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Episode
263

The Magical Legacy of Harry Potter

May 17, 2022
Arts & Culture
-
18
minutes

Since the first book was published in 1997, the Harry Potter series has had an enormous impact on everything from British soft power to teen culture.

In this episode, we look at the magical legacy that it has left, and how fans are relating to the books, 25 years later.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about the Magical Legacy of Harry Potter. 

[00:00:29] This is a follow-up to our last episode where we looked at JK Rowling’s battle to publish the books, so if you want to press pause and go and listen to that one first, then I’d recommend doing so.

[00:00:42] In this episode we’re going to talk about how and why Harry Potter changed the world, and look at the legacy that the books, and its author, have left on children’s publishing, fan culture, and on Britain.

[00:00:57] OK then, let’s jump right into it.

[00:01:01] The first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone, was published 25 years ago this year, on June 26th of 1997 to be precise.

[00:01:14] It’s no exaggeration to say that the world is a different place for it, and I think you’d be hard pressed to deny that the world is a better place thanks to JK Rowling and Harry Potter.

[00:01:27] Right, let’s start with the impact it has had on the world of children’s publishing.

[00:01:33] As you’ll remember from the last episode, JK Rowling had to fight hard to find a publisher for the first Harry Potter book, and was rejected by 12 publishers before finding one that accepted it. 

[00:01:48] The book was very different from other children’s books. 

[00:01:52] It was long, it was full of lots of detail, it was too dark for children, it was set in a boarding school, which is a type of school that only a tiny proportion of British children go to.

[00:02:05] Put simply, the adults in charge of choosing which children’s books to publish thought it wouldn’t appeal to children, they thought children wouldn't like it.

[00:02:15] This all changed after an actual child, an 8-year-old daughter of one of the publishers, read some of it, and reported back to her father that the book was wonderful.

[00:02:28] Of course, lots and lots of children do love it. 

[00:02:32] They loved it when it first came out, and the appeal of Harry Potter hasn’t died out.

[00:02:38] 25 years after the first one was published, the Harry Potter books are still among the top sellers for its publishing house, Bloomsbury, and in 2021 sales of the Harry Potter books actually jumped 7%, they went up 7%.

[00:02:57] If you’ve read the Harry Potter books, you’ll know that they are timeless, the magical world is one that a 10-year-old in 2022 can be as captivated by as a 10-year-old in 1997.

[00:03:11] Looking at the legacy of the books, the impact that the books had on children’s publishing was unprecedented - it had never happened before. 

[00:03:21] The books showed publishers that children’s literature wasn’t an afterthought, it wasn’t something that was basic, banal, and would always be less profitable and interesting than adult literature.

[00:03:34] The fact that Harry Potter was complicated, it was long, it was full of detail and intricate descriptions, this showed publishers that children wouldn’t necessarily be put off, they wouldn’t be discouraged, by this level of detail. Indeed, they loved it.

[00:03:52] As such, publishers were more willing to publish longer and more detailed children’s books, blurring the lines between what is a children’s book and what’s an adult book, and ultimately giving children better options for fiction.

[00:04:09] The result of this has been, perhaps unsurprisingly, that Harry Potter has been excellent news for children’s literacy

[00:04:17] Even after the films came out, meaning that children didn’t necessarily need to read the books to engage with the story, there have been numerous studies suggesting that it has had positive effects on both the amount of children that read for pleasure, and the amount of reading that they were doing. 

[00:04:37] In other words, the books got more children reading.

[00:04:41] As kids started talking about Harry Potter in the playground or after a school holiday, other kids wanted to read it. 

[00:04:49] And for many kids, at over 600 pages, the last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would have been the longest book they would ever have read, and shown that actually yes, reading can be a huge amount of fun and long books don’t have to be intimidating.

[00:05:09] Perhaps it is too much to say that Harry Potter gave birth to a new, reinvigorated generation of young readers, but it certainly was the gateway to reading that many might not have had, had it not been for JK Rowling.

[00:05:25] Secondly, in terms of the cultural impact of Harry Potter, it brought “fan culture” mainstream. If you are from somewhere like Korea or Japan, or you’ve spent much time in these countries, you will know that there is quite a mainstream culture of fandom, of people being obsessed with fantasy games and literature.

[00:05:49] Until Harry Potter, in much of the US and in the UK at least, this was a relatively marginalised thing. 

[00:05:58] Sure, kids might dress up as Star Wars or Star Trek characters, but certainly for teenagers it was quite an outsider thing to do. Kids might be teased by their classmates as being geeky, or weird for being so obsessed with these fictional characters.

