With Harry Potter sales topping 450 million books worldwide, it is difficult to imagine anything ranking higher. However, J.K. Rowling’s latest novel, The Casual Vacancy, has already exceeded expectations with nearly 125,000 copies sold in its first week. While fans and critics internationally are watching Rowling’s success, many remain curious as to how her branch into the realm of adult fiction will compare to her modern day classic, Harry Potter.
Said to be reminiscent of Rowling’s own childhood in rural Britain, the novel centers on the small village of Pagford and the people who call it home. The novel was released less than a month ago but has already come under scrutiny. Namely, everyone is curious to see just how it stacks up to Harry Potter. As many have cleverly joked, Rowling seems to have taken an interest in the life of”muggles”, after years of painstakingly portraying the magical realm. Therefore, it appears no matter what Rowling writes, she will forever be trapped in the Harry Potter universe.
However, what are absent in Harry Potter are all the aspects of The Casual Vacancy that put it on the adult fiction shelf. As the Guardian writes, “drugs, sex, and swearing” make a first appearance in Rowling’s new novel, perhaps shocking many who are used to her PG-13 (at most) work. With Casual Vacancy, those more mature aspects of life that Rowling dare not discuss in Harry Potter, are on full display.
By the same token, Rowling’s timing with Casual Vacancy is near perfect. When Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in 1997, her first fan base were the primary school children of the day. Fast forward fifteen years and those ten year olds are now in their early twenties, well into adult life, and ready for Rowling to connect with them once again. Consequently, Rowling’s leap from children’s fiction to adults’ may put her back on the map—not that she was or will ever be off— with that entire generation of first Harry Potter readers.
That is not to say that J.K. Rowling has not picked up fans of all ages and at all stages of the fifteen-year journey; but it is with this first band of followers, those dedicated children initially entranced by Harry Potter, that she will have the majority of her success. It is one thing to be popular, but it is entirely different to be an indispensable aspect of a person’s childhood. Eager to devour any works by an early favourite, these life-long fans may indeed carry her forward.
Photo credit: Alexandra Carson