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The importance of ‘Potter’: Series still impacts students today
Senior English major Paige Alter was 8 when she read the “Harry Potter” series for the first time. Now every summer she opens up the books again and starts from the beginning.
“It’s what made me love reading,” she said. “I’m crazy about reading now. Other than my mom reading me Dr. Seuss, if you count that, they were the first books that I really read myself. And they were chapter books. I thought it was a big deal, like, they were huge.”
In the early 2000s, Alter’s story was a common one. “Harry Potter” by J.K. Rowling was hailed as the series that got kids to pick up a book. One 2006 study found 51 percent of “Harry Potter” fans age 5-17 did not read for fun until they read the series, according to Scholastic. The study also discovered 65 percent of “Harry Potter” readers reported doing better in school since picking up the books.
Senior English and interactive digital design major Clare Michalak said the magic in the plot and in Rowling’s writing made this story so powerful for her as a child.
“The way J.K. Rowling writes, it was just so immersive,” she said. “You would read the book and you would finish it and you would have to take a minute and be like ‘Woah, where am I?’”
But students say the series did not just affect them when they were young.
Sophomore Grace Manthey still loves to talk about “Harry Potter” and posts about it on social media. She is a triplet, and her siblings all have the Deathly Hallows symbol tattooed on their back. This symbol is from a fable in the Wizarding World in which three brothers make a powerful wand, a resurrection stone and an invisibility cloak that shields the wearer from death. The symbol is made up of a triangle-shaped cloak with a circle inside representing the stone and a line passing through it representing the wand. Each of the siblings have one of those objects color coded within the tattoo.
“The way that our personalities work out it just works with the three brothers and the three hallows,” Manthey said. “Like my brother [has the cloak and], he has like so many medical things that happened, so he’s almost escaped death a lot of times.”
Manthey has also written essays about “Harry Potter.”
“Last year I actually wrote my QU 101 essay on how the ideas in ‘Harry Potter’ reflect the philosophers that we read,” she said. “People who read ‘Harry Potter’ are more tolerant and more accepting of other cultures and ways of life just because of the ideas in the books.”
Manthey is referencing the studies that have shown reading “Harry Potter” makes people more accepting. In 2013, Anthony Gierzynski published “Harry Potter and the Millennials: Research Methods and Politics of the Muggle Generation,” which found “Harry Potter” fans were more accepting of diversity, more politically active and less likely to support the use of deadly force. Then, a 2014 study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found readers became more tolerant of different people after reading passages from the series.
The themes of the books are one of the reasons the series is so great, Michalak said.
“It obviously has a really deep message in terms of you always fight for love and fight for the good things in life and take every day that you’re given,” she said. “I think there were just really, really great themes about friendship, of supporting one another, of banding together to fight any sort of evil in the world.”
Students said they grew up with “Harry Potter.” The class of 2016 was in second grade when the first movie came out, heading into eighth grade when the final book was released and heading into their senior year of high school when the last movie premiered.
“We were all excited for the premieres, the releases, movies and the books every year,” Alter said. “Like when all that stopped our senior year it felt like right when our childhood was ending anyway.”
Now fans have “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” to look forward to. The movie, written by J.K. Rowling, focuses on Newt Scamandar, the author of one of Harry’s textbooks. It is currently filming in London and will premiere in November 2016.
Fans can also check out Pottermore, a website with new writing from J.K. Rowling. The site was revamped last week, with mixed reactions from fans because the site eliminated many features, including user accounts. The popular sorting hat quiz is temporarily down, and the site now has Buzzfeed-like listicles.
Senior Sophia Giuffrida was one of the first people to get a Pottermore account when the site launched in 2011. She said she was puzzled by the revamp.
“They got rid of everything, which I was kind of confused about,” she said. “But I’m excited because they’re coming out with a quiz to find out what your patronus is so that’s something I’ve always wanted to know.”
Michalak said she does not use Pottermore as much as she should, but she will always have the books to go back to.
“I would love to read them to my kids and keep the whole tradition alive because it made me so much more of a creative person,” she said.
Author’s Note: In an effort to be transparent, this writer admits she is completely biased and loves Harry Potter more than life itself.