Impossible not to have seen it yet. I’m talking about the Harry Potter reunion, which arrived in Italy on Sky under the title Harry Potter: Return to Hogwarts. Twenty years after the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and after 7 books, 8 films, a spin-off saga (Fantastic Beasts), dozens and dozens of collaborations with brands, a question arises: how can the world of the wizard who survived He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named still be so successful?
First of all, it must be understood that when we talk about Harry Potter we are talking about a unique case in the history of both publishing and cinema (and perhaps television). This is not my personal opinion, but simply what the data show.
The youngest haven’t experienced it, but those of my generation will remember the queues outside bookshops the day the eagerly awaited new book by J.K. Rowling came out, the afternoons spent reading and rereading those pages in which children of our age defeated dragons, dementors and Death Eaters with spells, the waiting to find out how they would have managed to turn Quidditch matches, the challenges of the Triwizard Tournament and the appearance of Voldemort into a film.
The saga that began with 500 copies published by Bloomsbury, in 2018 reached the stellar figure of 500 million books sold and last year saw a copy of the first print run being auctioned by Heritage Auctions in Dallas for a whopping $471,000 (around €417,000). If the paper versions continue to be reprinted in new formats and with new covers, the ebook versions do not disappoint either. Buyable directly from the Pottermore website – launched in 2012 to reach younger demographics increasingly connected to technology and electronic devices – in 2019 the digital books of the saga earned over £31 million, proving that Harry Potter continues to arrive and attract new readers.
The eight films that marked the decade 2001-2011 were a hit with audiences and box office, with the latest Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 reaching a record 1.3 billion. Moreover, they continue to be a safety net in terms of share for broadcasters around the world, just think that, in Italy, during the spring of 2020 Mediaset averaged between 16 and 17% share when it decided to postpone all the films during the first lockdown, surpassing competing shows such as Montalbano and Alberto Angela.
It’s just that when we hear Hedwig’s Theme by John Williams coming from a switched-on television something strange clicks in us. Those notes are our Madeleine, but if one part of us goes back in time, the other cannot help but wonder, with a veil of sadness, why such a sensation does not occur with other things, other films, other books.
It is precisely here that the answer to the initial question lies: why is Harry Potter still so successful?
J.K. Rowling, first on her own and then together with Warner Bros. and the entire film crew, has managed to create a world where people grow up, friendships and loves are born, people learn, laugh, but also suffer, cry, fear and die. Not very different from reality, but with one substantial difference: in every moment, even the darkest, we can see a happy ending. In every book and every film, the author has taught us, little by little, to learn to believe in goodness and goodness.
I think this is why we always gladly take refuge in Hogwarts, which over the years has been able to welcome people of all ages and from all over the world.
“Harry: Is this all real? Or is it just happening inside my head?
Dumbledore: Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
Because from time to time we get the feeling that the corridors of the castle, the streets of Diagon Alley, the Burrow, the Black family mansion at number 12 Grimmauld Place and even the basement of number 4 Privet Drive are more home than our apartment block, the office we spend most of our time in, the streets of the city we live in.
Of course, we don’t always need an imaginary world where people move from one place to another through chimneys, sometimes we just need a world where people are willing to stand in line for hours and hours, not for the umpteenth iPhone exactly like the previous five – or for a control pad – but for a children’s book, which is not just for children.