The seven-book Harry Potter series, which recounts the early life of a downtrodden boy who finds out he’s a wizard, has sold more than 400 million copies worldwide. Today, July 8th, JK Rowling published a new story called Pottermore, which although crashed the site, ignited the heartfelt love of the fans and drove them mad. Not coincidently, today was also the opening of the new attraction at Universal Studios Orlando, called Diagon Alley.
So why have the Harry Potter Series been so successful when it comes to appeal among the masses? Is it because the writing is above and beyond other authors’ works? The writing is very good. But more so I believe Harry Potter has become the phenonmenon it has become because it spreads hope. The hope of being someone above and beyond who you thought you would ever be. This is in fact the premise of the story. Harry being an orphaned boy and being raised penniless comes to find he possess special abilities and trains to become even stronger in the art of wizardry. Ah, but it is the latter aspect that I especially like; the training aspect. It is a powerful message to children as well as adults all across the world who grapple with the understanding that talent is an all encompassing ability that doesn’t require work. Harry although is born a wizard, has to practice the art with great discipline everyday to be proficient at it. Through the storyline we see his challenges and triumphs and his attributes that make him easy to relate to and similar to that of every individual out there.
Of the many debatable issues in sports or in life, for that matter, few are as “unanswerable” as the issue of nature vs. nurture, the notion that people are born champions or made into champions through hours and years of hard work. This debate applies to just about anything; your salary, your ability to play a musical instrument, to paint, to play sports.
Some of you may have heard of the Matthew effect, and the debate about work vs natural ability, born vs bred. There are many good books on the subject. The initial discussion of the Matthew effect for me was stimulated by my reading of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, as he devotes a section of the book to this discussion. It’s called 10,000 hours, after the notion that this is the minimum amount of time it takes to become world class at anything.
Another good book, is Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. We have all come across individuals who have a great sense of humor, although they are not very physically attractive. Individuals that are amazing at their career in spite of difficulties they have experienced in life and adversities they have had to contend with. Individuals who are role-model fathers and mothers although they didn’t experience a great childhood. So what do these individual circumstances demonstrate? For me they domonstrate that if you want, you can and you will. However the question that remains is will the ability bred be equal or less than the individual born with it? That is a different and difficult argument to make because most people we love and admire are not born in to success, champions, noble prize winners and executive CEOs that have made a difference of a lifetime; they have worked to get there. They trained and invested their lives in becoming that dream or vision they had imagined. In other words, they were their own hope, their own wizard. The media follows the bred rather than the born, because we love success stories as a species. Those who were born with a talent are rarely emphasized these days, hence the demise of the IQ tests and others alike who predicted success.
So when we see Harry, or any hero for that matter be it Superman, Spiderman or for us girls an old favorite Cinderella who rises from the ashes, an imaginary victory or ability is just as soothing and remarkable because it creates hope. The hope of being something and someone we aspire to be. Although in real life training and education are the practical ways of gaining that hope and fulfilling that vision, in fantasy we look up to those who already possess the abilities.