[00:06:19] Harry Potter, and the way it was published sequentially, in order, opened the doors for this type of fan culture to become accepted and mainstream.

[00:06:31] As a reminder, the Harry Potter books were published over a period of 10 years, with one coming out every one or two years. The first was published in 1997, and the last, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, published in 2007.

[00:06:48] There were midnight release parties when the next book would be released. Kids would queue up with their parents outside the bookshop, eager to pick up a copy of the latest book, run home and read it as quickly as possible and find out where fortune would lead this young wizard next.

[00:07:08] Many people, and I would include myself in this category, as I was 10 when the first Harry Potter came out, many people grew up with the books, and grew up with Harry. 

[00:07:21] Although the story of Harry Potter is, of course, set in a completely different and magical world, the emotions that Harry feels, and the struggles he goes through to find his place in the world are ones that children all over the world could relate to. 

[00:07:39] Friendships, love, rivalries, disappointment, joy, these are all deeply human things that kids around the world were experiencing at the same time as their magical hero.

[00:07:53] Not only that, but the series also notably touches on real-world issues like prejudice and inequality, introducing kids to subjects that they might not have encountered before. 

[00:08:06] Even in the wizarding world not all witches and wizards are treated equally; those with non-magical relations, for example, are called ‘mudbloods’ — which, in the books, is treated as something like a slur, a nasty word for something. 

[00:08:23] As the Harry Potter books continued to have a more and more profound impact on culture. 

[00:08:29] Inevitably a brighter spotlight started to shine on the woman who created the story, JK Rowling.

[00:08:37] Even really by the time the second book was published, JK Rowling had become a celebrity. And by the time the last book was out, she was a multi-millionaire and probably the most famous living author in the world.

[00:08:53] This fame and success didn’t sit well with her. She didn’t seem to like it, and was much more comfortable away from the cameras and crowds than attending awards ceremonies or giving interviews.

[00:09:07] As with any successful work of fiction, whether that’s a book, a film, or even a song, people want to know about the process of creating it, and they also want to know things that might not have been revealed in the book, or have been obvious.

[00:09:24] Why did Harry make certain choices? What did characters truly believe? 

[00:09:30] When JK Rowling revealed her answers to some of these questions, they weren’t always well received by the public.

[00:09:38] For example, after the final book in the series had been released, she revealed that the character Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, was gay.

[00:09:50] While many people felt this was something to celebrate, providing much-needed representation in the literary world, others criticised the fact that Rowling never included this information in the books themselves. 

[00:10:05] Similarly, you may have heard that she has got into trouble recently for a perceived lack of sympathy for the trans community. Long story short, she tweeted in support of a university lecturer who was sacked for her gender-critical views, writing that people shouldn’t be forced out of their jobs for stating that sex is real.

[00:10:28] Now, this tweet was perceived by many trans groups as endorsing transphobia, and there has been something of a backlash against JK Rowling in certain corners of the internet, even culminating in Vladimir Putin comparing the treatment of Russia after the invasion of Ukraine to Rowling’s treatment after her comments.

[00:10:52] For someone who appears to despise fame and prefer life out of the limelight you can imagine it must have been quite the shock to find yourself being compared to Vladimir Putin, and of course JK Rowling publicly rejected the comparison shortly after it was made.

[00:11:11] Now, let’s just pause and take stock for a minute. 

[00:11:15] We’ve talked about the impact that the book had on the world of children’s publishing, in encouraging children to read because the stories were just so captivating. We’ve talked about the impact that the books have had on fan culture, and on normalising being obsessed with magic and fantasy worlds. 

[00:11:35] We’ve also talked about how this legacy has been affected, to a certain degree, by what the creator of this magic world has made publicly known, through her revelation that Dumbledore was gay and her comments that were considered to be offensive and unsupportive to trans people.

[00:11:53] Evidently, when you sell over half a billion books, and there are literally university courses on your books, it’s inevitable that you won’t please everyone.

[00:12:04] Critics of JK Rowling say that the fame has gone to her head - that the more she talks about Harry Potter, the more she drags the story through the mud, and that the best thing she can do for Harry Potter is to keep quiet about it.

[00:12:20] Indeed, the actor who played Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe, said, “If you found anything in these stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life — then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred."

[00:12:37] One final important legacy of Harry Potter, and this is particularly true for the film adaptations, is on the impact that it had on Britain’s soft power.

[00:12:49] After the success of the books, JK Rowling had huge Hollywood studios offering to pay her vast amounts of money for the rights to the films. 

[00:13:00] While some authors would have gladly accepted these fat cheques and handed over creative control, JK Rowling didn’t.

