Harry Potter: Do Fictional Characters Impact Our Lives?

Fictional Characters

Photo credit: bibicall via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Proman (short for Project Manager aka my beloved husband) has a big birthday coming up.

You know what I mean, don’t you? One of those birthdays with a zero? Luckily he’s not adverse to flaunting it.  To celebrate, all our children are arriving this week, along with their children, and by the weekend our little summer cottage will be buzzing.

Proman came home a few days ago and announced that he and Harry Potter share a birthday. Did I know this important fact? Well, somewhere deep in my unconscious, I guess I remembered. Did I also know that the orchestra here was going to play Harry Potter music for that evening’s concert? And show Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at the same time. Nope, I had forgotten, but won’t our grandkids be delighted?

Then came the finale. Proman announced that we should celebrate Harry’s birthday right along with his own on Saturday–their actual mutual birthday is the 31st, but both our family and the orchestra are taking artistic license. Last time I saw Proman, he was off looking for a wand. I’m delighted to be married to a man who hasn’t quite grown up.

The Harry Potter Effect

Harry Potter has affected more than Proman. In 2013 Time magazine reported that there were 450 million copies of Harry Potter books in circulation.

In 2014 The New York Times reported the following:

“Facebook’s data team crunched the numbers on the viral Facebook meme that asked users to share books that have somehow affected them, and the series about the Boy Who Lived was on a whopping 21 percent of the 130,000 lists, making it what some have called “the most influential book in the world.”

Harry Potter topped such standards as Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” J.R.R Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” and … the Bible.

Harry, who triumphs over extreme adversity, who soldiers on despite every reason not to, is a hero for all time.

The same NY Times article reported that several European universities who have studied Harry Potter have concluded that the books may make readers more tolerant.

“Harry has meaningful contact with characters belonging to stigmatized groups. He tries to understand them and appreciate their difficulties, some of which stem from intergroup discrimination, and fights for a world free of social inequalities.”

I love the idea that the young hero in a series of books that I read and loved as an adult may be having a long term positive effect on our culture.

But is Harry alone?

A study at Durham University in the UK reported that 19% of 400 readers revealed that the voices of fictional characters remained with them after a book was finished and influenced the tone of their thoughts.

According to one of the paper’s authors, writer and psychologist Charles Fernyhough,

“For many of us, this can involve experiencing the characters in a novel as people we interact with,” he said. “One in seven of our respondents, for example, said they heard the voices of fictional characters as clearly as if there was someone in the room with them.”

As the creator of many fictional characters myself, I can attest to this. Some of the people who’ve lived in my head still speak loudly to me.

  • Charlotte of One Mountain Away reminds me that life is short and better filled with meaning than with possessions.
  • Elisa of Endless Chain reminds me to never stop searching for what really matters in my life, even if the odds are against finding it.
  • Lilia of The Swallow’s Nest reminds me that sometimes what seems like our greatest roadblock can turn into our greatest joy.

While we’re reveling in our upcoming Harry Potter weekend in a summer cottage packed to overflowing, along with two important birthdays we’ll be enjoying the fruits of one author’s magnificent imagination and her gift to all of us: fictional characters we’ve learned to love and who have and will continue to affect our lives for years to come.


  1. Shanna on July 25, 2017 at 6:47 am

    Book characters always speak to me, even more so if I find a little bit of myself in them.

  2. Kate on July 25, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    I am glad Proman does feel the need to be a grown up. Perhaps he would like an owl for his birthday.
    Hermione shows us that girls can be smart, and boys will still like them.

  3. Nancy Lepri on July 25, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    Happy Birthday, Proman!!!!

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