The rest of this post is after the break - it's very long! (I could go on forever...)
The plot, Harry facing off against an evil wizard, Voldemort, is not that difficult to understand. After my dad had finished reading the first book,
I couldn't wait to begin the second. Him reading it out loud was too slow for me; I started reading Chamber of Secrets on my own. I tore through the third and fourth books delightedly. My imagination ran wild. Of course, I knew deep down that witches and wizards couldn't exist, but the possibility, oh the possibility, was enough. Sami and I would spend hours pretending to be wizards attending Hogwarts, school of witchcraft and wizardry! After finishing the fourth novel, I had to wait. I didn't have the good fortune of those discovering the series now. I remember devouring the fifth and sixth novels the days they came out, reading the meaty novels in a matter of days. The 7th novel was released when I was at summer camp, and I have clear memories of more than half of the girls at camp, and many of the counselors, waiting anxiously for their copies to arrive in the mail.
Rowling's novels not only tell the story of a young boy coming of age, but lets her readers identify with him. Since the story spans seven novels, we get to see Harry grow from an 11-year-old who is introduced to the world of magic to an 18-year-old hardened by war. It is a journey from childhood to adulthood. Which is what truly makes these novels special to me, and to millions of others around the world, is the fact that we grew up with Harry. While we may have not been fighting an evil wizard hell-bent on destroying us, we were facing our own issues. It's not just a story about wizards. It's so much more; it's about the power of friendship, family and love, it deals with death (the ones that love us never truly leave us is one of my favorite quotes from the series, said by Harry's godfather in reference to Harry's dead parents).
Harry's journey is reflected a lot in these thematic elements, but also in Voldemort himself. In the first two novels, Voldemort is this unknown evil guy. As Harry grows older, Voldemort changes from being a whole evil to being a very specific character. In the sixth novel, Dumbledore (the headmaster) has shown Harry that underneath everything, Voldemort is just a man. Harry isn't the only one who goes on a journey. Hermione, one of Harry's two best friends, is portrayed in the first two novels as a girl who knows everything and is smart and nerdy and not the prettiest girl in school. Yet she grows into this fantastic person, beautiful while keeping her smarts. I admired her greatly, and re-reading the books at an older age (as I have done many times) she definitely serves as a positive role model.
Not only did Rowling create a world within these novels, she created one outside. The highly successful film franchise that her books spawned is the highest-grossing film series of all time. The movies were unbelievable, creating a world I could only read about, on the big screen. Watching the main actors (Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry, along with Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, who played Hermione and Ron, respectively) grow up on screen was also really neat. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was created in real life, in Orlando, Florida at Universal studios. I was lucky to visit with my family last year, and it was literally walking the pages of the Harry Potter books.
JK created Pottermore over this past summer, an online experience to journey through the books and gain new tidbits of information, get your own wand, etc. While I was extremely excited for this site to launch, it turned out to be slightly disappointing due to the fact that it is not very interactive. Nevertheless, going through it the first time was exciting and getting sorted into a house was really exciting.I'm still dumbfounded at the scale of the world Rowling created. Everything, from the etymology of the characters' names to the pure magic of it is utterly fantastic. And everyone seems to think so. Her novels have been translated into more than 60 languages, and 400 million copies have been sold around the world. The final installment in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was the fastest-selling book of all time, selling 11 million copies in the first 24 hours (thats 127 copies per second!)
If you have not read these books, or know someone who has not read them, urge them to do so. The first few novels are geared towards children, but the subject material is universal. My sister and I started reading the 1st novel to my little brother, Matty, over last Christmas vacation. He was similarly hooked on the series, and at seven years old, he went on to read every book. The stories of Harry enthralled him, just as they had captured my sister and me eight years earlier. We recently read a speech at school that JK Rowling gave as Harvard's commencement address in 2008. In it, she says, "We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better." And I think if there is one lesson I take away from the series, its just that. It's the power of imagination. I began to love reading because of this series, and that has come to define a part of who I am. It's also the fact that even after 8 years, I still can curl up with one of the novels and comfort in the fact that I will just be totally and completely immersed into the story.