Why Harry Potter continues to entrance young readers 20 years later


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Boy Who Lived hasn’t outlived his relevance.

Tuesday is Harry Potter’s 38th birthday, and, more importantly, this summer marks the 20th anniversary of the series’ U.S. publication. To celebrate, the Austin bookstore BookPeople is hosting a party Tuesday night.

It’s sold out, and employees have been busy making wands and other party favors for people. The second floor of the store features a prominent Harry Potter display, showcasing different editions, costume glasses, and shirts emblazoned with quotes from the books’ most beloved characters.

But, it’s not just the readers who grew up with the series that are keeping it alive, the bookstore’s teen specialist said. Harry Potter continues to be popular among young readers.

“It’s kind of like, at this point, ‘Star Wars,'” Shannon Brewer said. “Everybody knows that term, everybody knows something about it, whether they’ve read it or seen or not.”

Nobody in the book world had seen anything quite like Harry Potter before, Brewer said. With its midnight release parties and costumed fans waiting hours to get their hands on the latest addition, it changed the game for booksellers.

“It was really kind of like the first big fandom in the book world,” she said.

Now as young parents are passing their Potter love on to the next generation, Brewer sees new fans blossoming all the time. The theme park and movies don’t hurt, either.

But the reason for the books’ continued popularity goes deeper than that, she believes. The story deals with themes and struggles that a lot of teenagers face, and she sees the effect it has on the young readers she talks to.

“When something happens in the world and they don’t understand it, or when things get dark around them,” she said, “they go to Harry Potter, still.”

It’s the same comfort the original Potterheads found in the pages 20 years ago. The group of pre-teens and teenagers fighting for light in a world that seems so dark, leaning on friends to get through tough times, Brewer said, has a universal appeal.

“When they feel like they can’t overcome obstacles or that they’re never going to defeat this epic evil living in the world around them, they know, like, they can go back to Harry Potter and the world will be welcoming for them,” she said. “And they get that strength to keep going and keep fighting because it’s all in the book for them.”

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