In J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book, Transfiguration professor Minerva McGonagall said, “There will be books written about Harry — every child in our world will know his name!” And while Harry Potter has certainly become a household name since his introduction in the United States 12 years ago, can we attribute his popularity to simply the books?
The franchise that has resulted from the success of Rowling’s stories — the Harry Potter theme park that opened this summer, the T-shirts recently designed by the 2013 Class Board, the first installment of the seventh movie premiering next Friday — might suggest otherwise. But every time I hear about another piece of Harry Potter merchandise, I can’t help but think back to the original thing: the book. Our generation might love multimedia platforms and proudly tote our Kindles and iPads, but what Harry Potter taught its readers in more than 4,000 pages over nearly 10 years was the value of paper books.
According to Wharton and College sophomore and Class of 2013 President Jonathon Youshaei, 3,300 Penn-Harry Potter T-shirts have been ordered. But does this only perpetuate the commercialization of a popular fantasy book, or does it say something more about what books mean to our generation?
A New York Times article last month reported that despite high textbook costs and a growing number of digital options, “many students are reluctant to give up the ability to flip quickly between chapters, write in the margins and highlight passages.”
I won’t attribute the observation entirely to the influence of Harry Potter, but it’s pretty unsurprising that we’re used to holding books in our hands. Thick, heavy books. After all, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince showed us the importance of paper textbooks, especially used ones with handy notes in the margins — especially if they used to belong to someone who ended up becoming a professor in that field (but then again, not everyone has ties to their own Severus Snape).
This anecdote and others from the books show that it’s not just that we loved reading the books in their original medium, but also that the books’ storylines emphasized the importance of paper texts.
Penn students would likely suffer at Hogwarts because of the lack of internet access. No internet would mean no g-chat, no Facebook, no Twitter, no YouTube, no blogs. Not only would this have drastically changed the way we normally conduct our social lives, but academically speaking, this also would have meant no PennText or automatic MLA formatters or even Microsoft Word. We would actually have to do research in … a library.
As daunting as that sounds, the books have taught us the usefulness of the library. When Harry and his hero’s intuition failed the team, the library had the solution to every burning question, like “Who is Nicolas Flamel?” in the first book, and “Why are all our fellow students becoming petrified into stone?” in the second. Sure, maybe the library wouldn’t help Penn researchers answer similar questions, but for the most part, we know that when we bother to go check out books for a research paper, we encounter a wealth of information we wouldn’t have found just by searching Google Scholar from the comfort of our rooms.
The Harry Potter characters even taught us that the restricted section was the real deal — though I’m not sure which area of Van Pelt that corresponds with (perhaps the rare book library?).
The plotlines of the books teach us as much about the value of print as they do about the battle between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort, or about conquering the struggles of adolescence. No matter what “experts” say about our generation’s technological wizardry, we still love our bloody parchment.
Sarah Ryu is a College junior from Harrington Park, N.J. Her e-mail address is ryu@theDP.com Ryu’s Clues appears on alternate Tuesdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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