Comments on Dan H's When Harry Met Enid

In which Dan dismisses Harry Potter as a jolly hockey-sticks boarding school romp.

Comments (go to latest)
Rami at 14:07 on 2006-12-20
I don't read Harry Potter, but I agree with your points about Children's Fiction As A Whole - it *shouldn't* just be adult fiction with shorter words and more colorful packaging!
Wardog at 13:04 on 2007-01-01
And Harry Potter, of course, has its range of "adult" covers, as if to further distance itself from the rest of children's fiction. As I shall surely write in an article of my very own, JK seems to be no longer writing books for children, she's writing books for Harry Potter fans which is actually a completely different thing.
TheMerryMustelid at 17:59 on 2012-04-21
"Snape He's probably going to wind up having been in love with Lily Potter, and blame himself for her death and blah blah blah..."

Wow! You're a prophetic genius! How _do_ you do that? ;)

You hate JK Rowling as much as I hate Dan Brown. Let's get together and do coffee! :) Though I actually enjoyed the Potter series *ducks* I recognize it for the big magic soap opera it is. I have no illusions that it's great literature, but I think fellow fantasy writers like Terry Pratchett are just a _mite_ jealous that she captured the youth market before they did.

Whatever you may think of Rowling, you gotta give her credit for getting young kids around the world excited about reading. That's no small feat. Sorry if the visual image of a 5 year old hugging the latest Harry Potter tome to their elated breast gives you the vapors, but I find it inspiring. :P
Dan H at 22:32 on 2012-04-21
Whatever you may think of Rowling, you gotta give her credit for getting young kids around the world excited about reading.


Obviously getting kids to read is good, but I'm genuinely not convinced JKR actually increased the amount of books read by children - I strongly suspect that the sorts of kids who read Harry Potter are the sorts of kids who would have been reading anyway. I think the anecdotal evidence gets skewed here in the sense that for kids-who-read, there is likely to be a particular author who you remember as being the author who got you into reading (for me it was Dahl with a side order of Pratchett) and while I think there's a generation of kids for whom that author was Rowling, I don't think that's quite the same as Rowling getting kids to read. It's like the Yoko Factor in reverse, the kids got themselves to read, Rowling was just there at the time.
Arthur B at 00:31 on 2012-04-22
Plus: getting lots of kids to read is benign enough. Getting lots of kids to all read the same stuff brings me out in chills.

As a young person the most valuable books I read were the ones which were strictly speaking not actually intended for people my age.
Sister Magpie at 06:03 on 2012-04-22
I could swear I remember reading some actual research about this idea with HP. The basic result was, unsurprisingly, that while HP did certainly get kids interested in reading those books (just as Star Wars got kids interested in seeing Star Wars), the number of readers (meaning kids who read for pleasure) was basically the same.

So essentially the same idea--there are now a lot of adult readers whose first amazing books were HP, but the generation that were kids when HP came out don't have a higher percentage of readers as a result.
James D at 06:56 on 2012-04-22
Man, that's kind of depressing. There must also be kids out there whose 'first amazing books' were the Twilight series.
Yeah, some kids are just readers. They'll read whatever's in front of them, whether it's Harry Potter or the cereal box. Kids who don't like to read because reading is hard or boring will just wait to see the movies, as always.

I'm honestly impressed with Rowling for tapping exactly the right cultural vein at the right time. I mean, the woman literally wrote books that managed to appeal to *every kind of person everywhere*. Even people who hated the books enjoyed hating them, and often for very different reasons. She tried to give everyone everything and failed spectacularly, but she did manage to give everyone something. And she did it just by being herself and writing the kind of books she would want to read.
TheMerryMustelid at 16:22 on 2012-04-22
I'd like to see those statistics about how the number of kids reading Potter were "reading kids" anyway. I'm writing from the states and let me tell you, seeing American kids under 7 years old _pack_ bookstores (and I'm talking the big chains here) just to read a story was a new phenomena to me. Kids that young usually are not into reading as a rule.
Arthur B at 16:25 on 2012-04-22
I'd like to see those statistics about how the number of kids reading Potter were "reading kids" anyway. I'm writing from the states and let me tell you, seeing American kids under 7 years old _pack_ bookstores (and I'm talking the big chains here) just to read a story was a new phenomena to me. Kids that young usually are not into reading as a rule.

