I live in a time in which I can say that I am a Slytherin and people understand what that means. It gives my peers a quick-map of my personality: ambitious, subtle, either cunning or possessing more-than-meets-the-eye. Probably quietly judgmental. Though not completely accurate, they would get a pretty good idea of what I’m getting at.
For someone of my generation, it is difficult to imagine a time when the Harry Potter series didn’t exist at all, when the terms ‘Hogwarts’ or ‘muggles’ were nonsense and no one knew who you meant by ‘You-know-who’. Nowadays, you don’t have to be a fan of the series to know what these all mean.
This realization struck me today as I tried to refine a chapter of an old project about an alternate timeline, in which superheroes and supervillains are a constant. The rough draft of the very first chapter opens up as follows:
Clarice Young-Müller waited for her Hogwarts acceptance as child. Every morning, since she was nine years old, she would crouch by the doorway and sift through the daily mail for a letter with a bright wax seal. There were many bills and Christmas cards. Never one for her.
At once, I began fretting (as I usually do) about the nature of copyright and trademark law and devising ways to work around this. I came upon the starling realization that there was no way to convey this sentiment without at least vague reference to the Harry Potter franchise. The hope and expectation I hoped to convey here was such a specific sentiment, such a precise feeling shared in my generation, that I couldn’t figure out a way to work around it.
My situation reminded me of a Tumblr post from two years back with examples of how Harry Potter plotpoints and terminology has become a natural part of casual storytelling and pop culture:
Which, I suppose, is a bit reassuring for me and my struggle to work around referencing the franchise in this superhero story, but in any case, I find it fascinating how little millennials realize how much J.K. Rowling changed the pop culture scene. I was born in 1996 – I was practically born with the books, and I grew up along with the books. Kids a little later than me were born with the films and grew up with the films.
We, as a society, often take for granted how fiction can change a culture. I sometimes wonder now how many Shakespeare jokes people made in his time following his show.
I can say that I’m a Slytherin and one of my closest friends is a Hufflepuff and that means something to my contemporaries. There’s a nuance there and an immediate sketch of our relationship. There’s a reason that with the advent of the internet, fandom culture always enjoys sorting characters from other stories into the Hogwarts Houses. In fact, Hogwarts AU fanfiction remains one of the most popular tropes of the non-profit writing community. Even as an aspiring author, I enjoy sorting out my own cast of characters into Hogwarts Houses on days I’m feeling bored.
I doubt the terms will ever enter a dictionary of the English language… but even as I say this, I’m aware that I am probably egregiously wrong when so many of our words come from the made-up terms of literature – Sir Thomas More and ‘utopia’, Arthur C. Clarke and ‘zero g’, Shakespeare and ‘swagger’ – the list is endless.
It may still be too early to analyze the influence of the Harry Potter franchise on our globalized society. After all, J.K. Rowling continues to churn out more and more content for her world (which is something I disagree with, but that’s for another day) and thus the series has yet to ‘settle’. It is my belief that the effects of a movement – which is what this is, truly, a motion of creativity, a shift in the industry – can only be seen as the next one rises. Though some might argue we have entered the age of Young Adult Dystopias, the effect has hardly been as profound as Harry Potter.
I am eager to see what comes next.