Children’s Books, or Something More?
A recent MuggleNet poll has posed a brilliant question: do you think it’s fair to consider the Harry Potter books children’s stories?
And I think, not only am I unable to choose any of the available answers, but why not consider the question more thoroughly?
The books were originally published for children. There’s no doubt about it – they were targeted towards kids, and their original audience was mostly kids. They are placed on the separate children’s book bestsellers list, they are in the children’s section of the book store, and Order of The Phoenix is considered the highest-priced children’s book of all time.
So, officially – yes, they are children’s books.
But, what else can be said? Bloomsbury and Scholastic certainly could never have marketed this story to an adult audience: a story of a boy wizard confined to a cupboard under the stairs by his non-magical relatives, before a giant man tells him the truth and he’s whisked away to a world of wonder at Hogwarts, School of Witchcraft and Wizardry? It’s even a little too ‘youthful’ sounding for a teen or young-adult audience.
But as for the books themselves, are they really children’s books? I say no.
Not many children would catch the subtle naming of the each member of the Black family, or the clever foreshadowing and hints that Jo hides in her books.
Children’s books have good guys and bad guys – but Sirius tells us: the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. Younger kids wouldn’t understand the complexities of characters such as Cornelius Fudge, Dolores Umbridge, and Barty Crouch, Sr.
Kids can enjoy the books on a more superficial level, yes, but it’s clear that Jo’s not writing for the kids. She’s writing for the teens and up. If that weren’t true, Order of The Phoenix would be a lot shorter, and there would be nearly nothing to write editorials about.
Even more important is the frightening nature of the books; Jo has said she’s received the most complaints about Chamber of Secrets, and she thinks it’s because that’s where a lot of people stopped reading. It’s believable – Chamber of Secrets was much more frightening than PS/SS, and GoF goes even further into dark territory (there’s a lot of discussion if the movie will even scrape a PG rating). Honestly: the books are very scary, and not so much in a suspenseful way, so much as psychologically. A group of violent and murderous villains who have an agenda based on pure-blood supremacy – to me, it doesn’t sound too much like the usual bad guy from a children’s novel.
Personally, most of the kids twelve and under that I know, have not read the Harry Potter books. My friend’s sisters and my sister’s friends, and such, have seen the movies, and maybe read the Philosopher’s Stone… but that’s about it.
They just don’t get enraptured into the magical world as easily as the older readers, because they don’t see what we see: the depth of the characters, the intricacies of the plot, the literary value, and the overall brilliance of Jo.
Of course, Jo still must keep it child-appropriate (I was a bit shocked to the reference of Dudley smoking and beating up ten-year olds, myself) – because no matter what percentage of her readers are 18+, there are probably still younger kids reading them, too. Not only that, but they are still considered children’s books officially, and they are still widely marketed to children – therefore, Hogwarts students seem to have relatively docile hormones, and relatively clean language. Wizards seem to live in a pretty squeaky-clean world, morality wise.
So, basically what I’m saying is – we call them children’s books, we classify them as children’s books, and Jo keeps them clean for the kids – but let’s face it… it’s the older crowd that’s reading them, and it’s the older crowd Jo puts all the work in for.
I can see the middle-aged mother in the bookstore now, buying Half-Blood Prince and bubbling about how much her son will love it, before going home, crawling into the cupboard under the stairs, and cracking it open with anticipation. It’s almost like world-wide social denial – everyone knows what’s going on, but we don’t talk about it.
So, officially – children’s books. Off the record – Midnight party at the bookstore on July 16th? Crack out the driver’s licenses, and let’s get going!