My son was born the year the first book was published. It turned out to be the first book he read to himself. The first three books were the first three books he read. He had to wait for the fourth to get written and published, before continuing with the series. My daughter, right along behind him, has heard each book on tape many many times, usually quietly crafting in her lap as she listened. Both attended every book release party, the one in 2007 being the first time either one stayed up until midnight. Can you remember how much adult conversation was generated by "The Sorcerer's Stone"? Everyone loved the book, everyone was talking about the book, and everyone was astonished to discover that one children's book could generate so much adult conversation. That buzz was a phenomenon of that time, mostly forgotten now.
What can not be forgotten is the deep mark Rowling has made in the social psyche of this generation of kids. They are truly the Harry Potter generation. They were shaped, intellectually and morally, by these stories. Using enchantment, literary device, and sheer repetition extending over years of their childhood, Rowling has managed to permanently illuminate issues of race, gender, and social consciousness for a whole generation. In a final back twist of love she even managed to bitch slap homophobia. No mere O.W.L.s work, that takes senior level wizardry. If Voldemort marked his follower's arms, she has marked their minds. Every generation hereafter can read these books at a gulp. This group of kids read and reread these books one at a time, year after year, over and over, as they grew up.
Last week I had to step between and child and his mother, who was worried and angry, to explain where we were and why. Surely because she was worried and angry, this mother began our conversation with astonishingly inappropriate concerns. We got it worked out. I think I buffered her anger at her kid. But I shook my head about it for a day or two. Until my daughter explained it all for me. "I've met her. She is a lot like Petunia Dursley. She's a muggle...ya know?" That was the moment I saw Rowling's legacy. This generation of children has a brand new archetypal mythology through which they can sort the world. And its a fine solid one. Which is a pretty slick trick for a series almost devoid of religion, with no one leader, no messiah, and no ultimate guiding power source.
Mother Love is given nearly religious reverence in this series. But as we all know, that's no fiction. I am grateful to Rowling for the back up and for all the good parenting she has made available for children. Often through an ageing gay queen:
“You did not do as I asked. You have never treated Harry as a son. He has known nothing but neglect and often cruelty at your hands. The best that can be said is that he has at least escaped the appalling damage you have inflicted upon the unfortunate boy sitting between you.”
Rowling has giving these children plenty to think about, while entertaining them nearly the whole length of their childhoods. Thank you, J.K.!