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Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the birth of the Wizarding World

June 26, 2017, 12:07 PM · Today marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of the world's most compelling modern entertainment franchise. On June 26, 1997, Bloomsbury published Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in the United Kingdom. The book would come to America the next year, under the title Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. While the first printing of the UK edition ran just 500 copies, 10 years later, the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, would sell 11 million copies... in the first 24 hours of its release.

The Harry Potter franchise would spawn eight movies, with another, spin-off trilogy in progress. And it has provided theme park fans with four beloved new lands at Universal theme parks in Orlando, Hollywood, and Osaka, Japan — attractions that would drive Universal's parks to record popularity and profitability.

Why is Harry Potter so beloved by so many fans? I believe that it is because the series, ultimately, addresses our collective desire to find a just home in a seemingly hostile world. No other franchise at this level is so focused on the concept of home as Harry Potter. Star Wars and Marvel offer good versus evil battles, too. But neither offer Potter's almost obsessive focus on the enduring archetype of home and the importance of the comfort that it can, but too often fails to, provide.

An orphan — driven from his birth home by war — Harry endures 10 years of humiliation before he can makes a new home at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There, Harry also discovers the wide variety of homes and families from which his classmates have come: the Weasleys' poor, but cozy, Burrow; the Malfoys' opulent, but cold, Manor; the Lovegoods' literally broken home. Throughout the series, we visit various characters' homes, discovering the comfort and support they provide some characters and the lack of that found in others'.

It's not just home that we seek in the Potter series — it is a just home, where things are put right, and comfort is given to all in need. In the series' quest for justice, we learn that the central conflict between good and evil is not one of right versus wrong, but between doing what is right and what is easy. Evil comes not from some alien invasion, but lies within us, ready to co-opt the institutions created to protect us, with the enthusiastic support and assistance of family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Home can be a bitter and ugly place, if we let it. Vigilance against evil is essential... but that rushing eagerly into battle can become a tragic, deadly mistake.

These lessons resonate with generations struggling to match the standard of living enjoyed by their parents and grandparents, while watching their schools, business, governments, and communities torn apart by those who eagerly sacrifice the well-being, and even lives, of others to preserve their own construction of superiority.

We all want a home. But what we consider a just home often stands in conflict with others' ideal of the same. No one thinks they're the bad guy. That's always the other one. In the Harry Potter series, we learn that, ultimately, it is up to you to choose your just home and your "family." But that your decisions will affect the lives of all around you.

I can think of no better lesson to teach a child... or an adult.

Of course, the Harry Potter books have elicited a great deal of hostility, too. Many (but certainly not all) Christians refuse to allow their children to read the books, watch the movies, or visit the theme park lands, claiming they promote witchcraft. I find that ironic, in that the main story arc of the books and movie constitute a barely disguised Christ fable. Or maybe that is the problem with Harry Potter for these Christians, after all? They don't like a popular character co-opting what they see as their story.

And let's not overlook the ire that some Disney fans (again, but not all) have for Potter, ever since the theme park rights went to Universal.

Whatever. The rest of us have found a blessed thing in J.K. Rowling's creation — we have found a home. The Wizarding World welcomes us all, no matter the house we've been sorted into, by birth or circumstance. Hogwarts' Sorting Hat listens to you. So choose your house robes, find your wand, and come play with a universe of fellow Harry Potter fans with whom you share this common bond.

And maybe, along the way, you will discover that we share so, so much more together, too.

Thank you, Joanne Rowling, for showing us the way home.

Replies (16)

