The storyline and whatnot of the Harry Potter series of books and movies has already been detailed in other nodes. Regarding the books, one has to ask, what is it about them that has made the Harry Potter series so incredibly popular? I do not dispute the fact that they are very good books, but rather I have to question what it is about them that has led to their incredible success – there have been few books which have spawned such a following amongst both young and old, or so much in the way of merchandising, and film adaptations.
Having thought about this a lot over the past few years, my opinion about the books is that their success is derived not from the storyline aspects of the books, but rather from the descriptions of every-day life at Hogwarts. In this way, it is somewhat reminiscent of the whole 'Survivor' / Reality TV craze – which gained popularity around the same time as Harry Potter did. Both are centered more around day-to-day life of those put into strange situations than the inevitable resolution of the situations that befall them. It is like a modern resurgence of the 'comedy of manners' genre, but in this case it is far more exaggerated than anything Jane Austen ever wrote. It is a comedy of manners for the modern generation, and just like so many texts produced today, it is far less subtle than it's predecessors ever were.
Reality Television is where a show is, generally, created around ordinary, real people who are put into a remarkable situation. 'Survivor' is possibly the most successful of all of the reality-TV shows, centered around a group of people who were put onto an island and had to try to 'survive' – making a camp site, collecting food, and trying to “outwit, outplay and outlast” one another through competing with each other for the “immunity idol.” It was a certain voyeuristic fascination with watching how people reacted to being placed in such a situation that made the show so successful. We wanted to see how one person's relationship with another progressed over the course of the show; how they formed groups within their tribes to try and beat the others, only to betray those who trusted them; we want to see these glimpses into other people's lives, but it is what happens on a daily basis that interests us, not so much the fact that one of them will inevitably win.
For the most part, Harry Potter consists of lengthy descriptions of what life is like at Hogwarts, while Harry studies to become a wizard. It covers the subjects that they learn, the people at the school, and all these weird and wonderful things which, to us, are so fascinating. Harry Potter is just a regular boy who suddenly finds out that his parents were wizards, that he is to start schooling to become a wizard, and that this entire society of magical folk lived their lives without anyone knowing. The plot takes backstage to the descriptions of everyday life at Hogwarts, at least that is my opinion. While the plot itself may be good in its own right, the descriptions of what Harry does when thrust into such an extraordinary situation are even better.
The Harry Potter movies lacked so much that the books had because the movies had to be centered around the plot while the books could be centered around the lifestyle that the wizards and witches enjoyed – the candy, the wands, the broomsticks; all of it seems far more interesting than Voldemort and his inevitable face-off with Harry. Likewise, 'Survivor' is not oriented around the inevitable conclusion that is one of them walking home one-million dollars richer, but around the way that they react to suddenly being placed on an island – cooking rats, making fire, exploring the island/setting, outplaying each other.
The difference is, of course, that the reality-TV craze died while the Harry Potter phenomenon did not. The first series of Survivor was great, but after that the concept became a big hackneyed and trite – no one was as interested because, aside from the people and the setting, nothing changed. With Harry Potter, every new book brings new characters and settings which are far more interesting than their real-life counterparts ever could be - but how long until Harry Potter too becomes hackneyed and trite?
A couple of additions courtesy of TheLady
1. "The reality tv aspect is reponsible for the fact that the books are becoming less fascinating, as the world they are set in becomes more familiar and the vouyerism aspect loses power."
2. "Conversely, it is a testament to the genius of C.S. Lewis, who set up each Narnia book in a slightly different world that the reader has to re-learn, which is what makes them stand up both as a series and on their own over time."