The 'Harry Potter' phenomenon: 7 surprising facts

Stolen books? Tie-in tombstones? Pixar versions? As the penultimate "Harry Potter" movie hits the big screen, here's a look at the saga's impact on the real world

Daniel Radcliffe admitted to taking two pairs of Harry Potter's glasses as a memento of the wizardly saga.
(Image credit: Facebook)

Friday's box office debut of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 marks the beginning of the end of J.K. Rowling's beloved fantasy saga. (Watch the movie trailer.) In the real world, however, the Harry Potter phenomenon will inevitably keep generating ripple effects. The series' impact can already be seen in everything from a spike in owl poaching in India to the creation of a earthbound Quidditch league in U.S. colleges. Here are seven other ways that Potter mania has played out in the real world:

1. Warner Bros. panicked when it almost lost its Hermione

In 2006, when Emma Watson's contract was up, Warner Bros. nearly had to find another actress to play Hermione Granger in The Order of the Phoenix. The filming schedule conflicted with Watson's final high school exams, which would have meant putting off college, "and I just wasn't prepared to let it go," Watson told MTV News. Warner Bros. rescheduled the shoot around Watson's school schedule, and she finished her tests, started at Brown University, and finished off the Harry Potter movies. "I would have been public enemy No. 1, I think, if I hadn't continued," she says.

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2. Harry Potter gravestone is a tourist draw — in Israel

The "backwater Israeli town" of Ramle is happy that Harry Potter, a British soldier who died there in 1939, is buried in the local British military cemetery. Pvt. Potter was killed in battle at age 18, and sure, "there is no connection with the Harry Potter we know from literature, but the name sells, the name is marketable," says local tour guide Ron Peled. Ramle started promoting the tombstone at the beginning of the year, and Israeli tourists have responded in flocks.

3. There's an active (sometimes illegal) market in rare Harry Potter books

An unidentified man and woman stole a limited edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the first book in the series, from an art gallery in Oxfordshire, England. A first trade-edition of the same book sold for $40,000 at a Christie's auction in October. And an anonymous bidder paid about $4 million for one of seven handwritten copies of Rowling's post-Potter, unpublished Tales of Beedle the Bard, with five "wizarding fairytales" that tie into Potter's last adventure.

4. Real schools have taken a page from Hogwarts' "houses"

After Harry Potter became an instant hit in 1997, real British schools took note of Rowling's fictional Hogwarts academy, specifically its division into four "houses": Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. A survey by school-rewards company School Stickers found that 58 percent of U.K. schools now have Hogwarts-like "houses," and that 59 percent of those — some 8,000 schools — set them up after Harry Potter was published. A third of teachers believe that their school's houses have distinctive characteristics, but most are named after colors, not famous wizard alumni.

5. Michael Jackson pitched a musical version of Potter, and was shot down

Rowling has received, and rejected, lots of offers for Harry Potter tie-ins, the author told Oprah Winfrey, noting that the rampant merchandising of the series "could be so much worse." Michael Jackson, she explained, approached her to make a musical from the Potter series. "I said no to a lot of things," Rowling said, and that was one.

6. Spielberg almost directed the Potter movies — in Pixar-style animation

Before picking Chris Columbus to direct the the first of the Harry Potter films, Warner Bros. approached Steven Spielberg. Spielberg was game, says Warner Bros. president Alan Horn, but he wanted to consolidate some of the books' plots and make the movies as Pixar-style animated features. I didn't blame him, says Horns. "Because of the wizardry involved," any live-action version was inevitably going to be very effects-laden.

7. No more Potter books? Blame Daniel Radcliffe

In the Oprah interview, Rowling said she "definitely could write an eighth, ninth, tenth book." But she's opted not to, according to actor Daniel Radcliffe, as a way to "reward" him for his fine portrayal of Harry Potter. "I'm sure she will be writing other books," he added. "But I can pretty much guarantee that Harry will not be a feature."

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