What I Learned About the Great Books & Harry Potter
by John Granger
Harry Potter or “Potter mania” is a counter-cultural phenomenon on several counts, but the most unusual, special, even mind-boggling one may be the fact that Americans, young and old, in groups ranging in size from a handful of people at a local library to hundreds of attendees at FanCons and universities, will travel no little distance and spend time they could be using “more productively” to listen to a lecture about books they have read. These books and the ideas in them are defining a generation’s mental landscape, and, not to exaggerate the effect, shaping an important part of their future.
In an Esquire article entitled “Death by Harry Potter,” Chuck Klosterman, a “talking head” or authority on popular culture, admits that he knows almost nothing about Harry Potter because he has chosen not to read the books or see the movies. He also admits that this choice is hastening the end of his career as a pundit.
An entire generation (or two) of readers has read this 4,100-page story again and again and seen the blockbuster movies repeatedly. The coming decades promise, consequently, to be all about Harry, as his story shapes public conversation. As Klosterman writes (emphasis his):
I find it astounding that the unifying cultural currency for modern teenagers are five-hundred-page literary works about a wizard. We are all collectively underestimating how unusual this is. Right now, there is no rock guitarist or film starlet as popular as J. K. Rowling. Over time, these novels (and whatever ideas lie within them) will come to represent the mainstream ethos of our future popular culture. Harry Potter will be the only triviality that most of that coming culture will unilaterally share.
And I have no interest in any of it.
And I wonder how much of a problem this is going to become.
The bookish kids reading Harry Potter novels may not go on to control the world, but they will almost certainly go on to control the mass media. In fifteen years, they will be publishing books and directing films and writing broad jokes for unfunny situation comedies that will undoubtedly be downloaded directly into our brains. And like all generations of artists, they will traffic in their own nostalgia. They will use their shared knowledge and experiences as the foundation for discourse. So I wonder: Because I don’t understand Harry Potter, am I doomed to misunderstand everything else?
Yes, Chuck, you are.
John Granger is an Orthodox Reader and the author of several books about Harry Potter, including How Harry Cast His Spell (SaltRiver, 2008) and The Deathly Hallows Lectures (Zossima Press, 2008). His website is HogwartsProfessor.com.
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