Sunday, June 25, 2017

How J.K. Rowling's Imagination Changed Our World

Twenty years ago today, a woman who worked on a big idea for five years published her first book. The light-bulb moment took her from a struggling single mother writing in cafes while her daughter slept to riches beyond anyone's wildest dreams. The books skyrocketed into selling more than 450 million copies and translated into 79 languages.

Who knew then what was to come, yet all of the reviews were prophetic:

“Extraordinarily vivid and exceptionally well-imagined” –  Independent on Sunday

“Rowling deserves all the plaudits that are being heaped upon her. For once, the word phenomenon is an understatement” –  Scotland on Sunday

“For the first time in years, the book lives up to the hype . . . perfection” –  Daily Express

For Rowling herself, and the millions of fans who bustled to their bookstore for the next book, and the ten years, couldn't see how the phenomenon of Harry Potter was taking place in a vacuum.

Generations of children became readers to imagine the world greater, more extraordinary and magical than ever before. Rowling's journey of the boy who lived and his daring escapades in a never-before-anticipated wizarding world gave birth to fiction and altered children's literature forever.

Only a few years after the monumental success of the Bloomsbury and Scholastic doled out the first few books were the movies on their way to give us a visual language of what we saw on the page. A second start began with director Chris Columbus, who chose the production team and cast the golden trio Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint - all who would stay on board for the next eight films. Of which Warner Bros., from the first boat journey to a glowing Hogwarts under nightfall to the last train ride back to the beloved boarding school, ensuring that Rowling's captivating story was created on the big screen.
When we read a book, no matter how long it lasts on the best-sellers list or doesn't transfigure into a world phenomenon, it simply becomes a part of our identity.

Similar traits we share with characters comfort us to feel less alone, as villains or love-to-hate antagonists offer opportunities to empathize with people outside of our own lens. The book sparked girls to feel like Hermione Granger warriors; to find wisdom in headmaster Albus Dumbledore; to understand a boy trapped in an ignorant family like Draco Malfoy; to see that people maybe shouldn't be judged by their cover Severus Snape; to accept their eccentricities with Luna Lovegood; to be the unexpected chosen one like Neville Longbottom, and everyone else in-between.

Every adventure Potter embarked on welcomed a new lesson of morality. His battle against Voldemort didn't just pit a child becoming an adult against an evil 'bad man'. All seven books were layered with lessons readers could enjoy, share, and embark on in their own lives. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Dementors floated as a metaphor for depression, with spells like Lumos and Expecto Patronum teaching students to fight against darkness. Characters were reminders that we are who choose to become: people are capable of more than good and evil. Her world-building of the wizarding world acted as a mirror for politics, morals, the environment, and social justice.

Harry Potter sparked fans to strive for what we believe in. How did the wizarding world and its treatment of house elves and magical creatures, or wizards and witches of superior or inferior blood types reflect how ordinary Muggles treat each other? How could we use Harry Potter to make our own world better? Like a real Dumbledore's Army, organizations like The Harry Potter Alliance conjured campaigns to support literacy and stop poverty. If we waited and wondered what our Hogwarts house was there was sorting quizzes, on forums we analyzed what the traits of those houses said about us, our theories about Rowling's hints throughout the books, and even more so, what the books meant to society as a whole.
In between, the world of Harry Potter emerged out of our imaginations, and into reality. In every aspect of Harry Potter, the power of her words became tangible.

If we want to go to Hogwarts, we can either by going back to the page or to the big screen. Universal Orlando laid the first brick for aspiring witches and wizards to experience the wizarding world as we know it from the movies to taste their first cup of Butterbeer, to have the wand chose them at Ollivanders, to fly on the back of Buckbeak's wings. And, the movie have forever found their home at Leavesden Studios, where fans can visit the sets, costumes, and props first hand at Warner Bros Studio London.

In every inch of the world, fans expressed themselves through fandom. Musicians and bands drum up wizard wrock, converting stories into new melodies and songs. Artists reimagine favorite characters into their own interpretations. Fanfiction expands on what they felt missed out from Rowling's canon, pairing characters and delving into the backstories of past eras. Words have entered our every vernacular with Muggle becoming an official Webster's Dictionary entry, and scientists are working on making invisibility cloaks real. From Mina Lima's fantastical graphic design creations for the film franchise to handmade crafts, collectibles made our seemingly impossible dreams come true. Harry Potter isn't only in our heads; it's real.
When we think back on this journey, there was no telling when it would begin. Yet year after every other year, bookstores, and subsequently the world, filled not just with kids and adults aiming to get their hands on Rowling's latest adventure, but future writers, social justice activists, musicians, artists, readers, politicians, social workers, teacher, enginers, scientists, activists, animal-rights lovers, chefs, journalists, filmmakers, dreamers, and dream-makers.

No amount of science can unlock the hard work and opportunity which made Harry Potter come alive. What would've it been like if Rowling hadn't failed - if she had failed so terribly that "rock bottom" never became the foundation to build her life. She changed the world by doing what she loved most (writing) and taking a chance on herself. The moment Hedwig delivered little Harry Potter his acceptance letter to Hogwarts, our imagination stepped over the welcome mat to escape and believe. Rowling changed the world by welcoming ideas and change to pursue her dreams of being published long and hard enough to make it come true - even if it only had one review ever. She just wanted to write, so that's what she did.

As a fan community, we have marked the series with tear-filled and joyful goodbyes. The last book released on July 21st, 2007 was the final occasional we'd queue in the bookstore all night long. The conclusion to Harry's battle against Voldemort on film faded to black with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 on July, 11th, 2011. But the series lives in on our own sense of nostalgia, in the history and ongoing issues within our culture, and how we keep it alive by reading more, expressing our love for the series in our own ways, and sharing our fandom within and amongst the world. More than twenty years later, with every new who gets their letter at Hogwarts, and every ongoing fan who shares their love of the series with an unknowing stranger or fellow aspiring Hogwarts students, the magic lives on.

How has JK Rowling and Harry Potter changed your life? Feel free to share in the comments below!

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