle-borns’. Professor Bandopadhyay points out, “While notions of good and evil have always been present in religiously inclined texts that meditate on morality and immorality, the Potter texts adhere to the same only to undermine them in the end wherein the two become indistinguishable.”

Before Rowling’s creation broke onto the world with a never-before-seen frenzy, there had been others who were equally adroit with taking the supernatural and spinning an allegorical retelling of modern history. Rowling’s series has time and again been compared with JRR Tolkien’s celebrated The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and CS Lewis’ Chronicles Of Narnia. Bandopadhyay notes that Rowling is much more radical and much less conservative in her approach towards spinning a cautionary tale through the ultimate face-off between Harry and Voldemort. Any Potterhead would gravely point out that Voldemort’s father was a Muggle himself, carrying strong echoes of Hitler’s debated ancestry where his grandmother was alleged to be an Austrian Jew. “Rowling made a conscious choice to reach a wider base of readers who might find Tolkien’s prose cumbersome, though there are clear imitations of Tolkien’s style but her plots are much more reductive and inclusive,” adds Bandopadhyay. Be that as it may, but Potterheads steadily add to their legions with every passing day. Harry Potter has long gone beyond the books and become a brand with its own merchandise and amusement parks for the delight of adoring fans. Rowling herself has followed up her books with supplements —Quidditch Through The Ages, The Tales Of Beedle The Bard — on Harry’s magical world. As Roy proudly says, “Harry Potter is what brought back the magic in children’s reading back then and I’m thrilled that even today, it’s what all children want to read when they reach a certain age.” This writer having done the same stands guilty as charged.

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