Were they packing the bookstores year-round or just around the Potter release dates? Because if it's the latter, that might just be a side effect of them all being keen to read the same books by the same author rather than being particularly more keen to read than their forebears.
TheMerryMustelid at 16:28 on 2012-04-22
James D:
Man, that's kind of depressing. There must also be kids out there whose 'first amazing books' were the Twilight series.


I see what you did there. :P

God, that would be even more depressing, wouldn't it?

Sister Magpie at 17:17 on 2012-04-22
Were they packing the bookstores year-round or just around the Potter release dates? Because if it's the latter, that might just be a side effect of them all being keen to read the same books by the same author rather than being particularly more keen to read than their forebears.



I don't have the actual statistics, but the upshot of what I read was the opposite. It wasn't that the books were read by kids who were readers anyway. They were also read by non-readers because they were a huge thing everyone wanted to read. But they didn't get kids interested in reading so much as interested in Harry Potter. So it didn't create readers, it created HP fans who read that.

Though in my experience having worked at a kids' bookstore there are plenty of kids who would pack a bookstore to hear a story. There just aren't huge events where a specific book coming out brings in the crowd all at once--which of course was true for adult readers with HP too.
I think if the goal was to get kids to start reading Harry Potter and then graduate them to actual good books, it didn't work. There are kids who read Harry Potter and nothing else, which doesn't quite make them "readers."
http://roisindubh211.livejournal.com/ at 20:09 on 2012-04-22
I have no illusions that it's great literature, but I think fellow fantasy writers like Terry Pratchett are just a _mite_ jealous that she captured the youth market before they did.


That was never the problem- Pratchett, at least, was annoyed at the way she was presented in the news as if she was the first person ever to put MAGIC in books for CHILDREN, etc, in pieces obviously written by people who do not read fantasy (and yet think they know what's what in the genre).
The main problem with Harry Potter isn't that the books stop being "children's books" halfway though. "These books are no longer for children" is a statement that implies something that is nor positive, nor negative.

The problem is that in the later books, "childlike" elements inherited from earlier ones uncomfortably mesh with the new "adult stuff". I'd argue that in HBP and DH this is particularly noticeable, though two previous books suffer from that as well. As a result, both the series and every particular post-PoA book taken in itself have a hard time realizing who the hell is their primary audience. That results in a lot of dissonant Mood Whiplashes, aborted storylines and themes as the narrative merrily goes from "childlike" to "adult" and back again, and inconsistent characterization.
TheMerryMustelid at 21:19 on 2012-04-22
TheMerryMustelid:
I have no illusions that it's great literature, but I think fellow fantasy writers like Terry Pratchett are just a _mite_ jealous that she captured the youth market before they did.

http://roisindubh211.livejournal.com/
That was never the problem- Pratchett, at least, was annoyed at the way she was presented in the news as if she was the first person ever to put MAGIC in books for CHILDREN, etc, in pieces obviously written by people who do not read fantasy (and yet think they know what's what in the genre).

Didn't Pratchett also take Rowling to task for effectively saying her books weren't fantasy? Like she was trying to distance her series from the "taint" of the genre or something. If she did say something as bone-headed as that, I don't blame him for jumping down her throat.

I love Pratchett and am happy to see him finally getting a wider audience in the States. For many years it seemed he was almost the American fantasy geek's best kept secret. I used to sneer at Terry Brooks readers while I clutched the latest then-hard-to-find Pratchett tome. But that was way back and Pratchett has had good american distribution for at least a decade now.