June 26, 2017 at 1:00 PM · To date there has yet to be a more immersive and themed land than The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Specifically, the combined lands of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. There is no better achievement in theme parks. Universal knocked it out of the park.
June 26, 2017 at 1:40 PM · This will without doubt stir up a lot of conversation. TH Creative - The floor I believe is yours, sir.
June 26, 2017 at 2:01 PM · Stop it. I am a huge Disney fan. The world showcase and Haunted Mansion are my two favorite places on earth, but I love Harry Potter. Read all of the books several times. I even have personal photos of actual movie props. I also love what Universal has done, and we are all better off for it, Disney included. Without a doubt it is the single best themed environment in any theme park. The butterbeer, chocolate frog, Moaning Mertle, the wand shop, the queues, and you haven't even gotten on the rides yet. Maybe Disney will have taken notice and Star Wars will be 70% as good. Not sure how Star Wars will handle food, though. Back to Potter. The literary achievement was staggering. A children's series that grew and matured with the reader, and the author was not making it up as she went along. Each book told a contained story that was still part of a whole. And if you thought the movies were good...
June 26, 2017 at 2:14 PM · I have, as yet, been unable to go to Pandora and so can only go by what others have said about it. The one big impediment to the type of immersion that you get with Harry Potter that Disney faced is that the atmosphere of Pandora is toxic to humans. How can they get you to feel that actually there with that one simple given being in the way. Until Disney can find a way to overcome that little problem then I can't see Pandora being as immersive as Potter.
June 26, 2017 at 3:57 PM · If you ever make it to wee bonnie Scotland, make sure you head up to Fort William and take the Jacobite steam train up to Mallaig. Along the way you'll cross the Glennfinnian Viaduct (Sorry, no flying cars), and pass the island where Dumbledore is buried.
June 26, 2017 at 9:51 PM · Why is Harry Potter so popular?

Not sure how much of this is from what I have read the past few days and what is my opinion, but Harry Potter has the same archetypal hero story (as outlined by Joseph Campbell) as George Lucas' Star Wars, the legend of King Arthur, and J.R.R. Tolkein's the Lord of the Rings.

For children, what youngster hasn't daydreamed that he or she has special magical powers that their family doesn't understand, and they get to go off and live and go to school with other extraordinary children, and leave their boring and stupid families behind?

We have a family friend in her 70s who loves Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings, but not Star Wars. Maybe she likes fantasy but not sci fi or space fantasy? She also says, "That Harry Potter is so handsome..."

I think Harry Potter has its greatest appeal for people who read the books when they were under 18. Doing the math, these would be people up to about age 30 or 35 now.

I really liked Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series when I was around that age, and find it superior to Rowling's Harry Potter series on many levels. One of my work colleagues, who is a big SF and comics fan, feels that many elements of Harry Potter were stolen from Earthsea. He feels that even if Rowling never read one word of Le Guin, the Earthsea novels (Hugo and Nebula award winners) were a big enough influence within SF/fantasy that she would have to have known about the basic plot elements.

June 26, 2017 at 9:55 PM · Why is Harry Potter so popular?

Not sure how much of this is from what I have read the past few days and what is my opinion, but Harry Potter has the same archetypal hero story (as outlined by Joseph Campbell) as George Lucas' Star Wars, the legend of King Arthur, and J.R.R. Tolkein's the Lord of the Rings.

For children, what youngster hasn't daydreamed that he or she has special magical powers that their family doesn't understand, and they get to go off and live and go to school with other extraordinary children, and leave their boring and stupid families behind?

We have a family friend in her 70s who loves Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings, but not Star Wars. Maybe she likes fantasy but not sci fi or space fantasy? She also says, "That Harry Potter is so handsome..."

I think Harry Potter has its greatest appeal for people who read the books when they were under 18. Doing the math, these would be people up to about age 30 or 35 now.

I really liked Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series when I was around that age, and find it superior to Rowling's Harry Potter series on many levels. One of my work colleagues, who is a big SF and comics fan, feels that many elements of Harry Potter were stolen from Earthsea. He feels that even if Rowling never read one word of Le Guin, the Earthsea novels (Hugo and Nebula award winners) were a big enough influence within SF/fantasy that she would have to have known about the basic plot elements.

June 26, 2017 at 10:49 PM · Obviously you people haven't been to Tokyo yet...
June 27, 2017 at 5:12 AM · I feel that the Harry Potter franchise has a little something for everybody which is why it is so popular.

Thanks for linking your "NOT Avatar vs HP" story. I think it is one of the more important editorials to come out lately. Universal needed a jump and they got it with HP.

One thing that wasn't mentioned is how Harry Potter deals with power, racism, and privilege. Something that needs to be addressed more often in today's America.

June 27, 2017 at 7:17 AM · Universal's Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade (and connecting Hogwarts Express) are still the best themed lands in the world. I'm looking forward to what they do with Nintendoland.

