J.K. Rowling’s universe of menacing trolls and forbidden forests haunts the bestseller lists week in and out, enthralling readers and leaving them hungry for more. All around the globe, words like “Dursley” and “Quidditch” now enrich vocabularies and occupy permanent categories of imagination, conjuring their mesmerizing spells.
Besides being wildly popular, the series has begun to attract the attention of literary scholars and academics. One of the first full-scale scholarly conferences devoted to the Potter books, Nimbus 2003, was held in Orlando, Florida. Covering a wide breadth of literary, cultural, and philosophical topics, this “Harry Potter Symposium” included talks on justice, moral development, the role of women, and heroism. Another such conference was held in summer 2004 in Canada, and Nimbus 2005 is set for the fall of 2005.
Not everyone is a fan. Literary critic Harold Bloom, for instance, has been a vocal critic of the Potter series. He insists the series is “an endless string of clichés” that doesn’t do anyone any good. He adds, “That’s not ‘Wind in the Willows’; that’s not ‘Through the Looking Glass’…. It’s really just slop.” He’s convinced that the Potter books won’t lead children on to Kipling, Thurber, or Carroll, and that the whirligig of time will erase this fleeting fashion.
Rowling is no Shakespeare, nor has she ever claimed to be. But as Mark Twain once said of his own books, they’re less wine than water, before adding this: “Everyone drinks water.” British philosopher Bertrand Russell once claimed that, given the general silliness of mankind, a view’s popularity is sure evidence of its falsehood. Clearly Russell overstated the case. Something’s popularity is decisive evidence of neither its truth nor falsehood, neither its value nor worthlessness. Potter’s popularity is good evidence, however, that it has struck a chord of some sort. Good timing, fortuitous circumstances, and aggres-