Why is Harry Potter so appealing to both adults and children?

by Sal Whittaker

Publishing a book is actually easier than many would suggest — as can be seen from such pieces of literary genius as ‘Will Young – A life’ and so it always surprised me that JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected by so many prominent publishing houses. It seems that they thought that the core theme of the book – ‘nice boy goes to boarding school and escapes from his nasty parent substitutes whilst proving his worth through his selfless deeds‘ – was out of date and rather overworked. However, the huge popularity of the series proved that this mainly English, boarding school genre had a lot more to give.

I feel that there are a variety of reasons for this, both psychological and, of course, simply based in the writing of the talented Ms Rowling.

A situation which is particularly attractive for writers to place their characters in, and one which is fascinating for readers to read of, is one in which the environment is enclosed and cut off from the rest of the world, so that the characters might behave without the restrictions or influences of the society which the reader lives in. This is used to great effect in novels such as William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’, and while it seems too much a flattery of JK Rowling to be comparing her work with that of Golding’s, I believe that the situation in which her characters are placed – i.e., an enclosed boarding school existence – lends a seriousness and an excitement to her novels, and allows her to create unbelievable and fantastic plots, admittedly helped along by the fact that magic is put into the mix. The tension and excitement is heightened because of the reader’s knowledge that simply anything can happen next, as Hogwarts is so cut off from the rest of the world that it’s rules and restrictions need not apply.

However, a more basic reason for the appeal of such a situation, is the idea that one is cut away from the family, and there is a sense of freedom and youthful abandon in this, which is, I believe, the reason for the book’s popularity with adults.

The adults of today are also attracted to the idea because of the nostalgia for boarding school days, and ‘Harry Potter…&c.’ is a reminder of childhood books such as ‘Tom Brown’s schooldays’, ‘Goodbye Mr. Chips’ and ‘The Famous Five’. To children the idea of an environment without the constant shadow of parents is also attractive, and lends to the interest in the characters’ behaviour without them. It is also fascinating to learn of the relationship between the characters, bonds which have risen from the environment described above, such as the friendship between Harry and Ron, or the attraction between Ron and Hermione. One gets the feeling that as JK Rowling progresses with the series, she will explore these relationships in detail, and as readers, it is difficult to guess whether the friendships – or indeed the enmities – will be maintained until the end of the series or whether they will dissolve, and this central theme will determine the morals which JK Rowling will to communicate with her readers.

It is the relationships between the characters, (rather than adventures and brave deeds), which is the central theme to this series, and it is Rowling’s clever creation and communication of the nature of these relationships which is so appealing to readers. It is less a story of one boy’s progression from childhood into adulthood, more a story of his growing understanding of the nature of human realationships, shown through the impact of certain unusual situations. I feel that if one explores ‘Harry Potter’ more closely, one finds that there are some serious and strong themes, instead of merely a story of a kid’s wand-waving antics.