After the Harry Potter films received special recognition at the BAFTAs I baffled my housemate by clapping along with a smile on my face. She is not a Harry Potter person. I am.
I heard once that The Simpsons appeals to adults and children because there are jokes in there that appeal to one or the other. Some, the kids will laugh at and others the adult will laugh at (and the kids will not understand why they're funny). Then, when Toy Story 3 came out, one reviewer described its appeal perfectly. It appealed not just to young children but to the young child still in every adult. It is that genius that has brought the magical land of Harry, Ron, Hermione and Hogwarts to so many homes and enjoyed by children and adults alike.
But this is by no means a kiddy story, all lighthearted silliness and magic tricks. Oh no. It goes much MUCH deeper than that. The seven books show all the fun and awkwardness of adolescence but manage to look beyond the normal teen angst and put it into the most imaginative world made since the likes of Lord of the Rings. Though no language was created here by JK Rowling (not sure Parsel tongue counts as its just whistling!) new words were introduced into everyday language - muggles, hipogrifs, even the perfectly horrid insult "mudblood" used to describe those of non magic lineage.
Magical creatures came along with that such as centaurs, unicorns, giants and werewolves and the very evil and creepy dementors who suck out your soul. There are first kisses, first spells, friends, enemies, nice teachers, quirky teachers, evil teachers - all set against a magical backdrop which expands over the seven books.
But there is such a darkness to these books that it appeals to those of us who, like me, can't stand all that fluffy niceness of most children's books. Harry is an orphan and has never known his parents, people die in every book (OK not every book but close enough when you look at the overall death toll). There are bad wizards and good wizards just like there are bad and good people. Wands don't kill people, spells made by evil Azkaban jail escapees do!
I will admit to having been a total cynic on these books before having read them and only started to try them after a Spanish friend told me she had improved her English tremendously by reading them in English. The language, she told me, was basic enough that it was easier to understand than an adult book but it was interesting enough that you wanted to keep reading. So I bought one and two in Spanish and gave it a whirl. After a couple of months (and frequent glances at my Spanish-English dictionary) I was well onto my way to the fourth book - luckily not long before the fifth book came out. By the time book seven came out, I had read all six in two languages and desperately wanted to know how it would all come together at the end. The poor postman delivered my book the morning of its release and I was not heard from for the rest of the day. Surfacing early that evening, I was in love with the most phenomenal book series I have ever had the pleasure of being immersed in. I had laughed and cried with them all and it had all been worth it.
To other sceptics out there I will say this - book one and two are written for children. OK they all are really but one and two read like they are written for children. 2 is much like 1 so just watch the films and start reading at three. You will love it so much that by the time you get to the end of book 7 you will go back and read 1 and 2 just so you don't have to stop.
And to any budding linguists - it helped my Spanish so much and was fun while doing so. Who'd have thought I would gain such a bizarre vocab list - owl, wand, even the tense of shall "he-who-shall-not-be-named".
So please, read these works of literary genius and experience the world of Harry Potter for yourself. And get a wriggle on - you're going to want to watch the final film when it comes out this year!
(Click here for Part 1 film review)