June 26th marked the 20th anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was published ten years later in 2007, bringing the adventures of the boy wizard to a conclusion. During that period, the popularity of the series grew as it was embraced by children and adults. The seven books have resulted in eight films, a range of computer games, a stage production (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), a fan website (Pottermore) and several theme parks. Fans have come together to form the Harry Potter Alliance. With chapters around the world, this organisation uses principles from the books to promote activism, especially amongst youth.
Levioso! (With thanks to Harry Potter Wiki)
Whilst it is widely acknowledged that the Harry Potter series has played a significant role in encouraging children to read, there has been criticism about the quality of J. K. Rowling’s writing (Dickenson, 2017). The first three books won numerous awards, many of which were judged by children. However, as the series became increasingly popular, the debate around the books as works of literature began. The issue I have with this is that critics assess the writing using adult standards and tastes (Dickenson, 2017). They also judge the books in terms of the educational value they have rather than the pleasure they bring the children who read them.
Grim news….critics slate the Harry Potter series
This, of course, brings us back to the issue of reading for pleasure, which I explored in an earlier post. Many popular children’s writers have experienced the same criticism that has been levelled at J. K. Rowling. This is intellectual snobbery at work (Gaiman, 2013); by downplaying the value of Harry Potter, high culture can once again be presented as superior and pop culture as trash. This attitude ignores the passion and delight children feel for the series and for the characters within the books. It also downplays the richness of the world that J. K. Rowling has created (Dickenson, 2017), as well as her ability to create page-turning plots. As with other popular books and series, adults are still telling children what to read rather than respecting their choices. Yet again, reading for pleasure is being sidelined in the name of raising standards.
Despite adult criticism, children love Harry Potter
Perhaps it’s time to accept Harry Potter as a entertaining read that has been, and continues to be, the first step into the world of reading for many children.