There's an interesting report in yesterday's Observer about the recent Lumos 2006 Harry Potter Symposium. Carole Cadwalladr, who admits to having read only the first book and to have seen a couple of the films, seems to be fairly baffled much of the time, largely by the Harry Potter fanfic writers, although also by the fact that academics are talking seriously about Harry Potter. She notes, in particular, that
This is Harry Potter for adults. A concept that I'd always thought of as one of those minority tastes like quantum physics for children. Or Star Trek for girls. In fact, it's not such a bad comparison, because it transpires that Star Trek is to young men what Harry Potter is to middle-aged women. And young women, too, actually. It's overwhelmingly female. Eighty-five per cent of delegates are women, with an almost even split between the 16 to 24s and the 25s and older.
She quotes Dr Gwen A Tarbox, a professor of English Literature at Western Michigan University, who says: 'We need to recognise that just because something's popular doesn't mean it's bad. There's a great deal we can learn about things that are popular. And it's popular among such a diverse group of readers.' (Which, I confess, is something that fans of The Lord of the Rings have been arguing, largely in vain, for years !)
Cadwalladr also quotes two conference attendees who ask 'Isn't it so amazing that the books have inspired so much creativity?' and she says
well, actually, it is. It's all amazing. And seeing anybody, let alone 1,200 people enthused with joy about anything is really quite uplifting. And not just anything. Books! It makes my girlish, swotty heart swell with pride.
Do read the whole article, as it's interesting to see how Cadwalladr comes to a better understanding of the popularity of Harry Potter amongst academics.