From left to right: Elizabeth Mosier, Heather Hebert, Anne Converse Willkomm, Anne Layman Horn, Amy Skelding
“Why Was Harry Potter so Successful?”
Muggles, wizards, and a few other creatures spent a recent Saturday afternoon at Rosemont to hear a panel of Harry Potter, dare I say, scholars…okay, I can at least refer to them as – enthusiasts, talk about the $27 billion+ series. Elizabeth Mosier, who teaches writing for young adults at Bryn Mawr College and is the author of The Playgroup and My Life as a Girl (YA novel) said, “Above all, J.K. Rowling wrote a good story.” Amy Skelding, who attended the first Harry Potter Conference in England, also a YA writer, and a well-read YA reader, agreed and added, “It’s also a ‘well-told’ story.” She went on to stress the importance of this idea when she stated, “Twilight, for example is a good story, I mean who doesn’t want to know more about a vampire who falls in love with a human, but unlike Harry Potter, it is not a well-told story.”
Anne Layman Horn, who teaches children’s and YA literature at Temple University and is a YA “Chick Lit” writer talked about the characters. “We connect with Harry.” She added that we connect with many of the characters and noted, “This is one of the first books in which people often identify with the ancillary characters.” She said Professor Lupin is one of her favorite characters.
When asked to state the reason for the success of this series, Heather Hebert, the manager of Children’s Book World – one of the last independent bookstores on the Main Line – said, “Scholastic.” She added, “Since Scholastic is solely a children’s publisher, I think they had the foresight to really see the potential for this series.” She went on to tell the audience about the day her mother, Hannah Schwartz, the owner of the bookstore, handed her the photocopied manuscript and said, “You have to read this.”
Roman Colombo, a 2010 graduate from the Rosemont MFA program, asked how Rowling compared to Tolkien. Amy Skelding and Anne Layman Horn both addressed this agreeing that Rowling can absolutely be compared to Tolkien in terms of her world building. “Rowling took great care to create a believable world.” Horn added, “Kids loved getting caught up in the world.” Kids and adults have, and continue, to painstakingly examine every nook and cranny of Diagon Alley, the Gryffindor Common Room, the Forbidden Forest, Hagrid’s hut, and every other place Harry, Hermione, and Ron haunt.
Finally, Elizabeth Mosier raised a great point – Harry Potter created a sense of community. She said young and old read Harry Potter and then talked about it, debated it, worried about characters, etc. Skelding added that while her mother was in the hospital, three generations read the series, discussed characters, grieved the death of characters, including Hedwig, and compared thoughts about plot points.
The discussion ensued for more than 90 minutes. We donned our wands, hats, Gryffindor scarves, and I even wore a cloak. While some of us are still waiting to receive our Hogwarts letters, we all smile at the thought of the new generations of children and adults who will pick up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and learn about the boy who lived in a cupboard under the stairs. There is a part of each of us who wishes we could, once again, read the book for the first time.
Anne Converse Willkomm, MFA
Note: Some of the quotes are paraphrased.