In what has become one of the world’s biggest phenomenons, Harry Potter now rivals Star Trek, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars in the world of fiction entertainment. With sales well over 300 million, the Harry Potter books are continually in the top lists devoted to literature.
But you’ve got to ask, what has made Harry Potter so popular? Would it have been so popular if it had been released in the early 90’s? Would it have been as popular without the cinematic brilliance of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies? What makes the Harry Potter books what they are?
Well to be perfectly honest without J.R.R. Tolkien, none of the fantasy writers writing today would be as popular as they are. Names like Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind and Terry Pratchett would be obscure writers loved only by a handful.
Some of you may believe that that is true regardless of anything that Tolkien wrote, but the truth is that Fantasy and Science Fiction are two of the biggest selling genres within modern day literature. This rise in popularity has also brought interest in the older fantasy stories, such as Beowulf and the Arthurian legends.
So has J.K. Rowling just managed to get her books onto shelves at the right time in human history? Would the world that Rowling has created even exist without the previous entries into the fantasy world?
One look at Rowling’s books and you can see that she has invested heavily within previous fantasy legends, going so far as to incorporate Merlin, one of the most famous wizards, into the history of her story as well as an everyday curse, “Merlin’s Beard!”
Continued study of her work will see something else that has perpetuated her fame and good fortune. Not only do her stories focus on Wizard’s and fantasy, but she incorporates them into a feasible modern day mythology and as a result target’s a totally different demographic.
There are many people out there that refuse to read or watch anything to do with the Fantasy or Science Fiction genre, that have fallen in love with the Harry Potter world. The modern day evolution of the fantasy genre has culminated in Rowling’s popularity and success with the Harry Potter novels.
But one can only wonder what would have happened if she had received a publishers OK earlier on in life. Of course there is a catch 22 involved here, being that the reason it took so long for her to get her books published is that Fantasy wasn’t popular a decade a go, but that is another conversation for another time.
Putting that aside though, would Rowling have reached the same success with her cross genre fantasy novels? Would the world have ignored the “Fantasy=Geek” stereotype and sat down to read the books?
We’ll never know, but you can be sure that the success wouldn’t have been to the extent of putting Rowling above the Queen in financial terms. Tolkien may have created the world of Fantasy and given it a life that it never could have dreamed of, but up until recently Lord of the Rings was the calling card of the Geek. Now it’s simply one of the world’s greatest loved books.
So who do we thank for the rise of Fantasy and Science Fiction to popular genres? Is it Tolkien? Is it Peter Jackson? Is it Rowling? Or is it the countless other authors and writers such as Robert Jordan, Terry Pratchett, Joss Whedon and Gene Roddenberry?
Honestly? I don’t really care, I’m just happy that I don’t get beaten up for wearing my Star Trek vest to a formal event! I’m just glad that I can use Lord of the Rings references in my everyday speech! And I’m just glad that I can sit on the train and read Harry Potter, and not be the only one!
By Joshua Hill