The overarching question of this descriptive and interpretive study, was “What motivated youth to read the Harry Potter series?” Defining the focus and parameters of the study were three more specific sub-questions: What are the general reading interests, habits, and attitudes towards reading of the young readers who participated in this study? What factors do the young readers identify as initially attracting them to Harry Potter? What factors do the young readers identify as motivating them to continue to read Harry Potter?
A purposive sample of six-hundred-seventy-one readers who responded to a request posted on three online discussion forums completed a web-based survey with results clarified or expanded via semi-structured interviews. The members of this unique-in-time group were born between 1984 and 1990 (18 to 24 years old at the time of the study), grew up in the United States, began reading the Harry Potter before 2000 and read each book as the series was published . The questionnaire administered during Phase One of this mixed methods explanatory model approach addressed the relationship of young readers who grew up with Harry Potter and the factors these readers identified as impacting their motivation to continue reading Rowling’s series during the 10 years the books were published. The quantitative and qualitative results of the Phase One influenced the questions asked during Phase Two guided selection of the most appropriate subjects to interview. Phase Two utilized semi-structured qualitative interviews to more fully explore themes and data derived during analysis of Phase One data.
Not employed in previous Harry Potter studies, Rosenblatt’s reader response theory was drawn on to construct this research, resulting in a wealth of new insights into motivational factors for these avid young readers of Harry Potter. These readers differ from the general population of readers in many ways: they preferred reading adventure and fantasy over horror or science fiction, read for pleasure more frequently, and were more likely to perceive themselves as having strong reading skills. Factors identified as initially motivating this group to read Harry Potter were predominantly extrinsic, with friends most often identified as encouraging them to join the in on the experience. Continued motivation to read was largely found to be intrinsic in nature with personal associations and emotional attachments between readers and the characters, changes in the reading experience as readers matured and as the books became more complex, and strong links between the books and memories of childhood.
Findings of this study have several potentially important implications for theory and practice. Theoretically, this study substantiates the validity of reader response theory as a method to understand reading interests, habits, and attitudes of youth. Preferences of enthusiastic readers differed from those of typical young readers. This enables provision of attention-grabbing materials and extends the scope of reading interest research. Finally, this study documents intrinsic motivation as more important than extrinsic motivation, at least in enthusiastic readers. Extrinsic motivators attracted new readers, but the magnitude of intrinsic factors on motivation to continue reading brings into question the widespread and often controversial use of extrinsic motivators for all children in school settings.