[00:13:09] She was worried that Harry Potter would be Americanised, with American actors, and adapted to suit American cultural norms

[00:13:18] In short, she was worried that the story would be turned into something very different to how she imagined it.

[00:13:25] Her conditions for the movie versions were that she would have tight control over the script, and that they would all be filmed in Britain with British or Irish actors.

[00:13:37] And the impact of this was huge. There were no American actors allowed, meaning that one of the most successful film franchises in the 21st century was a uniquely British affair.

[00:13:52] The hundreds of millions of people who have seen the films have watched a very British take on a fantasy world. 

[00:13:59] This is thought to have brought in countless millions of pounds as tourists flock to Britain, in part to have a sense of this mysterious world they have seen in the films or read about in the books. 

[00:14:12] And on a purely economic level the fact that these hugely successful films were made in the UK proved to many across the pond, in the United States, that you don’t need to be in Hollywood to make a Hollywood blockbuster.

[00:14:28] Now, to end this exploration of the magical world of Harry Potter, I wanted to share some fun and interesting facts about the books and films that you may not have been aware of.

[00:14:39] For example, did you know that the film production team spent months training the Hogwarts owls to carry letters? 

[00:14:48] Or that Rupert Grint, the actor cast as Ron Weasley, performed a rap for his audition

[00:14:55] On a linguistic level, the translators had quite a job ahead of them when it came to internationalising the books.

[00:15:03] You might remember the Master of Potions, who in the English version is called Severus Snape. 

[00:15:10] In French he’s called Severus Rogue, meaning proud or haughty. Similarly, in Italian he becomes Severus Piton, which sounds more like “python”, a snake. 

[00:15:25] And the book didn’t only need to be translated from English to other languages, it needed to be translated from British English to American English.

[00:15:35] The title of the original version was “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, but when it was published in the United States the publisher thought that “philosopher” wouldn’t be so compelling to American children, so changed it to “Sorcerer”, which is another word for a magician.

[00:15:55] If you ask me, it’s a much worse title, but I am approaching this from the point of view of British English.

[00:16:02] The final thing I would like to say is that I think Harry Potter is a great choice to read for intermediate and above English learners, so for someone like you. It doesn’t matter whether you have read it before in your own language or not. 

[00:16:18] Pick up a copy in English, perhaps even on a Kindle so you can easily look up harder words, and jump into this magical English world. 

[00:16:28] Sure, there will be pointless magical words that you might not understand, but that’s all part of the fun. 

[00:16:35] At the end of the day, it’s hard to deny the impact of Harry Potter. With over 500 million copies sold of the books, countless millions of young minds being inspired, and billions of hours of fun coming from the imagination of one young woman, it’s a truly magical legacy indeed.

[00:16:58] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Magical Legacy of Harry Potter, and with that comes the end of this little exploration of the writing and legacy of the Harry Potter books.

[00:17:11] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:17:15] If you have read the Harry Potter series, how do you think it affected you, and in what way?

[00:17:21] If you haven’t read it, or if you have read it and thought it wasn’t very good, what was it about it that didn’t get you excited?

[00:17:29] And, given that you may have read a non-English version, are there any amazing translations of the names in your language? 

[00:17:36] And if you have read it in English, did you enjoy it?

[00:17:40] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:17:44] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:17:53] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:17:58] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about the Magical Legacy of Harry Potter. 

[00:00:29] This is a follow-up to our last episode where we looked at JK Rowling’s battle to publish the books, so if you want to press pause and go and listen to that one first, then I’d recommend doing so.

[00:00:42] In this episode we’re going to talk about how and why Harry Potter changed the world, and look at the legacy that the books, and its author, have left on children’s publishing, fan culture, and on Britain.

[00:00:57] OK then, let’s jump right into it.

[00:01:01] The first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone, was published 25 years ago this year, on June 26th of 1997 to be precise.

[00:01:14] It’s no exaggeration to say that the world is a different place for it, and I think you’d be hard pressed to deny that the world is a better place thanks to JK Rowling and Harry Potter.

[00:01:27] Right, let’s start with the impact it has had on the world of children’s publishing.

[00:01:33] As you’ll remember from the last episode, JK Rowling had to fight hard to find a publisher for the first Harry Potter book, and was rejected by 12 publishers before finding one that accepted it. 

[00:01:48] The book was very different from other children’s books. 

[00:01:52] It was long, it was full of lots of detail, it was too dark for children, it was set in a boarding school, which is a type of school that only a tiny proportion of British children go to.

[00:02:05] Put simply, the adults in charge of choosing which children’s books to publish thought it wouldn’t appeal to children, they thought children wouldn't like it.

