Two weeks from now Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, the seventh in the phenomenally successful Harry Potter film series, will be released to eager fans who have waited 16 months since the last film. Television, radio, and the Internet are awash with clips from the film and interviews with the stars, particularly "The Trio": Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson.
Make no mistake, the Harry Potter franchise is big business in a way never seen before. The books have sold over 400 million copies, and once the film series is completed in 2011, the films are expected to have grossed roughly 7 billion dollars. That's not a typo: $7 billion. While the Star Wars films posted huge numbers at the box office, the books that were written afterward dramatizing the films only appealed to a small audience. And while The DaVinci Code (inexplicably) sold a mountain of books, the film was less than spectacular. The Potter franchise is a double hit, made more impressive because this is a series of books and films that has continued to captivate audiences for more than a decade.
What may have been overlooked in the frenzy leading up to the film's release is the effect it is likely having on reading this fall. The Harry Potter book series may have wrapped up with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows three years ago, but millions of kids, teens, and adults are re-reading the book prior to the November 18th opening of the movie, and many others are reading it for the first time. Given the fact that Deathly Hallows is a 780-plus page book, this is no small feat.
Furthermore, the book/film relationship has sparked an ongoing debate among readers over what has been left out of the film adaptations, what has been changed, and whether or not it's a good thing. Hopefully, such a debate will move readers beyond the fairly simple fan loyalty stage to a point of realization that many films started out as even better novels. The film versions of The Maltese Falcon, The Godfather, and The Lord of the Rings were indeed classics; the books were no less so.
As good as the Potter films are, the books remain king in this relationship. For more than a dozen years, J.K. Rowling and her boy wizard have done something many thought impossible: they made reading cool again, for adults as well as children. Prior to 1997, who would have imagined that millions of children would attempt to read an 800-page book in one sitting, or that their parents would be anxiously waiting for them to finish reading so they could start?
Each year a new wave of these children discover the books, sometimes before seeing any of the films, sometimes after, and often just before the release of a new Potter film. With the Harry Potter books, Rowling opened up a world of imagination to a generation of kids who thought for anything to be entertaining it had to have a plug, a screen, or an Internet connection. And these kids (and hopefully their parents as well) will keep reading, if only in the hope of finding another book or series that grabs them the way Harry Potter did.
Even if Rowling never writes another word, people everywhere who love books owe her a debt of gratitude for making reading a novel something we, and more importantly our children, look forward to. The newest Potter film may or may not be the best in the series so far, but it certainly has brought attention back to the books once more. That's a win-win situation for everyone.