How Daniel Radcliffe helped shape a generation
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It’s been twenty years since the first Harry Potter book, the Philosopher’s Stone, came out. It’s been ten years since the last book, the Deathly Hallows, was released on the 21st July 2007. It was also two days later that Daniel Radcliffe turned 18, essentially entering adulthood. Understandably, in the minds of a generation that grew up reading and watching the unfolding of the Harry Potter franchise, Daniel Jacob Radcliffe and Harry James Potter are inseparably linked in global consciousness. A survey conducted this year in Britain found that four in five of 18 to 24-year-olds identify as fans of the Harry Potter books and films. Part of this success is due to Daniel Radcliffe’s bringing Harry Potter to life through the big screen. These characters from the already-popular books weren’t just invisible friends anymore, eagerly pursued through lines of text on white pages. Radcliffe transformed Harry into a real-life boy, coming of age right alongside our generation, learning similar lessons we did and facing obstacles we could somehow relate to. And yes of course he was acting, but in many ways, he was doing far more than that. Most people of this generation will agree that it’s difficult to separate Harry from Radcliffe, that the two are so similar in our minds that Daniel Radcliffe feels as much like a friend to us as Harry did. Future generations will, and are, falling in love with Harry Potter also. Yet their experience will never quite match the experiences had by the Potter generation, those who truly grew up experiencing the anticipation and frenzied excitement of waiting for the next publication, the next film release, and to grow up alongside the actors and characters. Radcliffe brought a tangible magic to the scrawny, spectacled boy; even whilst he gave Harry a new autonomy, independent from the corners of children’s imaginations, he somehow still preserved the sense that Harry belonged to us. He let us keep feeling that special connection to the character, because he wasn’t merely acting the part of Harry. He was Harry Potter. Generally, people enjoy contemptibly pointing to millennials and labelling them cynical, self-absorbed, and selfish. They forget that it was this very generation that fell in love with and popularised an epic tale about the struggle between good and evil, the victory of love over hatred and fear, whilst also teaching that life and morality are often too complex to fit into a black or white dichotomy. Rowling herself has said that Harry Potter was an “argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry”, and it likely has played a small role in why our generation is the most accepting of disenfranchised, marginalised groups. It’s nothing new for literature to impact readers’ social and political judgements, but such a wide-reaching message delivered through popular media has unquestionably left a mark on this generation, and all for the better. To carry this message ever more powerfully, we grew up watching Daniel Radcliffe practising what his character’s story preaches, through his involvement with such organisations as the Trevor Project which aims to promote awareness of gay teen suicide prevention, donations to and support for youth helplines, declaring himself a feminist, and publicly highlighting the lack of top roles for women in the industry.
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