Mad for magic: Students fall under Harry Potter’s spell

Ohio County resident Alicia McDaniel, 40, holds fire in her hand after she gathered a handful of “magic” bubbles and lit them with her lighter in the Potions class at the Kentucky Museum on Friday night during Harry Potter Night.

Katherine Wade

stairs to his final battle against evil, fans of Harry Potter have shared in seven years of struggle, friendship, death and triumph as they’ve grown up with a character they love.

This Thursday night, fans will line up outside theaters across the country to celebrate the release of the first part in the two-part final movie, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

When the first Harry Potter book came out in 1997, few guessed that a decade later the series would have sold more than 400 million copies, making it the best-selling book series of all time.

Now after 13 years, seven books, six movies and hundreds of franchise-inspired products, Harry Potter has become popular among people of all ages.

But it was college-age kids who grew up with the series.

Janice Crane, a graduate student from Orlando, Fla., said she read her first Harry Potter book, which was actually the third in the series, when she was 10. Her aunt bought her the first three after hearing they were good. Crane then went back and read the first two.

“The third one is still my favorite,” she said. “The books were an integral part of my childhood, and I think you’ll find that a lot in college students.”

Harry Potter has exploded on college campuses across the country, with many schools offering Harry Potter classes or events, such as WKU’s Harry Potter Night at the Kentucky Museum last Friday.

Last weekend was also the fourth annual Quidditch World Cup in New York City, with teams from more than 60 colleges and high schools competing, including Boston University, Michigan State and Harvard.

Crane said she thought Harry Potter was a really important literacy movement.

“The series has been published in so many languages,” she said. “Even in countries where they don’t necessarily have the highest literacy rate, it’s been an incredibly important phenomenon.”

Buy Nguyen, a freshman from Vietnam, said he started reading the series in Vietnamese when he was 13.

“I decided to read them because they were very prevalent at the time,” he said. “And then I loved them. I think they changed the way people perceive the world, in a positive way.”

Nguyen said that as the series went on, it pulled him deeper into the story.

The ages of Harry, Ron and Hermione, the trio the book is centered on, range from 11 to 18 throughout the seven books in the series. Crane said she thinks that’s the reason the books are so significant to college students, many of whom grew up with the characters.

“They may have started at an 11-year-old level, but they evolved into something that is relevant to everyone,” she said.

Louisville freshman Emma O’Grady said she loved the books for their universal themes of love, friendship and good versus evil because they were important issues in everyone’s lives.

O’Grady said she originally saw and enjoyed the Harry Potter movies and was then inspired to read the books.

She, Crane and Nguyen all plan to see the new movie when it comes out, but none of them think the movies are quite as good as the books.

“Once you read the books, you realize how superior they are to the movies,” O’Grady said. “The movies are really good; I just like the books better.”

O’Grady said her favorite book in the series was the sixth because it gave a lot of back-story on Voldemort. She also liked the way it led up to the seventh one, which she thought was “epic.”

As the series went on, O’Grady said it got more in-depth with more character development and plot twists. She said the characters and storylines are the reason so many people have fallen under Harry Potter’s spell.

“You just get into this magical world that J.K. Rowling has built,” she said. “People just get lost in the fantasy.”