Today, the last instalment in the eight-part series of Harry Potter films, based on J.K. Rowling’s books, releases in Australia and some European countries. Barring one or two computer games and a new website, Pottermore, that will have digital versions and some additional material, this eighth film will signify the conclusion of a story-telling phenomenon.
Rowling’s books have now sold around 450 million copies in more than 65 languages. And this does not even begin to take into account the millions of pirated copies that have and will flood markets.
Nothing in contemporary literary history even comes close to Rowling’s achievements. For a period of 10 years, from June 1997, Harry Potter ruled bookshops. At a time when most people were lamenting the death of the printed book—and poor reading levels in many countries—fans of all ages lined up for hours to buy the new Potter. Rowling’s rare public appearances were the stuff of rock-star envy.
And in 2004, with two thumping best-sellers still to come, Forbes magazine estimated that Rowling was already worth a billion dollars, the first author in history to achieve this. (Barring a collapse in the dollar, this is a record that will take some undoing.)
The series’ greatest legacy, however, will be that it made reading cool again.
In 2002, one study in New South Wales, Australia, showed that literacy levels in schools had increased because of “popularization of literature”. The report gave some of the credit to the Potter phenomenon, for “taking reading out of the ‘egghead’ realm”.
Another British survey, three years later, provides even stronger proof. In that study, conducted by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups, 48% of children surveyed said they read more because of the Potter books. Thirty-nine per cent said they’d give up their favourite television programmes to read a new Potter book.
Rowling’s career is the stuff of a legend. Her draft for the first book was rejected by a dozen publishers before being picked up by Bloomsbury that paid her an advance of £1,500. And this was shortly after she had been diagnosed with clinical depression.
More than a decade later, however, it is hard to say who was more fortunate. Is it the writer who created Harry Potter? Or the reader who discovered him?
How will the world remember Harry Potter? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org