[00:02:15] This all changed after an actual child, an 8-year-old daughter of one of the publishers, read some of it, and reported back to her father that the book was wonderful.

[00:02:28] Of course, lots and lots of children do love it. 

[00:02:32] They loved it when it first came out, and the appeal of Harry Potter hasn’t died out.

[00:02:38] 25 years after the first one was published, the Harry Potter books are still among the top sellers for its publishing house, Bloomsbury, and in 2021 sales of the Harry Potter books actually jumped 7%, they went up 7%.

[00:02:57] If you’ve read the Harry Potter books, you’ll know that they are timeless, the magical world is one that a 10-year-old in 2022 can be as captivated by as a 10-year-old in 1997.

[00:03:11] Looking at the legacy of the books, the impact that the books had on children’s publishing was unprecedented - it had never happened before. 

[00:03:21] The books showed publishers that children’s literature wasn’t an afterthought, it wasn’t something that was basic, banal, and would always be less profitable and interesting than adult literature.

[00:03:34] The fact that Harry Potter was complicated, it was long, it was full of detail and intricate descriptions, this showed publishers that children wouldn’t necessarily be put off, they wouldn’t be discouraged, by this level of detail. Indeed, they loved it.

[00:03:52] As such, publishers were more willing to publish longer and more detailed children’s books, blurring the lines between what is a children’s book and what’s an adult book, and ultimately giving children better options for fiction.

[00:04:09] The result of this has been, perhaps unsurprisingly, that Harry Potter has been excellent news for children’s literacy

[00:04:17] Even after the films came out, meaning that children didn’t necessarily need to read the books to engage with the story, there have been numerous studies suggesting that it has had positive effects on both the amount of children that read for pleasure, and the amount of reading that they were doing. 

[00:04:37] In other words, the books got more children reading.

[00:04:41] As kids started talking about Harry Potter in the playground or after a school holiday, other kids wanted to read it. 

[00:04:49] And for many kids, at over 600 pages, the last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would have been the longest book they would ever have read, and shown that actually yes, reading can be a huge amount of fun and long books don’t have to be intimidating.

[00:05:09] Perhaps it is too much to say that Harry Potter gave birth to a new, reinvigorated generation of young readers, but it certainly was the gateway to reading that many might not have had, had it not been for JK Rowling.

[00:05:25] Secondly, in terms of the cultural impact of Harry Potter, it brought “fan culture” mainstream. If you are from somewhere like Korea or Japan, or you’ve spent much time in these countries, you will know that there is quite a mainstream culture of fandom, of people being obsessed with fantasy games and literature.

[00:05:49] Until Harry Potter, in much of the US and in the UK at least, this was a relatively marginalised thing. 

[00:05:58] Sure, kids might dress up as Star Wars or Star Trek characters, but certainly for teenagers it was quite an outsider thing to do. Kids might be teased by their classmates as being geeky, or weird for being so obsessed with these fictional characters.

[00:06:19] Harry Potter, and the way it was published sequentially, in order, opened the doors for this type of fan culture to become accepted and mainstream.

[00:06:31] As a reminder, the Harry Potter books were published over a period of 10 years, with one coming out every one or two years. The first was published in 1997, and the last, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, published in 2007.

[00:06:48] There were midnight release parties when the next book would be released. Kids would queue up with their parents outside the bookshop, eager to pick up a copy of the latest book, run home and read it as quickly as possible and find out where fortune would lead this young wizard next.

[00:07:08] Many people, and I would include myself in this category, as I was 10 when the first Harry Potter came out, many people grew up with the books, and grew up with Harry. 

[00:07:21] Although the story of Harry Potter is, of course, set in a completely different and magical world, the emotions that Harry feels, and the struggles he goes through to find his place in the world are ones that children all over the world could relate to. 

[00:07:39] Friendships, love, rivalries, disappointment, joy, these are all deeply human things that kids around the world were experiencing at the same time as their magical hero.

[00:07:53] Not only that, but the series also notably touches on real-world issues like prejudice and inequality, introducing kids to subjects that they might not have encountered before. 

[00:08:06] Even in the wizarding world not all witches and wizards are treated equally; those with non-magical relations, for example, are called ‘mudbloods’ — which, in the books, is treated as something like a slur, a nasty word for something. 

[00:08:23] As the Harry Potter books continued to have a more and more profound impact on culture. 

[00:08:29] Inevitably a brighter spotlight started to shine on the woman who created the story, JK Rowling.

[00:08:37] Even really by the time the second book was published, JK Rowling had become a celebrity. And by the time the last book was out, she was a multi-millionaire and probably the most famous living author in the world.

