Posted Online: July 14, 2011, 5:13 pm

How Harry Potter changed the world

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By Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel

Photo: Associated Press
British author J.K. Rowling reacts during a 2007 photo session for the release of her final Harry Potter book, 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' at the Natural History Museum in London. Rowling was to reveal her latest project involving the boy wizard on Thursday: 'Pottermore,' a mysterious website that has been taunting fans with the words 'coming soon.;
J.K. Rowling's seven critically acclaimed best-selling novels came to a conclusion four years ago this month. And after today, there will be no more new films based on the adventures of Harry Potter and the friends he made at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2," the eighth and final film based on those seven books, wraps it all up.

But once the box-office records have fallen and the receipts have been counted, will Harry endure? Will the books be picked up by a new generation? Will the films? Will Pottermore, Rowling's new Potter-interactive website, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando be enough to keep Harry's wand working?

And more to the point, did Harry Potter change the world?

His fans say, "Yes!"

"Absolutely," says Melissa Anelli, chief mischief-maker at the big Harry Potter convention, LeakyCon, in Orlando through this weekend. The Harry Potter phenomenon "made reading cooler; it made being geeky more awesome."

The messages of Harry's adventures were simple and forthright, notes Greg Garrett, a Baylor University professor who writes about film and popular culture. Harry's "courage and self-sacrifice have made us want to be braver people. ... And his compassion for people who were marginal ... even his enemies, has made us want to be more compassionate people."

The LeakyCon convention, a gathering of 3,400 Potter die-hards from all over the world, was evidence of that, says Edward Drogos, editor of the Potter site LeakyNews and deputy chief mischief-maker at LeakyCon.

An event geared toward charities means that "just by attending LeakyCon, people are giving back and helping those less fortunate."

One of those charities is The Harry Potter Alliance, a group formed, as Newsweek magazine once noted, "to make a difference in the world."

"We are witnessing the Harry Potter Generation, applying the message of that series toward changing the world," says Andrew Slack, executive director of the alliance, which has shipped cargo planes of aid to Haiti and donated more than 88,000 books to Third World countries. The group, with 85 chapters worldwide, uses "the weapon we have is love" as its motto in taking on issues as diverse as genocide, global climate change and gay rights, making it and Slack favorite targets of cultural conservatives.

But the preachers selling videos warning of Harry Potter "leading children to witchcraft" have faded from view. And the alliance's "equal marriage is both moral and essential" manifesto seems a lot less controversial than it did four years ago, with same-sex marriage recognized in 10 countries and such marriages now performed in six U.S. states.

The films already are the most popular film series of all time, surpassing "Star Wars" and the long-running James Bond series. But in the end, it is the books that have made the biggest impact on the world. About 450 million copies of Rowling's novels are in circulation in almost every language under the sun.

The books were where readers could "escape into this world that was both so much like our own, and so unlike our own," says Drogos, whose mother gave him the first two novels as a boy. "It was real life, with all of our real-life problems, but with something magical extra."

Anelli, given the first novel by her sister just before starting her last year of college, fell for "Harry's pure heart."

"Those books got kids reading again," says Miranda Richardson, who played the gossip journalist Rita Skeeter in the films. "That's how she changed the world," she says, referring to author Rowling. "The movies are grand entertainments, but all those kids getting into reading, that's (Rowling's) gift to us all."

Her co-star, British character actor Alan Rickman (Severus Snape in the movies), echoed that when he took out a full-page ad in the British film magazine Empire in April.

"It is an ancient need to be told stories," Rickman wrote. "But the story needs a great storyteller. Thanks for all of it, Jo."




 
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