Harry Potter and the Muggle Media Onslaught

So, we all know now how the Harry Potter saga has ended. A lot of us do, anyway. I won’t spoil it for the seven people in the country who haven’t yet heard how the final volume, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” concluded, but suffice to say that it was, more or less, satisfying. Not completely satisfying, in my opinion. I would have ended it on page 704, but clearly J. K. Rowling knows what she’s doing. Far be it from me to quibble with her denouement.
Last month The Boston Globe asked me and three other writers to offer our thoughts on how the series might conclude, and I am happy to report that I was wrong in more ways than I was right. In all fairness, I wrote an ending with my tongue in my cheek and played it for laughs.
Nonetheless, Rowling startled me once again.
Yet what I loved most about the arrival of the seventh volume was the enthusiasm with which it was received despite the reality that we in the media did everything possible to engender a serious case of Harry Potter Fatigue. There was so much hoopla surrounding the arrival of the book last month that I feared there might be a Potter backlash.
Not a bit. I was in Stowe on the Saturday the novel came out, a part of the crew of a community theater musical, and I counted nine people reading the book who were involved with the production. There may have been more.
It’s not merely that 8.3 million copies of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” were sold in the first 24 hours; it’s that people were diving into the novel right away. Dropping everything. My friend Sue Fox was in the car the Saturday morning it arrived, driving from Connecticut to Vermont with her family, and reading it aloud to everyone for five-plus hours as her husband, Jeffrey, motored north.
“We’re on page 171,” Jeffrey said by way of a greeting when I saw him late that morning.
Alison Smith, 13, and Elly Valastro, 12, were immovable objects when I saw them sitting outside on that beautiful Saturday afternoon, completely oblivious to me as I walked past them, because they were so completely engrossed in the book.
Still, the jury is out on whether people actually read more because of Harry Potter. On the one hand, a study last year by Scholastic (publisher of Harry Potter in the U.S.) and Yankelovich suggested that the series has had a positive effect on children’s attitudes toward books, and on the skills they bring to their schoolwork. More than half the young readers surveyed reported they had not read books for fun prior to discovering Harry Potter, and two-thirds claimed they had done better in school since entering into Rowling’s enchanted world.
On the other hand, a study that will be released this autumn by the National Endowment for the Arts will contend that teens aren’t reading a whole lot for pleasure other than books in the Harry Potter series. NEA Chairman Dana Gioia has noted in interviews that teens are reading less and thus they do not read particularly well. Apparently, even a witch as gifted as Rowling hasn’t the magic to reverse the trend against pulp. Regardless, here is what makes the phenomenon so special: It is multigenerational. The books are not just for children or teens or adults. They are for all of us. Potter is something we have shared as a culture, and regardless of our age we have followed the growth of the young wizard and his friends as they have confronted both the beauty and the evil of our world. Sure, I could have used fewer pages about quidditch over the past decade (happily for me, there were none in the latest book), and Rowling seems to view the adverb the way I view the chocolate chip cookie: You can’t have too many.
But Harry Potter is a mighty literary achievement: A fable that has survived the worst that dark magic can offer, and thrived despite the sort of muggle media onslaught that would have laid a killing curse on a lesser wizard.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on August 12.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

One thought on “Harry Potter and the Muggle Media Onslaught

  1. LazyDaisy says:

    I’ve yet to get started on the Potter oeuvre. (sigh). I know it’s really popular. I know it’s really well-written. I know they have all those movies, too…
    Really, it’s too late, now. I get a terrible head-ache just thinking about it. I’ll try to do better with any new book she writes (but, Jeez. stop with the 700+ pages, woman)!

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