[00:08:53] This fame and success didn’t sit well with her. She didn’t seem to like it, and was much more comfortable away from the cameras and crowds than attending awards ceremonies or giving interviews.

[00:09:07] As with any successful work of fiction, whether that’s a book, a film, or even a song, people want to know about the process of creating it, and they also want to know things that might not have been revealed in the book, or have been obvious.

[00:09:24] Why did Harry make certain choices? What did characters truly believe? 

[00:09:30] When JK Rowling revealed her answers to some of these questions, they weren’t always well received by the public.

[00:09:38] For example, after the final book in the series had been released, she revealed that the character Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, was gay.

[00:09:50] While many people felt this was something to celebrate, providing much-needed representation in the literary world, others criticised the fact that Rowling never included this information in the books themselves. 

[00:10:05] Similarly, you may have heard that she has got into trouble recently for a perceived lack of sympathy for the trans community. Long story short, she tweeted in support of a university lecturer who was sacked for her gender-critical views, writing that people shouldn’t be forced out of their jobs for stating that sex is real.

[00:10:28] Now, this tweet was perceived by many trans groups as endorsing transphobia, and there has been something of a backlash against JK Rowling in certain corners of the internet, even culminating in Vladimir Putin comparing the treatment of Russia after the invasion of Ukraine to Rowling’s treatment after her comments.

[00:10:52] For someone who appears to despise fame and prefer life out of the limelight you can imagine it must have been quite the shock to find yourself being compared to Vladimir Putin, and of course JK Rowling publicly rejected the comparison shortly after it was made.

[00:11:11] Now, let’s just pause and take stock for a minute. 

[00:11:15] We’ve talked about the impact that the book had on the world of children’s publishing, in encouraging children to read because the stories were just so captivating. We’ve talked about the impact that the books have had on fan culture, and on normalising being obsessed with magic and fantasy worlds. 

[00:11:35] We’ve also talked about how this legacy has been affected, to a certain degree, by what the creator of this magic world has made publicly known, through her revelation that Dumbledore was gay and her comments that were considered to be offensive and unsupportive to trans people.

[00:11:53] Evidently, when you sell over half a billion books, and there are literally university courses on your books, it’s inevitable that you won’t please everyone.

[00:12:04] Critics of JK Rowling say that the fame has gone to her head - that the more she talks about Harry Potter, the more she drags the story through the mud, and that the best thing she can do for Harry Potter is to keep quiet about it.

[00:12:20] Indeed, the actor who played Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe, said, “If you found anything in these stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life — then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred."

[00:12:37] One final important legacy of Harry Potter, and this is particularly true for the film adaptations, is on the impact that it had on Britain’s soft power.

[00:12:49] After the success of the books, JK Rowling had huge Hollywood studios offering to pay her vast amounts of money for the rights to the films. 

[00:13:00] While some authors would have gladly accepted these fat cheques and handed over creative control, JK Rowling didn’t.

[00:13:09] She was worried that Harry Potter would be Americanised, with American actors, and adapted to suit American cultural norms

[00:13:18] In short, she was worried that the story would be turned into something very different to how she imagined it.

[00:13:25] Her conditions for the movie versions were that she would have tight control over the script, and that they would all be filmed in Britain with British or Irish actors.

[00:13:37] And the impact of this was huge. There were no American actors allowed, meaning that one of the most successful film franchises in the 21st century was a uniquely British affair.

[00:13:52] The hundreds of millions of people who have seen the films have watched a very British take on a fantasy world. 

[00:13:59] This is thought to have brought in countless millions of pounds as tourists flock to Britain, in part to have a sense of this mysterious world they have seen in the films or read about in the books. 

[00:14:12] And on a purely economic level the fact that these hugely successful films were made in the UK proved to many across the pond, in the United States, that you don’t need to be in Hollywood to make a Hollywood blockbuster.

[00:14:28] Now, to end this exploration of the magical world of Harry Potter, I wanted to share some fun and interesting facts about the books and films that you may not have been aware of.

[00:14:39] For example, did you know that the film production team spent months training the Hogwarts owls to carry letters? 

[00:14:48] Or that Rupert Grint, the actor cast as Ron Weasley, performed a rap for his audition

[00:14:55] On a linguistic level, the translators had quite a job ahead of them when it came to internationalising the books.

[00:15:03] You might remember the Master of Potions, who in the English version is called Severus Snape. 

[00:15:10] In French he’s called Severus Rogue, meaning proud or haughty. Similarly, in Italian he becomes Severus Piton, which sounds more like “python”, a snake. 

