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Question: What makes the "Harry Potter" series magic???

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Hmm...good question.

First, I'd say the familiar setting (school) with the familiar problems that the characters face (homework, boring/strict teachers, tests, dating, disagreements with friends, sibling rivalry, etc.). The main thrust of the books seems to be the day-to-day life of kids in school, accented by things like magic powers and unicorns and such. That makes it much more..."concrete", I guess, than fairy-tale-esque hero stories, where all the hero has to conquer is the villain. In Harry Potter, the heroes have to conquer adolescence. And when you read the books, they always seem to put the Big Evil Guy of the Year on the back burner, focusing first on the characters interacting in school.

Of course, that wouldn't work without the characters. You have to care about them, or you're not going to want to read 300+ pages about their ordinary school days before you get to the action. Rowling did a great job with this - you instantly feel connected to the friendly ones, and you feel instantly annoyed by the annoying ones. Not just the obvious ones, like, say, not liking Harry's abusive adoptive parents and liking the kind-hearted giant who takes Harry away from them. The less-major characters like Neville and Luna, for instance, just have a feel about them that makes you think "Oh, yeah, I knew somebody JUST like that!" after their first scenes.

The combination of the familiar setting and the familiar-before-they're-even-introduced characters rings so true to life that you start to believe that maybe the dragons and broomsticks and patronus charms aren't that far off, either, especially since it's all set up as an underground modern-day culture. It's suspension of disbelief in the best way - it feels less like fantasy, and more like..."exaggerated reality."

Third, I'd say the element of mystery and inter-connectedness. You want to keep reading just to find out what was meant by something you read earlier. This really picks up in the last few books. Any series that can make you feel like a detective without being a mystery novel is doing a great job. It's a great feeling when you think "Oh! I bet that THIS character was actually...and THIS item was used for...and THIS proves it!", even if you turn out to be dead wrong. The last few novels took this even further, to the point were there were TONS of questions that needed to be answered, and tons of different possible outcomes that could have worked. This element probably wouldn't have worked as well if it had been a shorter series, or a stand-alone novel. I think it's quite likely that this was fueled by the fans - Rowling saw how much the readers liked throwing around theories about what would happen, so she wrote in a couple big, open-ended questions ("What are the Horcruxes?" "What's Snape really up to?"). The only other series to get me this deep into guessing about the future is George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.

Anyway, that's why it worked for me. It's probably different for others.

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There's a time and a place for everything. A synchronicity between the public's mood and an artist, that if it 'clicks', means the artist can do no wrong. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Picasso, Damien Hurst, The Wachowski Brothers, LOTR, all struck our imagination, but with Harry Potter, Rowling superseded them all.

Not only was the timing superb, but Harry Potter triggered a meme that got stronger and stronger, spawning hundreds and thousands of imitators on the internet, and a lot of wannabe's in main stream literature too.

So Rowling is the magician, and Harry Potter her magic.... I wonder ... if computers didn't exist, and there was no internet or special effects, would the books still be as pertinent? Probably yes.

My ha'penny.

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I think it was just the right story at the right time.

It's not original -- there's a BBC TV show about a school for witches (The Worst Witch) that pre-dates Harry Potter -- but J.K.Rowlings was able to re-work the concept and present it at just the right time in a way that captured people's imaginations.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I believe the series was (and is) successful because Rowling captured the essance of the trials and tribulations of adolescence, framed in a traditional British boarding school, but stirred in elements of magic and adventure in a way that lifted it out of the ordinary.

I also think that Harry somehow knowing he was different long before he understood his own power, while also wanting to be accepted by people like himself, is a universal experience that we all face. We want to be individuals, but at the same time, we also want to be part of something bigger.

And I think the story's ongoing theme of friendship, honor, and loyalty cut to the heart of the book. As Dumbledore reminds Harry several times, "this is your greatest strength that makes you different from Voldemort."

BTW, I saw the Phoenix film tonight, and thought it totally sucked. Good god, they must've cut out 3/4 of the book! Tons of great stuff omitted, compressed, avoided, or otherwise changed. I have to confess, there was one or two nice touches added only to the film -- for example, Sirius accidentally calling Harry "James" during the battle scene at the end of the film -- but those were very few. I'll say this, though: the theater was totally packed, and I expected it to be mostly empty, since it's been out for weeks and weeks. It's already made $900 million worldwide (!!!), so it's a success by any definition.

Maybe they'll cut the deleted scenes back in for the DVD. (In particular, Dobby's scene and the entire sequence at St. Mungo's Hospital were sorely missed.) We can only hope...

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