Okay, so I might be a few years late on this one (be sure to look for my follow-up post on why the Macarena is such a popular song), but I finished all seven Harry Potter books last year, and since reading the epic conclusion, I’ve been thinking about why people obsess over the series. And I mean obsess. My niece has read every book ten times each. People play Quidditch in real life. Universal Orlando built a Harry Potter theme park. I still see students on social media wishing they had attended Hogwarts (even though it doesn’t exist).
The books were perfectly fine. The writing was pretty good. The stories were entertaining. I wasn’t a huge fan, but I did enjoy reading them. Enough to finish all seven books in a year (I know that’s not impressive when compared to reading each book in one sitting the day of its release). It wasn’t until I dug deeper that I began to understand why people obsess over Harry Potter. Here’s my best guess:
1) People want to be special.
From the very beginning, Harry Potter is a regular boy stuck in an awful family. Then, he suddenly discovers that he’s actually a very special wizard who was meant for much more than a mundane life in a boring town. I wonder how many kids (or adults) lie in their beds at night wishing they were special. Dreaming of being swept away by Hagrid into a world where you’re the “chosen one.” Especially millennials. Their generation has been told its special since exiting the birth canal, but then mediocrity slapped them upside the head, and they’re left wondering where their magical broomstick is. (It’s in the closet; now go sweep the kitchen floor, muggle.)
2) People want to live an adventure.
Speaking of mundane, watching reruns of Law & Order: SVU—while incredibly educational—gets slightly boring in hour five. Movies, books, and video games all create adventures for people whose veins haven’t coursed with adrenaline in years. This isn’t exclusive to Harry Potter, of course, but every book is filled with adventures much more exciting than school, work, or doing chores.
3) People want to believe in the unseen.
I never understood why religious folks despised Harry Potter so much. After reading the series, I’m even more confused. If anything, I think the books encourage people to desire and pursue the unseen, mysterious, magical world of religion. Ultimately, that’s what religious followers wants, right? For there to be an unseen world that’s bigger and more important than the one we’re living in. And prayers are sorta like “magic,” aren’t they? And Dumbledore is an old man with a long white beard living above his children advising the “chosen one” who is destined to destroy the evil Voldemort. I mean, come on. My guess is that Harry Potter has led more people into the church than he’s led away from it.
4) People want real community.
This one is pretty simple, but the more technologically advanced we become, the more we long for human contact. It’s no coincidence that our favorite stories—even the ones written in the past decade—rarely include social media. In our imaginary worlds, people aren’t text messaging, tweeting, or looking for one-night stands on Tinder. They’re talking, exploring the world, and sharing life. A lack of technology leads to lots of in-person communication in Harry Potter’s world. He, Hermione, and Ron shared a special kind of friendship because they made one another priorities. How often do we experience that level of community in real life? Americans think we want solitude, space, and privacy, but our hearts tell us otherwise.
5) People want a home base.
Who wouldn’t want a place like Hogwarts waiting for you every fall? Even though lots of bad stuff kept happening inside the castle, it always felt safe. Like a warm blanket. People move so much these days that it’s hard to get that same sense of “home” anywhere. I’ve moved 20 times since I was 12 years old. True story. 20 times! I still have a special place in my heart for our childhood home. We all need that place where we belong. A place we fit in. A place we’re always welcomed. If you’ve paid attention though the years, almost every popular television sitcom has had that. Monk’s Café (Seinfeld); Central Perk (Friends); Cheers Bar (Cheers). And who didn’t want to hang out with the Huxtable family in their living room or get a lecture from Cliff at the kitchen table?
I’m sure I’ve missed a few reasons. Maybe you just really wanted a taste of Butterbeer or you’re obsessed with redheads. When something touches a nerve like Harry Potter did, I think it’s worth a bit of analysis to figure out why we’re so obsessed and how we can adjust our lives in ways that ultimately make reality a bit more mythical.
Photo (Flickr CC) by HarshLight