[00:15:25] And the book didn’t only need to be translated from English to other languages, it needed to be translated from British English to American English.

[00:15:35] The title of the original version was “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, but when it was published in the United States the publisher thought that “philosopher” wouldn’t be so compelling to American children, so changed it to “Sorcerer”, which is another word for a magician.

[00:15:55] If you ask me, it’s a much worse title, but I am approaching this from the point of view of British English.

[00:16:02] The final thing I would like to say is that I think Harry Potter is a great choice to read for intermediate and above English learners, so for someone like you. It doesn’t matter whether you have read it before in your own language or not. 

[00:16:18] Pick up a copy in English, perhaps even on a Kindle so you can easily look up harder words, and jump into this magical English world. 

[00:16:28] Sure, there will be pointless magical words that you might not understand, but that’s all part of the fun. 

[00:16:35] At the end of the day, it’s hard to deny the impact of Harry Potter. With over 500 million copies sold of the books, countless millions of young minds being inspired, and billions of hours of fun coming from the imagination of one young woman, it’s a truly magical legacy indeed.

[00:16:58] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Magical Legacy of Harry Potter, and with that comes the end of this little exploration of the writing and legacy of the Harry Potter books.

[00:17:11] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:17:15] If you have read the Harry Potter series, how do you think it affected you, and in what way?

[00:17:21] If you haven’t read it, or if you have read it and thought it wasn’t very good, what was it about it that didn’t get you excited?

[00:17:29] And, given that you may have read a non-English version, are there any amazing translations of the names in your language? 

[00:17:36] And if you have read it in English, did you enjoy it?

[00:17:40] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:17:44] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:17:53] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:17:58] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about the Magical Legacy of Harry Potter. 

[00:00:29] This is a follow-up to our last episode where we looked at JK Rowling’s battle to publish the books, so if you want to press pause and go and listen to that one first, then I’d recommend doing so.

[00:00:42] In this episode we’re going to talk about how and why Harry Potter changed the world, and look at the legacy that the books, and its author, have left on children’s publishing, fan culture, and on Britain.

[00:00:57] OK then, let’s jump right into it.

[00:01:01] The first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone, was published 25 years ago this year, on June 26th of 1997 to be precise.

[00:01:14] It’s no exaggeration to say that the world is a different place for it, and I think you’d be hard pressed to deny that the world is a better place thanks to JK Rowling and Harry Potter.

[00:01:27] Right, let’s start with the impact it has had on the world of children’s publishing.

[00:01:33] As you’ll remember from the last episode, JK Rowling had to fight hard to find a publisher for the first Harry Potter book, and was rejected by 12 publishers before finding one that accepted it. 

[00:01:48] The book was very different from other children’s books. 

[00:01:52] It was long, it was full of lots of detail, it was too dark for children, it was set in a boarding school, which is a type of school that only a tiny proportion of British children go to.

[00:02:05] Put simply, the adults in charge of choosing which children’s books to publish thought it wouldn’t appeal to children, they thought children wouldn't like it.

[00:02:15] This all changed after an actual child, an 8-year-old daughter of one of the publishers, read some of it, and reported back to her father that the book was wonderful.

[00:02:28] Of course, lots and lots of children do love it. 

[00:02:32] They loved it when it first came out, and the appeal of Harry Potter hasn’t died out.

[00:02:38] 25 years after the first one was published, the Harry Potter books are still among the top sellers for its publishing house, Bloomsbury, and in 2021 sales of the Harry Potter books actually jumped 7%, they went up 7%.

[00:02:57] If you’ve read the Harry Potter books, you’ll know that they are timeless, the magical world is one that a 10-year-old in 2022 can be as captivated by as a 10-year-old in 1997.

[00:03:11] Looking at the legacy of the books, the impact that the books had on children’s publishing was unprecedented - it had never happened before. 

[00:03:21] The books showed publishers that children’s literature wasn’t an afterthought, it wasn’t something that was basic, banal, and would always be less profitable and interesting than adult literature.

[00:03:34] The fact that Harry Potter was complicated, it was long, it was full of detail and intricate descriptions, this showed publishers that children wouldn’t necessarily be put off, they wouldn’t be discouraged, by this level of detail. Indeed, they loved it.

[00:03:52] As such, publishers were more willing to publish longer and more detailed children’s books, blurring the lines between what is a children’s book and what’s an adult book, and ultimately giving children better options for fiction.

[00:04:09] The result of this has been, perhaps unsurprisingly, that Harry Potter has been excellent news for children’s literacy

[00:04:17] Even after the films came out, meaning that children didn’t necessarily need to read the books to engage with the story, there have been numerous studies suggesting that it has had positive effects on both the amount of children that read for pleasure, and the amount of reading that they were doing. 

