With the much heralded publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows an astounding publishing phenomenon has finally come to an end. The history of Harry Potter is well known – how, after eight rejections, a first novel written in coffee shops by single mother Joanne Rowling was finally accepted by Bloomsbury and published in 1997. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was to become the first of seven titles, one volume for each of Harry’s years at Hogwarts. The books’ instant popularity with adult as well as child readers then led to the simultaneous publication of each new title in two editions – one aimed at adults and one at children.
The final volume in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has now become the fastest selling book in history. In just 24 hours, according to the Bookseller, it chalked up 2,640,146 sales across Nielsen Bookscan’s Total Consumer Market. In the US, according to Scholastic Inc, the US publisher of Harry Potter, 8.3 million copies were sold in the first 24 hours after publication.
While Rowling’s prose is occasionally plodding and her chunky tomes overlong, her great achievement is imaginative consistency in her creation of Harry’s world, both external and internal. She has given great pleasure to thousands of young (and not so young) readers. In this final volume Harry (whose parents were killed when he was a baby) confronts death and the young reader who has accompanied him to the end of his voyage of discovery will find much of value.
But what will JK’s legacy amount to? In a society where reading now competes with instant messaging, music downloads and social networking sites, the Harry Potter books and the related Potter mania have powerfully encouraged the activity of reading. Since 1997 a generation of young readers has grown up with Harry, getting older as Harry has got older. It is too early to know how they will look back on that experience and whether and in what way, it has influenced their relationship to books and reading. It seems likely, however, that they will owe a great deal to J K Rowling and her unique and splendid achievement.