As the last installment of the Harry Potter film franchise opens today, it is worth summing up why the books and films have been so wildly successful. There are many reasons, some having to do with the marketing mechanisms of global pop-media culture. But I believe the deepest reasons are these:
5. Their irresistible picture of intimate, loyal friendship.
4. Their equally irresistible picture of a tight-knit community of families and friends working for the common good.
3. Their whimsical, charming, and innocent humor, a particularly British sense of humor more potent to the reader and viewer than any depictions of magic.
2. Because they draw upon an archetypal story that moves the human spirit like no other: that of a small, humble person summoning up great courage in order to overcome a seemingly invincible evil. It is a story in one sense as old as the world, but in another as fresh as evening air after rain. Christianity, of course, takes the story to its greatest possible achievement, simply because it tells us that the story is true. Somewhere in The Everlasting Man G.K. Chesterton writes that the human heart above all desires “romance” (understood as adventure, including the adventure of love), and “truth,” and what Christianity offers is the most captivating of all combinations: a true romance. Harry Potter is captivating because it is a shadow and an image—imperfect, yes, but still remarkably enchanting—of the one True Romance. (For more on this point, see here.)
1. Because the books and movies argue compellingly for the central value of the Christian story: sacrifice. Isn’t it interesting that so many people around the world, especially so many young people, will flock to movie theaters in the coming hours and stand in line in order to watch a story about a young man willing to lay down his life for his friends?