Ogg is my Co-pilot. :D

To get back on topic, if it's statistically true that Rowling didn't inspire more kids to read beyond her series, that is too bad, but is it necessarily her fault? One of my little pet theories is that fantasy in general has benefitted from the Harry Potter frenzy, because during the waits between Potter books & after the series ended, readers needed something to fill the void. So in effect, Rowling did help other fantasy writers by making fantasy more popular than ever before, even mainstream.
Sister Magpie at 00:04 on 2012-04-23
I don't think anybody would say it was her fault. It came up, I think, because there were a lot of people crediting her with single-handedly boosting literacy rates etc. That idea has gotten repeated a lot, so it just gets corrected. Blaming her for not performing that feat is like blaming her for not actually being able to fly a broomstick--I don't think anybody could do it!
Dan H at 09:37 on 2012-04-23
The main problem with Harry Potter isn't that the books stop being "children's
books" halfway though. "These books are no longer for children" is a statement
that implies something that is nor positive, nor negative.


I think I disagree, but only margainally. I think "these books are no longer for children" does in fact imply something negative, simply because it implies - well - all of the stuff you mention later.

The reason I would suggest that it was bad for a series of children's books to become a series of books for adults is simply that it is inevitable that the "for kids" stuff doesn't fit with the "for adults" stuff. Part of the problem here is that people seem to forget that you can have a dark, serious story in which bad things happen to people which is still fundamentally a children's story, or a lighthearted wacky romp which is still for grownups.

Rowling's error - essentially - was that she mistakenly believed that the only way to engage with the "serious" themes she wanted to engage with in her children's stories was for her to stop writing children's books.
I agree that JKR's OMGADULT!change was always going to have some problems, but I also think that she could've done more to alleviate the problem of thematic discordance. She didn't seem to be aware that she has a problem that needs fixing at all.

Frank at 17:04 on 2012-04-23
I, too, recall reading that HP did not increase readers. My understanding is that the series may have increased literacy within age groups. Increasing one's ability to read books does not necessarily make one a reader of books.
I agree that after about book three Rowling was no longer clear which market she was targeting, and it didn't matter because she was solidly hitting all of them. I can imagine her and her publishers having their minds blown by their success and wanting more of it, without really being sure what was working and shouldn't be changed and where they had room to let her go crazy and do what she liked. There may not have been a conscious choice to turn the books "adult," but an organic growth in that direction, which no editor ever bothered to sit down and take a good look at and realize just how fucked up it was.

Basically, I think Rowling was a decently talented newbie who was deeply injured by her early success, and it'll be interesting to see whether she ever recovers from it as a writer.
She didn't seem to be aware that she has a problem that needs fixing at all.

I think closer to the end, her only thought was "finish these fucking books so I can get the fuck on with my life." It's probably more that she simply didn't care what she wrote anymore as long as she got words on paper, and her editors cared even less.
http://scipiosmith.livejournal.com/ at 20:06 on 2012-04-23
She didn't seem to be aware that she has a problem that needs fixing at all.


Given that her next book seems to be a satire on the State of the Nation, I'd say she does at least realise that a work primarily for adults will allow her more room to engage with the ideas she wants to in the manner which she would like. As Dan and others have noted, the social commentary in HP was hampered by the fact that it was ultimately a story about the Chosen One defeating the Dark Lord.
I think that Scipio is correct here. To make her later books truly "grow" and be consistent at least in themselves (even if we disregard the earlier ones), JKR needed her books to change from "ultimately a story about the Chosen One defeating the Dark Lord". But while some fanfiction writers could do that (with varying degrees of success), Rowling, understandably, couldn't afford it.

That's why GoF and OotP weren't as bad as DH. In then, JKR could allow herself to deviate a little. HBP, IMO, is just plain badly written.

"I'd say she does at least realise that a work primarily for adults will allow her more room to engage with the ideas she wants to in the manner which she would like"

To be fair, sometimes fantasy can be a good vessel for real-world commentary. But then, see the previous points made on the thread.
http://scipiosmith.livejournal.com/ at 19:05 on 2012-04-24
To be fair, sometimes fantasy can be a good vessel for real-world commentary. But then, see the previous points made on the thread.


Oh, definitely. One of my favourite fantasies of the moment is Shadows of the Apt, which tries very hard to engage with race, privilege and the nature of prejudice and discrimination in general. I just think that a series for children is perhaps not the best medium for that sort of thing.
In order to post comments, you need to log in to Ferretbrain or authenticate with OpenID. Don't have an account? See the About Us page for more details.

Back to "When Harry Met Enid"