Today marks the anniversary of the UK release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. For fans who grew up with these globally renowned books, it is hard to believe that it all started 22 years ago. However, the franchise isn’t showing any signs of slowing down – if anything, it is drawing in the next generation of fans.
Last week saw the launch of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, an augmented reality game that takes players into the wizarding world on a quest to find magical artefacts, cast spells and, ultimately, protect the wizarding community from muggle eyes. With downloads in excess of 1,000,000 in the first few days, it’s clear that Harry Potter still has a hold over huge number of followers.
So, what is the enduring appeal of Harry Potter? How has it managed to capture the imaginations of so many people, young and old alike? And what can we learn from this celebrated series of books for our exciting transformation at the V&A Museum of Childhood?
Imagining the wizarding world
One of the most impressive aspects of JK Rowling’s stories is the level of detail that has gone into creating them. Not only does she introduce a sprawling universe, but she has also written a number of books on the history and culture of that universe. Rowling even managed to invent an entire sport (Quidditch), a game played on broomsticks in which the teams must throw balls through elevated rings.
Fascination with this wizarding world has inspired fans to create a real-life version of the sport. Since its inception in 2005, the sport has become extremely popular, with an estimated 10,000 players across the world. A child-friendly version (with modified rules for safety) has been introduced, as well as rules for wheelchair Quidditch to ensure the sport is more accessible. The International Quidditch Association organises a World Cup every two years, with the most recent one in 2018 hosting 29 different teams. The current champions are the USA, who defeated Belgium in the final. The Harry Potter series has a wealth of stimulating content; real-life Quidditch is an excellent example of the power of stories, and how they inspire creativity and innovation.
You’re a Wizard, Harry!
Some of the key themes within the Harry Potter universe are those of home, family and identity. At the beginning of the first book Harry doesn’t really have any of these. He is forced to sleep in a cupboard under the stairs, and lives with three people who seemingly couldn’t care less about his existence. Harry doesn’t belong. Of course, this all changes when he learns that he is a wizard.
Over the next six books Harry discovers who he is, finds friends and family (and an arch-nemesis), and builds a home at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This huge castle is a place of wonder, discovery and mischief, but also of safety. Hogwarts has inspired many creations – from theme parks, toys and games, to the latest shoe designs. Some people even get the famous castle permanently inked onto themselves.
One of the reasons why the stories have endured is because the themes of home, family, friendship and identity are so relevant to young people, wizard or not. Even with powers beyond our wildest dreams, Harry is still in search of simple, universal needs. We can all see a little of ourselves in Harry.
I Solemnly Swear That I Am Up To No Good
While working on our redevelopment one of the big topics that we’ve been thinking about is adventure. For hundreds of years, folk and fairy tales, songs and poems, the written word and video games have been inspiring children and adults alike. Although the Harry Potter series has a lot of human elements to it, there is also danger, injustice, suspense and shock – many of the essentials that make a great adventure story.
One of the most loved aspects of the wizarding world are the characters. You can’t have an adventure without a baddie, and Rowling gives us plenty within the series. From the villainous Voldemort, to the obnoxious Bellatrix Lestrange, to the sickly sweet but inherently evil Dolores Umbridge (to name but a few) – these characters bring readers together in mutual loathing. However, all the characters, good and bad, have inspired fans across the globe. A quick search for ‘Harry Potter fan art’ brings up thousands of results in different styles, mediums and subject matters. This collection of art shows how the stories have helped people to unleash their creative confidence and share their creativity with others.
For me, the popularity of the Harry Potter series is undisputed. So, what can we learn from JK Rowling and her magical world? The big theme that crops up again and again is the power of imagination. We need to celebrate children’s ideas, encourage them to invent, concoct and create. If we at the Museum of Childhood can provide a platform for innovation and inspiration through our collections, exhibitions and programmes, we might help inspire the authors of the future. I will leave you with a quote from Rowling herself about the wonder of imagination…