by Amy Slack, Features Editor
The popularity of Harry Potter may have had a positive effect on how accepting today’s twenty-somethings are of marginalised groups in society.
The Harry Potter series is a cultural phenomenon. Since the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997, the books have collectively sold around 450 million copies. Meanwhile, the eight films made about the boy wizard have generated $7.7 million.
Even without the huge numbers, the series’ impact is undeniable. Seven years have passed since the final book was published, and three since the final film instalment, yet Potter popularity continues. In 2014, High Street shops are selling Hogwarts-branded merchandise, while universities around the world take part in intervarsity Quidditch matches.
If this wasn’t enough, a recent study by an American political science professor has found evidence that Harry Potter has had an even more profound effect on those who read the series growing up. Anthony Gierzynski claims that children who read the Harry Potter books are more tolerant towards others as a result.
According to Gierzynski, “reading the books correlated with greater levels of acceptance for out-groups, higher political tolerance, less predisposition to authoritarianism, greater support for equality, and greater opposition to the use of violence and torture.”
It may seem implausible that a book series, no matter how popular, could have such an impact on a person’s views in later life. But, when you consider some of the issues featured in the series, the idea begins to make more sense.
Readers are immersed in a world where ‘pure-blood’ characters, such as the Malfoys, show extreme prejudice against Muggle-born witches and wizards. Another inequality, the treatment of magical creatures, is directly addressed by Hermione in the series when she sets up the Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare (or S.P.E.W for short).
A generation of children read the Harry Potter series, and spent their teen years watching the film adaptations. If ‘Muggle’ is so widely known nowadays that it has its own definition in the Oxford English Dictionary, then perhaps it isn’t surprising that other, more complex, ideas from Rowling’s works have become part of the cultural consciousness of today’s twenty-somethings – ideas like tolerance and equality.
While most millennials might not make a connection between their favourite books and their attitudes towards marginalised groups, others have actively drawn parallels between the real injustices of today and the fantasy ills of Rowling’s magical world.
The Harry Potter Alliance was set up in the US in 2005, and attempts to make “activism accessible through the power of story.” Addressing everything from human rights and equality issues to promoting literacy, the HPA uses Rowling’s books as inspiration for their campaigns. They have even directly tackled Warner Bros., the studio behind the Harry Potter films, on their use of non-Fair Trade chocolate in the Chocolate Frogs sold at the Harry Potter Studio Tour and the Wizarding World theme park in Orlando.
The HPA have received support from Evanna Lynch, who played Luna Lovegood in the film series, and even J.K. Rowling herself, who has donated signed books to auction for the HPA’s various campaigns. The group have raised over $150,000 to reinvest in equality initiatives, and during their most recent “Accio Books!” drive, members donated more than 30,000 books to children’s literacy charities.
For the HPA, success is “showing [young people] around the world how to apply the themes of their favourite stories to important issues in the real world.” But, if Gierzynski’s research is to be believed, this is already happening. Millennials are already applying Harry Potter thinking to the real world – even if they aren’t aware of it.