The Anti-Culture Press

Harry Potter: Blockbuster Books and You

Posted in Books, Popular culture by The Anti-Culture on February 27, 2009

I’m very well aware of Harry Potter being THE book that has shaped our childhood and or our teenage years for some time so I figured more interest and discussion could be achieved with writing this review first.

So before we begin, lets take a look at some statistics with twentieth century publishing houses:

– Approximately 200,000 titles are produced per year

– A large profit oriented industry (eg. Random House, Harper Collins, Penguin Books, Scholastic Inc., etc.)

There are only two authors in the world to have accumulated the most profit from sales of their books in the entire world, second only to the Holy Bible.

– Dan Brown with $250 million in profits from his book sales and various enterprises that go with the book (eg. movie, supplements, tie-ins, toys, etc.)

– J.K. Rowling with an estimated $1 billion dollars in profits

This means nothing compared to how much the publishing house makes from the successful sales of these books and marketing tie-ins, which amount to two to three times that of the authors earnings. So the economic drive is apparent in the publishing of these books.

However, what is it that makes Harry Potter globally and culturally identifiable? To answer that question, we have to delve into J.K Rowling’s cultural and social environment during the time she first started writing the books.

1980s era
This era was known to be the “Generation X” era or the “baby bust” era, which was known to be the most nihilistic and cynical generation compared to the previous “baby boomer” era which reaped the rapid growth of the post-war world. Generation X is fitfully described by a Times Magazine issue in the 1990s:

“they are an unsung generation, hardly recognized as a social force or even noticed much at all…By and large, the 18-to-29 group scornfully rejects the habits and values of the baby boomers, viewing that group as self-centered, fickle and impractical. While the baby boomers had a placid childhood in the 1950s, which helped inspire them to start their revolution, today’s twenty-something generation grew up in a time of drugs, divorce and economic strain. . .They feel influenced and changed by the social problems they see as their inheritance: racial strife, homelessness, AIDS, fractured families and federal deficits”

This was a generation according to a UK study, “revealed a generation of teenagers who ‘sleep together before they are married, don’t believe in God, dislike the Queen, and don’t respect parents.’ ” If anyone can recall certain cultural aspects of that era such as the Terminator movies and Pat Benatar; where both describe the era quite perfectly. Some historical events that further shaped that era was the fall of the Soviet Union and of the Cold War and the Oil Crises.

Why is this important? by the 1990s and present, these generation Xer’s have become our late 20s to early 30 somethings in our time (we are the generation born 1988-9, “generation Y”), and have started to have families, and with it, these generation Xers carry with them the experiences of their teenage years with the economic trauma of the oil crises which financially and socially affected this generation.

What does this mean in our time? the children of the Generation X and the parents of the Generation X are therefore subjected to or subject a phenomenon known today as “helicopter parenting,” where parents are now paying extremely close attention to their children and prevent them from befalling harm or failures in life instead of letting them experiencing them due to the traumas that the Generation X experienced in their childhood and the “baby boomer’s” experience in raising the Generation X. Such examples are the intrusion of parents in the workplace, academia, and media to smooth out problems their children have which we all experienced at some point. Teenagers, Young adults, and college students alike are experiencing this phenomenon where decisions are forced or made by parents, educational plans are set, and early childhood development is in rise.

Anyone heard of the Baby Einstein line of products?

This is a small example of what our society is experiencing today. Basically Baby Einstein was a line of educational products introduced during the 90s to teach children at a very young age classical art, music, and poetry. Imagine 3 month old babies learning the importance of Da Vinci’s masterworks and the paintings of Monet. Achievement is set incredibly high at a young age, and learning through experience is then abolished, which at the moment, children and youth are feeling these pressures.

Harry Potter: Analysis
Now lets set aside the cultural and historical events that J.K. Rowling experiences in her time and turn to her actual book itself. However, keep in mind of the previous points about the 80s and 90s era because this will be important later.

