Dan Radcliffe [on the last Harry Potter premiere]: …there is this one moment where I looked over one side and there these hundreds… this sort of tumult of people just surging forward… and all drenched. And if there’s ever been a moment where I could have absolutely just formed a dictatorship… I could have just said, “We’ll march on the palace!” (Rowling: Exactly right!) And they all would have joined me at that moment.
Jo Rowling: But, yeah, you get these moments where you think, “Right! Rise Harry Potter fans! Let us march!” (laughs) And you think some of them would. It’s lucky that I don’t have any of those dictatorial impulses, no. [¹]
Odds are you’ve heard of J.K. Rowling’s brainchild, the bespectacled wizard-boy Harry Potter. If you haven’t, quietly turn around and hope no one tries to hex you on the way out.
Since the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997 and its subsequent six installments, Harry Potter has become a household name. At each release of the next novel, its sales broke the previous record: the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, sold over eight million copies on the day it was released in the U.S. [²]
Over the past fifteen years, J.K. Rowling has become one of the most recognizable names on the planet. Forbes ranked her as the 48th most powerful celebrity of 2007; she was also the runner-up for Time magazine’s 2007 Person of the Year and named in October 2010 The Most Influential Woman in Britain. [³] Her website summarizes her numerous high-ranking awards:
As well as an OBE for services to children’s literature, J.K. Rowling is the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees including the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord, France’s Légion d’Honneur, and the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award, and she has been a Commencement Speaker at Harvard University USA. She supports a wide number of charitable causes through her charitable trust Volant, and is the founder of Lumos, a charity working to transform the lives of disadvantaged children. [†]
Never could a writer hope for more success than that. But the Potter-craze did not end.
Eight highly fruitful films by Warner Bros. allowed Potterheads eight times where it was acceptable to dress up as a wizard in public while it wasn’t Halloween. Rowling was rich and powerful enough by the last film installment to stay on as a producer. Her boy Harry and his friends have, well, created such a fanbase that you ought not to walk in there alone, and never lay a word against Mr. Potter. You will never return.
Facebook is where “Potterheads” most abundantly thrive, with ajoining Tumblr, Twitter, and podcast acounts. The book series page has nearly 30 000 000 ‘likes’ and the movie series page has nearly 50 000 000. There are hundreds of pages with names depicting characters, quotes, ‘ship’ pairings* (characters that should have ended up together but didn’t), and even worshipping titles. The latter, and most disturbing, include Harry Potter is my oxygen, JK Rowling made my life magical, If i die today, tell J.K Rowling i love her, J.K Rowling Is Our Queen, Harry Potter is my life, and I Cried when the Harry Potter Series Came to an End.
The magical sport of Quidditch has taken flight with the inception of the International Quidditch Association in 2005. Since, there have been five world cups, over 700 teams all over the world, and a four-team tournament in Oxford, England as part of a pre-Olympic demo. Countless injuries, a radio station, podcasts, TV spotlights, celebrity support, and insane amounts of dedication are given from high school and college students all over the world to the sport their friend Harry played during his own school years. [‡]
There are a plethora of wizarding recipes online for Butterbeer, Firewhiskey, Cauldron Cakes, Nosebleed Nougat, and Fever Fudge. Craft instructions for Sorting Hats, broomsticks, potions ingredients, robes, and even pet owls are spread over the Internet.
Kids, teens, and young adults have sorted themselves into one of four Hogwarts Houses: Gryffindor (the brave), Slytherin (the cunning), Ravenclaw (the wise), and Hufflepuff (the loyal). They’ve taken quizzes to figure out what length, wood, and core their wand would be made of or which Harry Potter boy/girl they would be best matched with. Harry Potter themed parties, proms, probably even weddings have been held in the name of Rowling, and parodies abound, most famously A Very Potter Musical and its sequels. The music movement has risen, with bands such as ‘Harry and the Potters’ and ‘Olliver Boyd and the Remembralls’ making guest performances at Quidditch and Potter conventions across the globe.
The recent birth of Pottermore, written by Rowling herself, an interactive, online way of reading the books (along with being sorted into a house, buying school supplies, earning house points, dueling, and making potions) has only again spiked the interest of Potterheads.
A slightly creepy phenomenon has occurred online, where instead of people saying ‘OMG’ they type ‘OMR,’ replacing God’s name with Rowling’s.
So while newspapers and magazines ramble on about how Harry Potter has gotten kids to read, they’ve also sparked some pretty deep and obsessive behaviour. While I know that many of these super-fans are perfectly functional without their Potter fix and are likely exaggerating for the Internet’s sake, J.K. Rowling’s impact on society has reached far further than anyone expected.
As one of the most successful authors of all time (still earning the 11th spot on Forbes’ Top-Earning Authors list, despite not having published since 2008 [Δ] ), Rowling is one of those fantasy-esque stories that makes readers and writers of all ages think about the possibilities they could achieve. Best-selling books, top-earning movies, a theme park, rabid fans…
I would never want to be J.K. Rowling, nor have the immense fan base and aura of celebrity that she has. Harry is, essentially, no longer hers. She as no control over him anymore. He’s been taken into the hands of hungry readers and moulded by them daily; fanfiction and fanart runs amok, twisting the story to their own likening and changing the characters she created. Worshippers would be frightening.
Who would want that?
Rowling, sitting on her throne of literary success, is powerless, and probably would have been better off choosing to lead the dictatorship. Because now she has followers, but without her guidance (through blogging or more Potter books) her own people are running wild with her creation, leaving her with nothing but massive amounts of money, numerous awards, and a castle she can’t leave without a personal guard… I guess that’s not so bad, depending on how you look at it.
Would you want to be this successful? Do you pity Rowling, or envy her, or both?