[00:04:37] In other words, the books got more children reading.

[00:04:41] As kids started talking about Harry Potter in the playground or after a school holiday, other kids wanted to read it. 

[00:04:49] And for many kids, at over 600 pages, the last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would have been the longest book they would ever have read, and shown that actually yes, reading can be a huge amount of fun and long books don’t have to be intimidating.

[00:05:09] Perhaps it is too much to say that Harry Potter gave birth to a new, reinvigorated generation of young readers, but it certainly was the gateway to reading that many might not have had, had it not been for JK Rowling.

[00:05:25] Secondly, in terms of the cultural impact of Harry Potter, it brought “fan culture” mainstream. If you are from somewhere like Korea or Japan, or you’ve spent much time in these countries, you will know that there is quite a mainstream culture of fandom, of people being obsessed with fantasy games and literature.

[00:05:49] Until Harry Potter, in much of the US and in the UK at least, this was a relatively marginalised thing. 

[00:05:58] Sure, kids might dress up as Star Wars or Star Trek characters, but certainly for teenagers it was quite an outsider thing to do. Kids might be teased by their classmates as being geeky, or weird for being so obsessed with these fictional characters.

[00:06:19] Harry Potter, and the way it was published sequentially, in order, opened the doors for this type of fan culture to become accepted and mainstream.

[00:06:31] As a reminder, the Harry Potter books were published over a period of 10 years, with one coming out every one or two years. The first was published in 1997, and the last, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, published in 2007.

[00:06:48] There were midnight release parties when the next book would be released. Kids would queue up with their parents outside the bookshop, eager to pick up a copy of the latest book, run home and read it as quickly as possible and find out where fortune would lead this young wizard next.

[00:07:08] Many people, and I would include myself in this category, as I was 10 when the first Harry Potter came out, many people grew up with the books, and grew up with Harry. 

[00:07:21] Although the story of Harry Potter is, of course, set in a completely different and magical world, the emotions that Harry feels, and the struggles he goes through to find his place in the world are ones that children all over the world could relate to. 

[00:07:39] Friendships, love, rivalries, disappointment, joy, these are all deeply human things that kids around the world were experiencing at the same time as their magical hero.

[00:07:53] Not only that, but the series also notably touches on real-world issues like prejudice and inequality, introducing kids to subjects that they might not have encountered before. 

[00:08:06] Even in the wizarding world not all witches and wizards are treated equally; those with non-magical relations, for example, are called ‘mudbloods’ — which, in the books, is treated as something like a slur, a nasty word for something. 

[00:08:23] As the Harry Potter books continued to have a more and more profound impact on culture. 

[00:08:29] Inevitably a brighter spotlight started to shine on the woman who created the story, JK Rowling.

[00:08:37] Even really by the time the second book was published, JK Rowling had become a celebrity. And by the time the last book was out, she was a multi-millionaire and probably the most famous living author in the world.

[00:08:53] This fame and success didn’t sit well with her. She didn’t seem to like it, and was much more comfortable away from the cameras and crowds than attending awards ceremonies or giving interviews.

[00:09:07] As with any successful work of fiction, whether that’s a book, a film, or even a song, people want to know about the process of creating it, and they also want to know things that might not have been revealed in the book, or have been obvious.

[00:09:24] Why did Harry make certain choices? What did characters truly believe? 

[00:09:30] When JK Rowling revealed her answers to some of these questions, they weren’t always well received by the public.

[00:09:38] For example, after the final book in the series had been released, she revealed that the character Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, was gay.

[00:09:50] While many people felt this was something to celebrate, providing much-needed representation in the literary world, others criticised the fact that Rowling never included this information in the books themselves. 

[00:10:05] Similarly, you may have heard that she has got into trouble recently for a perceived lack of sympathy for the trans community. Long story short, she tweeted in support of a university lecturer who was sacked for her gender-critical views, writing that people shouldn’t be forced out of their jobs for stating that sex is real.

[00:10:28] Now, this tweet was perceived by many trans groups as endorsing transphobia, and there has been something of a backlash against JK Rowling in certain corners of the internet, even culminating in Vladimir Putin comparing the treatment of Russia after the invasion of Ukraine to Rowling’s treatment after her comments.

[00:10:52] For someone who appears to despise fame and prefer life out of the limelight you can imagine it must have been quite the shock to find yourself being compared to Vladimir Putin, and of course JK Rowling publicly rejected the comparison shortly after it was made.

[00:11:11] Now, let’s just pause and take stock for a minute. 

