Rowling's Reach

Friday, November 12, 2010

Nathan Bransford has made this week one dedicated to the Harry Potter-verse on his blog. Today, he asked / challenged / suggested that people do their own Potter / Rowling posts to be linked back, so here goes...

I missed the Potter bandwagon. I have never purchased nor checked out a HP novel. I have never seen a HP film. And yet, I can't honestly say I know nothing of Harry Potter or J.K. Rowling. Like those arcane echoes of times past that remain in our common vocabulary as "cliches", Harry Potter has become something of a cultural standard.

The reach of these book, as well as their impact on our pop culture is evident, more so for those of us who never participated, I think, because it's through our experiences that you come to realize just how hard it is to escape the "Wizarding World of Harry Potter".

Even without joining the stampede toward devouring these books, I can name the main characters (and most of the actors who portray them). I know the over-reaching story arc and who the good / bad guys are. I know the themes of the books.

Some of this may be due to frequenting writing boards where JK Rowling is mentioned frequently, as is HP (every teen writer seems to think they have the "next" Harry Potter at some point.). I'm not sure if that's where it comes from, or not, but somehow I picked up a working knowledge of Quidditch, and well, that's weird.

HP seems to work a bit like the "boiled frog" analogy. (If you stick a frog in a pot of water and gradually raise the temperature, he'll boil before he even knows it's getting hot.) This is how the Potterverse has impacted pop culture, I think. Sure the glitz and fervor was highly noticeable, but the subtle changes came slowly and without fanfare. (by subtle, I mean the use of HP-words and phrases becoming "normal" words, etc.)

I'll admit I'm curious about what makes these books tick. (Who wouldn't be, right?) But the first time I was tempted to look one up on You Tube or the HP-wiki was when I started with that writer's board I mentioned.

The first instance was someone telling me my WIP read like a fusion of The Forest of Hands and Teeth with Dementors.

:-( <---- I looked like this. I didn't know what a Dementor was, so I was a bit disturbed at the idea that maybe it was a bad thing.

I hit Google and found out that a Dementor was a soul-sucking creature used as a prison guard in the HP-verse. Okay, so I was still slightly disturbed, but I was no longer upset. The person had meant it as a compliment. My point is that HP had become so pervasive, that it was being used as a descriptor to reference people's work.

(FWIW, there's no soul sucking involved in my WIP)

I saw it over and over again. People said "This reminds me of______" (fill in the blank with the appropriate HP character or descriptions. Scars were too much like Harry's. Characters acted too much like Hagrid. Mentors were "Dumbledore wearing a mask" (though, technically that should be Gandalf....). The "good villain" was met with -"Oh... he pulls a Snape! Gotcha!"

Unlike so many stories that seem to be popular, then forgotten, HP is transcendent. In twenty years, the impact will still be there. The words will still be in our vocabulary. The characters will still be studied as archetypes. The theme park will still be hosting visitors.

(It's got it's own friggin' theme park.... when's the last time a "book" rated that high on the culture-shock scale?)

And... I still probably won't have read or watched (I have a mental block on magic stories. Yes, I'm weird like that.)

The impact of those 7 books is enormous. (<--- obvious statement of the day). They made Rowling a household name (and made a pretty nifty career for the actors who portray her characters). They floated many an author whose books were suddenly not as big a risk thanks to the extra income HP generated for its publisher. They became the new bar to reach for.

I'm not saying that you should charge in saying "I have written the next Harry Potter! (In fact, don't do that. Seriously, I'm telling you not to.) But there's nothing wrong with stretching toward that goal.

When you compete against the best, you get better by virtue of trying to play in their league. And while publishing is NOT a competition between authors, using someone else's career as inspiration can have the same effect.

Do I smile whenever someone tells me a piece I offer for crit reads like it was written by JK Rowling? You better believe it. Even without knowing her stuff that well, I know it's a compliment. And if they see something in my writing that strikes the same chord as what they saw in hers, then yes, I do a little happy dance.

4 Chiming In:

D.G. Hudson said...

Liked your post, Josin. Your comments about the series appealed to me more because I haven't read HP either, but have also absorbed bits of it inadvertently. (second hand info via movies)

You can't ignore the success of JKR but it's not for everyone. I read fantasy/magic novels a few years ago, but prefer writing and reading hard science fiction and world building outside the magic universe.

Carol Riggs said...

Absolutely! Magical novels aren't for everyone. I'm an HP fan (though not a rabid one), but I'm rather impressed by your lack of motivation to read the books or watch the movies. You aren't swayed by the masses or public opinion, not a sheep following the crowd. And yet...aren't you the LEAST bit curious? LOL I should talk. I haven't read Twilight, either. But I HAVE watched two of the movies.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Yes. I was definitely curious (hence the reading of Ch. 1 and checking out the Wiki.) But, it's just not my cuppa, I guess. Magic seems to be the one aspect of "paranormal" and fantasy that just doesn't catch my attention. It's weird, I loved Arthurian stuff as a kid (the Sword and the Stone was suitably worn out on VHS).

I'm definitely impressed by anyone who has the capability to captivate an audience (of any size) the way Rowling has. And I'm seriously impressed by world building that's so all consuming it can be made into a theme park. To me, that's the amazing thing - not that the books warranted a park, but that the world was so real, people who were fans WANTED one. They wanted a place where they could step into their favorite fantasy.

That's impressive.

Elaine AM Smith said...

I'm glad you are getting such positive feedback. Great work.
I think HP is not about the magic.It's about Harry dealing with adversity.I want to write MG, so without considering personal preference, I have to read the most popular stuff available

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