Last fall I stumbled upon a hoard of Harry Potter criticism books, so, naturally, the obvious thing to do was to reread the series, and then stack up every book of Harry Potter criticism I own and read them in publication order. That’s totally what any person would do, right?
So as a paddle through my Harry Potter analysis pond, I thought I’d write up a little review of each of them so I can organize my thoughts.
The first book I’m reviewing, however, actually predated my reading project, but I’d read it so recently, that rereading it seemed sort of pointless. But it is a book on Harry Potter and its a great one, so I would hate to leave it out.
Harry Potter and the Millennials – by Anthony Gierzynski and Kathryn Eddy, published in 2013.
This is not, strictly speaking, not actually a book of literary criticism, just to completely start off on an atypical foot. Dr. Gierzynski is a professor of political science and this book is a statistical analysis of Harry Potter‘s impact on the political beliefs of Harry Potter fans, presented for laypeople.
I love this book because every single time I had a methodological quibble with what I was reading, it was answered in a later chapters. Its a well organized book explaining a well organized and well thought out study.
The basics of the study is this:
Gierzynski compared the political opinions of undergraduate students who were dedicated Harry Potter fans to those who only had an incidental interaction with the series. He found that the Potter fans were, on average, more liberal, more open to diversity and more questioning of authority. They also feel more able to enact political change.
The rest of the analysis takes a series of steps to isolate the effect. Potter fans tend to read more, in part because they often have more educated and more liberal parents. But once these effects are isolated out there really is a statistical “Harry Potter Effect”, it comprises only a few percent difference but its statistically sound. Also, as much as this sounds small, its a very respectable effect size given the amount and type of data.
This analysis needs to be followed up, which the authors are very clear on, in part because it could benefit from being retested on a second sample, and in part because there are more complex ways this data could be analyzed. But its a compelling finding which is just begging to be applied to other aspects of fandom. Its essentially impossible, as it stands to dissociate what elements of the “Harry Potter Effect” come from simply reading the books closely, and what is related to fan engagement surrounding the series.
Could this effect be seen with other books? Would the later generations of Potter fans show the same effect, or is it unique to the sort of singular social and political environment that surrounded Harry Potter as it was being released, something which is unlikely to be repeated? Currently we just don’t know.