Avatar never had a chance of competing with something like Harry Potter. It will fade into the ether as young parents continue to pass on the joys and stories of the HP world to their children.

June 27, 2017 at 10:24 AM · Harry Potter books will go down in history as literary classics along side the Narnia and Lord of the Rings/Hobbit books. The same cannot be said for other faddish series like Hunger Games and Twilight.

A lot of negativity still around Avatar at Disney. I say to hold off final judgment until Avatar sequels are released.

I think Disney will go all in on Star Wars lands. Not only are they prepping new area in their parks, rumor has it an immersively themed hotel is in the works. That is something that Universal hasn't done (yet).

June 27, 2017 at 1:23 PM · Some preposterous comments here. Rowling is lifting stuff from Earthsea, even if she hasn't read the series?? So I guess Rowling herself has magic powers? I didn't know she was psychic. You know what, she probably hasn't read a word of that series, because they're not exactly the most famous books. Ask the average person if they've heard of the Earthsea series, and you'll get a blank look. Ask them if they're heard of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, and it's a different story. I've read quite a lot of science fiction, I know of Le Guin, but never heard of this Earthsea series, despite its awards. But if Rowling HASN'T read it, you're still going to accuse her of defacto plagiarism??
Another ridiculous comment: Pandora has to explain how we can breathe the atmosphere? If theme park attractions had to explain away everything, they wouldn't be able to do anything. On Space Mountain, how come we can breathe while doing the ride? How come the same things happen every time you go into the Haunted Mansion? Why do the pirates never harm the guests riding through? How come we don't have to wear winter clothes on Expedition Everest? And so on. Yes, it just gets silly.
As for Potter, to me the appeal of the series is that it's well crafted fantasy but also relates strongly to our world. It has a lot of parallels to the real world, including racism, government corruption/incompetence, young people drafted into conflicts caused by adults, etc. It's not really about a magic world; it's about our world.
June 27, 2017 at 1:23 PM · The reason Potter was such a literary phenomenon was because it focussed on children in a school, which we watched grow up and graduate as normal schoolkids do, with magic powers in an environment which they could all relate to, stimulating their imagination, which children have aplenty. This, plus amazing characters, all with memorable names, a plethora of unique and creative imagery, objects and animals all wrapped up in a Good v Evil fight in locations everybody could identify with was completely and utterly believable to all who read them. Genius! The films did a superb job in bringing them to life while Universal has given us full interactive immersion to a level which may never be equalled.
June 27, 2017 at 1:22 PM ·
June 27, 2017 at 9:13 PM · Still A Fan:

From my earlier post: [My work colleague] feels that even if Rowling never read one word of Le Guin, the Earthsea novels (Hugo and Nebula award winners) were a big enough influence within SF/fantasy that she would have to have known about the basic plot elements.

From Le Guin's blog, 2017:

So, then, what’s the difference between being influenced by a body of work and admitting it, and being influenced by a body of work and not admitting it?

This last is the situation, as I see it, between my A Wizard of Earthsea and J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter. I didn’t originate the idea of a school for wizards — if anybody did it was T.H.White, though he did it in single throwaway line and didn’t develop it. I was the first to do that.

Years later, Rowling took the idea and developed it along other lines. She didn't plagiarize. She didn’t copy anything. Her book, in fact, could hardly be more different from mine, in style, spirit, everything.

The only thing that rankles me is her apparent reluctance to admit that she ever learned anything from other writers. When ignorant critics praised her wonderful originality in inventing the idea of a wizards’ school, and some of them even seemed to believe that she had invented fantasy, she let them do so. This, I think, was ungenerous, and in the long run unwise.

I’m happier with writers who, perhaps suffering less from the famous “anxiety of influence,” have enough sense of their own worth to appreciate their predecessors and fellow-workers in the saltmines of literature.

June 27, 2017 at 10:59 PM · Still sounds far fetched -- some kind of influence by osmosis? Le Guin herself said that the Potter books could not be more different. It's at least as likely that Rowling never read Le Guin's series and just came up with the idea of a wizarding school on her own. Why not? If someone writes a haunted house story, does he necessarily have to be aping The Shining?

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