English and Modern Languages


Master of Arts (MA)


Marybeth Baggett


cultural phenomenon, Harry Potter, Malcolm Gladwell, outlier, tipping point, underdog


Children's and Young Adult Literature | English Language and Literature | Literature in English, British Isles | Sociology | Sociology of Culture


When Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone hit stores in the United States in 1998, children and adults alike went wild. Not only had Rowling's first book made huge waves in the UK, but Americans were talking about the struggling, single-parent who had penned a children's classic before the book even reached American stores. American audiences accepted Rowling's first novel with open arms, making it one of the first children's books to reach and occupy The New York Times best-seller list for so long. While certain marketing techniques and the rise of the Internet did contribute to Harry Potter's initial success in both the UK and US, other more important factors made the series reach its tipping point. Malcolm Gladwell, noted journalist and best-selling author, explores three theories that serve as explanations for the series' success, particularly in America: tipping points, outliers, and underdogs. He explains that for something to reach a tipping point--or a moment in which something goes from being an average product or idea to a phenomenon--it must mean something to certain groups of people, it must take place in the right environment, and it must be worthwhile. Gladwell's other two theories--outlier and underdogs--better explain the worthwhile aspect of the series and point to reasons why Harry Potter, the character, resonates with readers as an imperfect hero who chooses good and eventually defeats the ultimate evil one, Lord Voldemort.