What elements of literature does Rowling draw from?

There is one element that Rowling draws from which constitutes the attraction of this book. A British genre of literature called “the school novel” which remained a popular form among children in the 1830s with the “harry potter” of its time, Tom Brown’s Schooldays. School novels portray the life of a certain character, usually a young uninitiated boy, and his experiences from his first day in a boarding school to his graduation.

Another is arguably, the epic hero. Harry journeys throughout his life at Hogwarts from being a young boy and growing up and destined to fight Voldemort to the death, similar to Odysseus of the Illiad and Beowulf, the ancient epic hero figures of literature.

As you’ve read, Harry Potter is transported to his meager life to a world of magic, of myth, and the unknown. Being in a world of unknown brings about the emotions of fear, paranoia, and danger. Reading more, Harry fights off trolls, giant spiders, wizard occultists, and dark lords; so what does this all mean?

Harry Potter is an anti-thesis to our present society. If you notice, notions of computers, TVs, cellphones, and even popular culture to our standards is missing in the Harry Potter novels; or changed such as Quidditch being a professional sport as opposed to soccer or basketball. These notions of our accustomed comforts are gone from Harry Potter and replaced with mysterious workings of magic and the unknown which leads me to my final point that Rowling aims to show.

Death in a Children’s Novel?
Death becomes more and more apparent in every book, where Harry’s friend’s die one by one. Now what’s puzzling about Rowling’s books is that it is specifically catered to children, as the “school novel” is a sub-genre of the Children’s Literature genre. Now I know you’ve all read children’s novels at one point in time, such as Roald Dahl’s BFG, C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Death however is not explained, taught, or touched upon in any children’s novel and is questioned by a lot of people today as why Rowling centered her theme on death, a scary subject for children.

Coming Back to Cultural and Social Context
Coming back to the argument that the generation X and “baby boomers” sought to protect their children from harm and make their lives comfortable, many children’s novels released during the 90s and present all paint childhood fantasy and experience as a very comfortable thing. Lets take a generic children’s story for the purposes of this explanation: A boy or a girl goes on a quest, meets good and evil characters, befriends the good characters, tricks the evil characters, wins the day, and everyone lives happily ever after. This would be a book that every parent would be happy that their kids would be reading would it not? However, Rowling goes against this and takes a risk in providing the details of the ugly side of life. There are certain “monsters” in the world that are real, death is possible, and many bad ideals exist (ie. Malfoy’s snobbery and his notion of the pure blood line). Rowling also goes on to say that in this world, you have to stand up for yourself just like Harry Potter did in his stories despite all the sorrows he goes through. Rowling in Harry Potter goes against the clinical care and “achievement breeding” of children in this age and goes to present that this has become a major societal problem today. Children need to experience life, to experience the ups and downs in life so that they may very well be prepared to face their own lives head on, which make Harry Potter very identifiable to the younger generations all the way up to the 18-20 year old generation of today.

In Closing…
Is the Harry Potter series a good or a bad? it’s hard to tell. There are many, many mixed reviews on Harry Potter and dozen upon dozens of articles both in the media and academic areas contemplating the viability of Harry Potter as a culturally significant iconic book. There is one thing for sure, Harry Potter teaches values greatly needed during this time towards children as well as the parents who’ve raised them. Hard topics like death and how to cope with a complex subject like that with a child’s eye is something that is glossed over in children’s literature, which Rowling’s gutsy attempt to address in her books pays off with millions upon millions of children relating to Harry Potter. Dangerous? not at all, as Rowling attempts at social change for the better with Harry Potter. Poorly written? not at all under the context of Children’s Literature. Only time will tell whether or not this book remains to be an iconic piece of literature of the 21st century or disappear like the rest of the “blockbuster” books that have come out for the past couple years.

Thank you for reading,



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  1. […] Original post by Marcshakes’s Blog […]

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