Harry Potter, a success generation after generation

On June 26, 1997, the first volume of the saga of Harry Potter, designed by JK Rowling. Who would have believed at the time that the adventures of the little wizard would become a worldwide literary, cultural and commercial phenomenon? On the occasion of the 25e novel anniversary, The duty looks back on this unprecedented enthusiasm for a children’s book.

The saga of Harry Potter may be 25 years old, but the magic still works with the new generation of readers, who in turn are passionate about the adventures of the young wizard with the round glasses. When the first volume was released in 1997, nothing foreshadowed this worldwide success for several decades.

“The best is the fourth, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ! launches Mathieu, 12, with passion. I love that it’s a change from the school routine with the magic competition. It’s darker at the end, it’s a bit scary, but I like it. »

Mathieu had already been under the spell of the world of Hogwarts for a few years, after watching the films adapted from the literary saga. But when he was cut off from his friends at the start of the pandemic, finding the time long, he decided to tackle the books of JK Rowling, just to extend his passion. “I didn’t read such big books before, but I was so into history that it didn’t discourage me. »

Aude, 11, for her part discovered the adventures of the little wizard at the age of 7. “I read the books with my father. Books of so many pages were too much for me alone, but I really liked the story,” she says. “The way it’s presented is captivating, you want to find out what’s next right away. »

Like Aude and Mathieu, many young people have plunged headfirst into the books of the series in recent years. They were spellbound by this world of magic and sorcery, as was their parents’ generation two decades earlier.

“It’s rare to see a children’s book enjoy such great success over the years,” explains Chantal Fontaine, who works at the Librairie Moderne in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. She says she has sold more than a hundred copies of the first volume since the beginning of this year alone.

At the Librairie Poirier in Trois-Rivières, we continue to give pride of place to the saga, as in the past. “We have a permanent display, prominently in the bookstore. Since there are regular new editions, it refreshes the collection and grabs new readers,” explains bookseller Laurence Grenier.

The craze is also still present on the side of Archambault and Renaud-Bray, where there has been an increase in sales of novels during the pandemic, the first volume having even managed to slip into the 2021 list.

We observe the same phenomenon at the Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec. Absent from the charts in recent years, books Harry Potter have made a comeback among the most borrowed children’s titles in 2021. The first volume finds itself in second place, followed closely by volumes two, six and seven.

Unpredictable success

“It’s quite incredible to see that 25 years later, it still appeals to a whole new generation of readers, whereas at the time, nothing predicted this popularity”, supports Katherine Fafard, general manager of the Association. Quebec booksellers.

“At first, we didn’t hear about Harry Potter. [au Québec]. We had the first three volumes in French in Junior Folio format in the bookstore, but it didn’t sell more than that, ”says the one who then worked in a bookstore in Joliette.

It must be said that in 1997, when the first part of the saga was published in the United Kingdom, JK Rowling was a completely unknown author. His literary project was also refused by a dozen publishers before it caught the attention of Bloomsbury. At its output, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was a local success and won several awards, but it took until late 1998 for a French version to see the light of day.

“It was before the release of the fourth volume in English, in 2000, that we felt a craze, continues Mme Fafard. Customers were increasingly asking for the book “Harry something”, “The child magician”, “The little wizard”; they were all makin’ his name. […] There were so many requests that we ended up putting the books on a table near the cash desk to serve them faster. »

The enthusiasm for Harry Potter was confirmed with the release of the fourth volume, and even more during the following ones, since readers lined up in front of bookstores at midnight, when the embargo was lifted, to discover the rest of the wizard’s adventures as quickly as possible.

“It was madness, but we liked it, it was very festive,” says Chantal Fontaine. She still remembers as if it were yesterday launch parties where she dressed up in a hat and a magician’s cape to welcome feverish and impatient customers. The rest of the year, books took center stage in the window, a place rarely occupied until then by children’s books.

In 27 years of career, she claims to have never experienced this excitement again for a book intended for young people. “What was beautiful to see is that the phenomenon affected young and old. And it was rare, at the time, to see adults reading children’s books. [La série des] Harry Potter democratized children’s literature, in my opinion. »

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Harry Potter, a success generation after generation

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