He is slight of build, boyish, bespectacled and bookish. Yet he might just be the heavyweight champion of the entertainment world, now and for the foreseeable future.
The curtain is finally coming down on Harry Potter. He will be presented to the adoring eyes of his massive fan base one more time when “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2” is released on Friday. That's it — the final film made from the final book in the astonishingly successful series by author J.K. Rowling.
But that won’t end the phenomenon.
The book on Harry is, he’s got legs, even after Rowling put her pen aside and Warner Brothers has delivered the last print. Fans of Harry Potter are so dedicated that they figure to keep him on their plates for years to come.
Samantha Monarch is entering her sophomore year at Boston University. But the Los Angeles native grew up with Harry and continues to read about his adventures. She estimates she has read each book five or six times apiece.
“The stories never get old for me,” she said. “You realize after re-reading them over and over that there are details from the early books that become big factors in the later books. You kind of see the planning, that J.K. Rowling really thought it out.”
Beginning with “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in 2001, there have been seven books in the series. The final film will mark the eighth in the series, since the “Deathly Hallows” novel was split into two parts for the movies.
Jeff Jensen, senior writer at Entertainment Weekly, has been on Harry’s trail almost since the very beginning. He and a small handful of his colleagues got wind of a brewing cauldron of literary heat in the United Kingdom around the time he joined the magazine in 1998. “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” was first released in the UK on June 30, 1997, then in the United States on Sept. 1, 1998, under the title “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
“It was a phenomenon in the UK; in the U.S., it was more of a quietly emerging thing,” Jensen recalled. “There were a couple of us who heard about the book and began investigating and really getting into it. Then we began agitating our editors: ‘This will be huge.’
“Suddenly Harry Potter was on the cover of Time Magazine, Warner Brothers optioned it and every director in Hollywood, including Steven Spielberg, expressed interest in directing it.”
Jensen said Harry Potter since has joined the ranks of Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Luke Skywalker and Superman to become “one of the defining icons of pop culture.”
“When you think of the origins of where Harry Potter comes from, it’s fantastic,” Jensen said. “This character began from children’s literature, and had this massive and unprecedented impact worldwide at a time when it was thought that kids don’t read anymore. They watch TV, play video games and go to movies.
“It drives kids to read, and it introduced a huge boom in renaissance children’s literature that is one of the biggest genres in all of entertainment. The ‘Twilight’ series and the Lemony Snicket books have come post-Potter. Harry Potter had a massive impact on the entertainment industry.”
Jim Milliot, co-editorial director at Publishers Weekly, said the “Harry Potter” series of books went way beyond the boundaries of successful books aimed at kids.
“Crossover appeal certainly played a part in its success,” he said. “It would have been impossible to reach the heights it did appealing to only one segment. It also brought a lot of young adult and ‘tweens to books in a big way, and many of those people still are reading things like ‘Twilight’ and other vampire-themed series.”
Miaokuancha is one of them. That is not the real name of the middle-aged mother of two who resides in New Haven, Conn., is a graduate of MIT and Wellesley and also has a master’s in Chinese linguistics. (Her handle means “marvelous discernment” in Chinese, she said.) That is her screen name in fandom. She spends a lot of time on fan-fiction sites for “Twilight” and “Star Wars” as well as “Harry Potter.”
“I’m a student of mythology and archetypes,” she explained. “There are so many images and such detail that raises [the series] above just young adult books. In ‘Prisoner of Azkaban,’ for instance, that whole concept of how the life and hope can be sucked out of a person. [Rowling] really understands things in people’s lives and psyches. She’s casting it all as stories, but there is real psychological truth there.”
Perhaps it is that connection to real life that has transformed Harry Potter into something other than just a money-making sensation in publishing and in Hollywood.
“The characters are just so relatable,” said Kahala Bonsignore, 16, of Ventura, Calif. She estimates she has read the books at least five times each and has seen the films too many times to count.
“Take Harry for example: Everyone has gone through tough spots in his or her life, but it is his unbending courage that inspires and grabs the attention of his audience,” she said. “Kids in this generation … have not always been into reading. But when a kid picks up a Harry Potter book, it doesn’t feel like reading.”
There is also a sense that enjoying “Harry Potter” books and movies isn’t just part of growing up, but an aid in the process of growing up, a fact that has further boosted the popularity of the character and the stories.
Lily Porter of Birmingham, Ala., is entering the 12th grade at the Alabama School of Fine Arts for Creative Writing. She said at a young age Harry helped her become less isolated and more a part of a community.
“I was in second grade when I first started reading the books,” she said, “and throughout elementary and middle school they served as an escape to a more fantastical world than the one I was stuck in. I didn't have many friends throughout that period, and because the characters aged up as I did, I felt like they were my companions.
“As I got older, however, the Harry Potter series became less of an escape and more of a way of finding friends. A whole community opened up to me, and the people I met there I'm still very close with. Harry Potter taught me how important friendship is. I've surrounded myself with a few very close friends, and I, like Harry, would be completely out of luck without them.”
Among Harry’s amazing powers not only is an ability to match up friends, but also to bring families together. Rick Bowen is 47, lives in Calabasas, Calif., and has a wife and three kids ages 20, 17 and 14. He said his family is planning to attend the first showing in their area of the new film.
“The Harry Potter books and movies are one of the few things that we all get excited about,” Bowen said. “As my kids have grown, they take away a little something different from each book. But it all revolves around the same characters. And in my family’s case, the characters have grown up with my kids.
“I love listening to my kids talk about what their experience with the story was. It’s really a nice window into each of my kids’ lives to hear what they take away from Harry Potter. … My daughter talking about the romances, my sons talking about the adventure. All of us talking about what we were excited about or surprised by. When we watch the movies, we talk about what was different or left out from the books. We can all share the experience of what we imagined as we read the books and what we see up on the screen.”
Entertainment Weekly’s Jensen pointed out that Harry came along “at a time when people were uncertain about the nature of heroes. What makes a hero? Can we trust a hero?”
Yet he also believes that Harry Potter’s impact will extend well beyond these times.
“It’s going to endure,” he said. “The grand story from book one to book seven is just a great heroic arc that has impacted a generation. But it’s timeless in terms of themes and ideas.”