Harry Potter 8 is a week away and theaters are already selling out. I really shouldn't be surprised... instead I should be ordering my own!
Whether or not you're a Harry fan, you can still probably remember when the books first arrived in the US. Even I, a sheltered little conservative homeschooler was aware of the Harry Potter phenomenon. I still remember asking my father why the books were so big (this was long before I was allowed to read them). He answered with "marketing" and went on to chalk it all up to the marketing gurus who pushed the franchise with cups and backpacks and lunchboxes and movies and whatever.
And to an outsider that may have been what it looked like. It took about seven more years before I picked the books up for myself and learned that Harry Potter became big because it was a magnificent story with fantastic characters. And that shouldn't have surprised me. Kids are actually fairly particular about what they like, and a shiny lunchbox isn't going to convince them to read a five hundred page book.
But Harry is written as an everyman -- a character who represents the most common unifying emotions and characteristics of human nature. We may not all be Harry, but we can empathize with most of his struggles. We understand what it is like to be different from family members and or friends. We understand the hope and joy that comes when someone sees our potential and gives us the chance to shine. We know what it's like to be misunderstood and unable to communicate our worries. We understand Harry's desire to have mentor figures to give him wisdom. We 'get' both his desire to follow the rules, and find him more human and more like us when he fails (because we all do). We know what it is like to fall in that first awkward love. We sympathize with his struggles to be understood and appreciated for who he is and accepted as a mature young man. We also know why he rebels when he's brushed aside, because most of us deal with that as well. And we cheer when he grows into a fine young man and a true hero in every sense of the word, because it fulfills our faith in him and gives us hope for ourselves. If Harry can persevere against death eaters and dementors and horcruxes, surely we can get through test papers, overbearing parents and dating?
There are so many other factors as to what makes the Harry Potter series so enduring. But I strongly believe that it is Harry's accessibility and realism that makes the series so widely appealing.