Since its first release in 1997, Harry Potter has thrilled its audiences on both page and big screen. As the franchise celebrates its 20th year, we decided to investigate just what Harry, Hermione and Ron inspired the generation who grew up with them to read next. And who better to write about it than 15-year-old superfan, Imogen.
According to an article published by The Guardian in 2016, many millennials who grew up reading Harry Potter – specifically women – have moved onto the new trend of ‘Grip Lit’ or psychological thrillers, such as The Girl on the Train; The Girl in the Red Coat; Disclaimer; In A Dark, Dark Wood and I Let You Go.
Samantha Eades, an editor at the Orion imprint Trapeze, said, “As a teen, I crossed my fingers each night, hoping for a letter for Hogwarts to be delivered and in my 20s I queued up for the final midnight signing with a lightning bolt on my forehead.
“I, like many women in their 20s and 30s, am completely addicted to ‘Grip Lit’. Unreliable narrators like Rachel from The Girl on the Train, Amy from Gone Girl and Clare from In a Dark, Dark Wood are our new Ron, Harry and Hermione, with bad husbands, jealous best friends and dangerous next-door-neighbours our new He Who Must Not Be Named. For me, what defines ‘Grip Lit’ is emotional storytelling with a compulsive pull – we as the reader just can’t turn the pages fast enough.”
Harry Potter has not only changed the reading habits for its first generation of readers, it has also helped to teach empathy, progressive values and tolerance. Rowling showed that not everyone is solely good or evil and displays this through several different characters in the series, including Severus Snape and Professor Dumbledore.
And it’s not just in the books that Rowling shares her views on the world. Rowling interacts with fans on her Twitter account and regularly comments on subjects about which she is passionate. Her posts on Twitter have just as many lessons to teach as her books do. Following the casting of Noma Dumezweni as Hermione in the stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Rowling responded to critics tweeting, “Canon: brown eyes, frizzy hair and very clever. White skin was never specified. Rowling loves black Hermione”.
FANFICTION AND THE THREE-YEAR SUMMER
The Harry Potter series became a gateway for the normalisation of fandoms and geek culture. It did this mainly through the mass release of fanfiction, fanart and forums made by the fans for the fans on platforms such as Tumblr, AO3, Wattpad and Quotev.
Harry Potter fanfiction particularly took off during the ‘Three-Year Summer’, or the three-year gap, between the release of The Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix. Fans had become so addicted to The Golden Trio and the back-to-back release of the previous books that the dry-spell (pun not intended) left them without anything to read. As a result, they took it upon themselves to create stories to read to pass the time, kick-starting the on-mass creation of something that would become the unicorn blood for the fandom… (Philosopher’s Stone reference intended).
The Harry Potter fandoms’ insatiable need for new fiction is responsible for bringing terminology such as ‘slash’ (involving pairing two male or female characters together) and ‘twincest’ (when twins are in lust/love with each other) to the mainstream. Although the terms themselves were coined by slightly older fandoms like Star Wars and Star Trek, they were truly brought to life and introduced to a wider audience by the Potter fandom. The fandom is also responsible for other book series as well; some fanfiction writers have gone on to become well-loved authors, including Cassandra Claire, creator of one of the most popular pieces of fanfiction in the Potter fandom, The Draco Trilogy.
In April 2012, to give Harry Potter fans more access to the Wizarding World, Rowling launched the website Pottermore. At the time, the website offered a Sorting Hat Ceremony Quiz, Wand Selection Quiz and Potion Making Classes to account users. In 2015 the site was updated, removing Potion Making and adding an Ilvermorny House Sorting Quiz, a Discover your Patronus Quiz and an online Book Club where you can discuss, debate and buy e-Book copies and audiobook copies of the beloved series and the newer books released, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (both screenplay and original book), Quidditch Through the Ages, Harry Potter and The Cursed Child and even The Tales of Beedle the Bard. It also gives sneak peek news on up and coming releases for films and books and has back stories for places and people and titbits of info for creatures and spells.
THE NEXT GENERATION
Although Harry Potter has hooked and advanced the original millennial generation’s reading habits, the same cannot be exactly said for the next generation of Potterheads.
The New York Times has reported that the increasing size of the newer books such as The Deathly Hallows – which is 784 pages long – has been seen as daunting or intimidating to children compared to the earlier books, for example, The Philosopher’s Stone (309 pages). Children today also do not wait with baited breath for the next book in the series to be released and to see what happens next.
Despite these factors, the overwhelming evidence I have gathered from friends and teachers who’ve read the books suggest that Harry Potter has changed peoples’ reading habits for the better. Many have gone on to read other franchises such as The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, His Dark Materials, Earthsea, Throne of Glass, Gallagher Girls and even The Martian… some of which have become huge successes on the big screen.
But if these titles are not for you or if you’ve already steamrollered your way through them, there are some lesser-known yet equally highly recommended series that will hit the spot… Lev Grossman’s The Magicians has been described by Benjamin Dufault as “Harry Potter goes to Narnia while learning to adult” on Buzzfeed and has sparked conversations on when is the right time in your life to read it.
Other titles include The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey and the Old Kingdom Series by Garth Nix, and for slightly younger fans, the Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy; all contain wisps of magic and are akin to the Harry Potter series. But if the above titles do not take your fancy, perhaps do what many devotees have done and will probably continue to do… read the series again.
And in the immortal words of the great author, “No story lives unless someone wants to listen… the stories we love best do live in us forever. So, whether you come back by page or big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home”.