[00:11:15] We’ve talked about the impact that the book had on the world of children’s publishing, in encouraging children to read because the stories were just so captivating. We’ve talked about the impact that the books have had on fan culture, and on normalising being obsessed with magic and fantasy worlds. 

[00:11:35] We’ve also talked about how this legacy has been affected, to a certain degree, by what the creator of this magic world has made publicly known, through her revelation that Dumbledore was gay and her comments that were considered to be offensive and unsupportive to trans people.

[00:11:53] Evidently, when you sell over half a billion books, and there are literally university courses on your books, it’s inevitable that you won’t please everyone.

[00:12:04] Critics of JK Rowling say that the fame has gone to her head - that the more she talks about Harry Potter, the more she drags the story through the mud, and that the best thing she can do for Harry Potter is to keep quiet about it.

[00:12:20] Indeed, the actor who played Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe, said, “If you found anything in these stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life — then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred."

[00:12:37] One final important legacy of Harry Potter, and this is particularly true for the film adaptations, is on the impact that it had on Britain’s soft power.

[00:12:49] After the success of the books, JK Rowling had huge Hollywood studios offering to pay her vast amounts of money for the rights to the films. 

[00:13:00] While some authors would have gladly accepted these fat cheques and handed over creative control, JK Rowling didn’t.

[00:13:09] She was worried that Harry Potter would be Americanised, with American actors, and adapted to suit American cultural norms

[00:13:18] In short, she was worried that the story would be turned into something very different to how she imagined it.

[00:13:25] Her conditions for the movie versions were that she would have tight control over the script, and that they would all be filmed in Britain with British or Irish actors.

[00:13:37] And the impact of this was huge. There were no American actors allowed, meaning that one of the most successful film franchises in the 21st century was a uniquely British affair.

[00:13:52] The hundreds of millions of people who have seen the films have watched a very British take on a fantasy world. 

[00:13:59] This is thought to have brought in countless millions of pounds as tourists flock to Britain, in part to have a sense of this mysterious world they have seen in the films or read about in the books. 

[00:14:12] And on a purely economic level the fact that these hugely successful films were made in the UK proved to many across the pond, in the United States, that you don’t need to be in Hollywood to make a Hollywood blockbuster.

[00:14:28] Now, to end this exploration of the magical world of Harry Potter, I wanted to share some fun and interesting facts about the books and films that you may not have been aware of.

[00:14:39] For example, did you know that the film production team spent months training the Hogwarts owls to carry letters? 

[00:14:48] Or that Rupert Grint, the actor cast as Ron Weasley, performed a rap for his audition

[00:14:55] On a linguistic level, the translators had quite a job ahead of them when it came to internationalising the books.

[00:15:03] You might remember the Master of Potions, who in the English version is called Severus Snape. 

[00:15:10] In French he’s called Severus Rogue, meaning proud or haughty. Similarly, in Italian he becomes Severus Piton, which sounds more like “python”, a snake. 

[00:15:25] And the book didn’t only need to be translated from English to other languages, it needed to be translated from British English to American English.

[00:15:35] The title of the original version was “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, but when it was published in the United States the publisher thought that “philosopher” wouldn’t be so compelling to American children, so changed it to “Sorcerer”, which is another word for a magician.

[00:15:55] If you ask me, it’s a much worse title, but I am approaching this from the point of view of British English.

[00:16:02] The final thing I would like to say is that I think Harry Potter is a great choice to read for intermediate and above English learners, so for someone like you. It doesn’t matter whether you have read it before in your own language or not. 

[00:16:18] Pick up a copy in English, perhaps even on a Kindle so you can easily look up harder words, and jump into this magical English world. 

[00:16:28] Sure, there will be pointless magical words that you might not understand, but that’s all part of the fun. 

[00:16:35] At the end of the day, it’s hard to deny the impact of Harry Potter. With over 500 million copies sold of the books, countless millions of young minds being inspired, and billions of hours of fun coming from the imagination of one young woman, it’s a truly magical legacy indeed.

[00:16:58] OK then, that is it for today's episode on The Magical Legacy of Harry Potter, and with that comes the end of this little exploration of the writing and legacy of the Harry Potter books.

[00:17:11] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:17:15] If you have read the Harry Potter series, how do you think it affected you, and in what way?

[00:17:21] If you haven’t read it, or if you have read it and thought it wasn’t very good, what was it about it that didn’t get you excited?

[00:17:29] And, given that you may have read a non-English version, are there any amazing translations of the names in your language? 

[00:17:36] And if you have read it in English, did you enjoy it?

[00:17:40] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started.

[00:17:44] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:17:53] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:17:58] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]