Why does everyone like Harry Potter?

He is the perfect hero for readers looking for reassurance and a nannyish moral certainty

PHEW, PEACE at last! The kids have got their hands on that book and, I swear, they are mesmerised. There will be no more TV in this house for a while. In fact, to tell the truth, the only question is when will Dad get a chance to read the damned thing on his way to work. But you can't knock it, can you? Move aside Hannibal Lecter. Here comes good old Harry Potter!

I know, you've had enough. Over the past few days, the features pages of all the newspapers have been hijacked by proud, damp-eyed parents boasting about their children's enthusiasm for the author JK Rowling and her Harry Potter books, the third volume of which was published last week. Critics, normally far too cool to bother with children's books, have urgently filed their copy. Gurgling, sentimental editorials have appeared.

The few people, like Humphrey Carpenter, who have dared to suggest that there was nothing particularly new about the books have been pilloried. "Mr Carpenter is the creator of the children's comic wizard Mr Majeika," The Bookseller magazine sneeringly explained. Awkwardly, I too write children's books with a magical character, and find myself in the Carpenter camp. The Harry Potter books are fine - funny, imaginative, passably written - but to pretend that they represent a great imaginative leap forward is absurd.

The more hysterical outbreaks of Potterism among adults seem to me bogus and faintly depressing. There are two stories here. The success of Harry Potter among young readers is utterly genuine and owes nothing to publishing hype. The most honest and uncorrupted of readers, children can no more be persuaded by advertising to like a book than they can be dissuaded by adult disapproval. Roald Dahl was adored in spite of parental worry and critical snootiness, as were American-produced series such as Babysitters' Club or Goosebumps.

Unlike those books, the child-led success of JK Rowling's books has been matched by the enthusiasm of parents and it is this that has caused such excitement in the press and bookshops.

What explains the appeal to adults? Why have newspapers devoted so much space to Harry Potter and his admirers?

Potter, it turns out, is the perfect hero for the late 1990s, a time when readers are looking for reassurance and a certain nannyish moral certainty. Unwittingly, Rowling has invented the perfect protagonist and set-up for the age. A downtrodden orphan, growing up unhappily in the grinding suburban conformity of Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Harry Potter turns out to be the most gifted wizard of his generation. Like the children of Tony Blair and Harriet Harman, he faces the bleak prospect of going to his local comprehensive until a better opportunity appears - not a smarter establishment in another borough, but Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, to all intents and purposes an old-fashioned boarding-school - but with magical added ingredients.

It's perfect: the under-achieving child, his talents unrecognised by his foster parents; the school where modish non-conformity and traditional values can, with the help of a few spells, co-exist. Could there be a more inspiring setting for a story in an age of Blairite social conservatism with a smiling liberal face?

The author of the book is as perfect a contemporary hero as her creation. Unlike Dahl, a grumpy old sod with dodgy opinions and a controversial family life, or the mysterious and over-productive RL Stine, Joanne Rowling is attractive, divorced, a single parent who has known hard times and has come though, and who even, at one point, worked for Amnesty International. Short of appearing on TV with Stephen Fry for a self-mocking little item for Comic Relief, no author could be a more ideal role model.

Add to this perfect blend, the new and oddly Victorian obsession with children, with ministers increasingly favouring schools for photo-opportunities, and the hunger among adults for fiction that tells a story in the old- fashioned way, and one begins to see why Potterism has so many sentimental, kid-struck journalists in its grip.

None of which should detract credit from JK Rowling, the success of whose books will encourage thousands of children to read. Many, it is to be hoped, will turn to the true genius of contemporary children's fiction, Philip Pullman, whose astonishing His Dark Materials trilogy is currently reworking the story of the fall in a weird inter-galactic setting. At the end of the second and most recent book, The Subtle Knife, it was beginning to look as if the universal villain was God. We're still waiting for the cuddly editorials on that one.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?