Harry Potter: Children's Literature or People's Story?
An original editorial by Elle Moxley
I, like many others here and everywhere, was a complete and total skeptic of the phenomenon that is JK Rowling's Harry Potter
. In 1999, I was in sixth grade and eleven years old, and Harry Potter
really took off where I live. I just could not understand what all the fuss was about. I am an avid reader, so it was not that I was unwilling to pick up the 435-page third book and the two that came before it. I am not at all religious, so I was not being told that Harry Potter defied God. I am not opposed to reading books about fantasy, so it was not that I did not want to read about wizards and witches and magic.
I was, however, an eleven-year-old that read at the same level as your typical college sophomore. Me, read children's literature? Surely you jest. So, I went on my way, reading Stephen King and Mary Higgins Clark, picking up the occasional nonfiction book featured in Reader's Digest, and enjoying such classics as Rebecca and A Tale of Two Cities. The Harry Potter craze grew. Goblet of Fire came out. I remembering being annoyed that night because crazy little kids in bathrobes were waving wooden sticks around, all while blocking the entrance to Barnes and Noble. I was in need of a replacement copy of Carrie and could not even enter the store to get it. Harry Potter was children's literature and therefore for little kids. Such books belonged in the boxes in my attic, not on my bookcase between Needful Things and The Shining. At least that is what I always thought.
Then, one afternoon in late November of 2002, I was home sick in bed, finishing On Writing, a King memoir for aspiring authors like myself. I was pleased to see that some of my favorite books were some of King's favorite books. I was surprised to see that some of his other favorite books were Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. (Actually, that last book was Prisoner of Azakaban, but even literary geniuses make mistakes sometimes.) Stephen King, the master of his craft, reads children's literature? Oh, my. I did not see that one coming.
I was still skeptical, but I figured that my favorite author and a few bazillion kids around the world could not be that wrong. Figuring that the only thing I had to lose was a few afternoons of my Christmas holiday, I asked my cousin Liza, a cousin who happens to be a Borders employee, for the set. On December the 25, one package under the tree seemed rather out of place because it was not all lumpy, which is typical of most presents from my grandmother. It was from Liza, of course, and it contained the paperback boxed set of Harry Potter books. I hate pecans, so I started reading as soon as my family started eating pie. I could not put them down, and exactly 27 hours later, I had read all four Harry Potter books cover to cover. Another obsessed fan was made.
Since then, I have always been slightly bothered by the location of Harry Potter's shelf at the bookstore. (I do not know where they are kept at your local bookstore, but at the Borders up the street, the Harry Potter display is directly between a stuffed Clifford the Big Red Dog that is slightly taller than me and the table of learning-to-count books. It is right in the center of the children's literature section and therefore surrounded by books with double thick pages and titles that nearly always include "zoo" or "day.") If it had not been for all those bright lights, pastel colors and short words, I would have discovered the magic of Hogwarts ages ago. Would my life be any better for it? Maybe not, but it certainly would have given me something to do with all the free time I have had in the last few years. The other day, I was talking on the phone with one of my friends who has not seen me since last summer. Like myself, she is an avid reader, so I asked her if she read Harry Potter. There was a long pause before she said, "Elle, Harry Potter is for little kids. [My eight-year-old brother] Kevin reads Harry Potter. Why would I read it?"
There you have it. Another person turned off of a great book series because of its association with children's literature. Whenever it comes time to mention that I read Harry Potter, I receive a variety of strange looks before someone politely asks why I am so in love with a little kid's book series. The local news had a story on Harry Potter the other night, and the only fans they interviewed were under the age of 10.
Harry Potter might have been a boy at the beginning of the series, but he will very nearly be a man at the end. The kids that loved his story first will have grown up as well. Dr. Karen Brooks of the Courier-Mail wrote a recent editorial about sex in Harry Potter. She writes, "To include sexuality in any form could potentially damage Harry's package and possibly Rowling's remuneration. Like the Forbidden Forest, that area remains out of bounds." According to Brooks, the Harry Potter books are children's literature; thus, sexuality, hormones and relationships - all the normal parts of adolescence - are off-limits in the series. Even if Harry Potter goes down in history as a classic children's novel, I feel that those things should be included. The books are already very telling about the ways of the world. Voldemort is the embodiment of the evil in this world, and Harry represents those things that are good. The Harry Potter books present people - not just children - an insight on the choices that must be made in life. I do not see how sexuality is much different than any one of these topics. In fact, as a teenager myself, I can relate much more to hormones and relationships than I can an all-consuming evil in the world. People love these stories because they come alive, and I believe that something must have basis in reality to be able to do that.
JK Rowling's fabulous series never mentions a dog with spots to count or little Suzie's trip to the zoo, but it is one and the same in the minds of many. Just how many skeptics would give Harry Potter a chance if it were moved from the too-bright kid's section to the main floor? If I had not already, I know that I would.
Children's literature is a wonderful thing, and, at the age of 15, I am as thankful as any parent that JK Rowling turned kids everywhere onto reading. However, I do not think that Harry Potter should start and stop in one corner of the bookstore. The Clifford stuffed animal gives me the creeps for some reason, but I am not ashamed or afraid to march past him to get to my Harry Potter. My peers should not have to duck into Borders two days after Book 5's release because they are afraid to mingle with a bunch of kids on the night of the release. Adults should not have to be embarrassed to the point of buying their own inconspicuous editions.
The magic of Hogwarts is really for everyone. Some people realized this long ago, but Harry Potter cannot continue to be synonymous with children's literature for others to take notice. JK Rowling has created something that is much more than children's literature. She has created a story for all people, and I think that is it is time to acknowledge that. Children are not going to stop reading Harry Potter now. If that is the case, is it not about time for more adults to start? A book that can be enjoyed by all ages should be marketed for all ages. If you can never be too old for Harry Potter, I do not understand how his story can be confined to the children's section.
Oh, and for the record, I do not think my family has quite forgiven my cousin yet.