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LostInParadise's avatar

Do the Harry Potter books rank as great children's literature?

Asked by LostInParadise (23969points) July 24th, 2011

I only read one of them. I found it a good escapist adventure story, but I would not consider it a great work of literature. The use of language and character development were not particularly outstanding.

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16 Answers

mattbrowne's avatar

Only history will tell. What will kids read in 2040? Astrid Lindgren or Joanne Rowling? Here’s my bet: Astrid Lindgren.

marinelife's avatar

Great Literature? No, but a great children’s adventure? Yes. Particularly the first volume.

janbb's avatar

I think they are engaging books with fun characters and inventions but quite derivative and not great literature. In my mind, a much more compelling series of children’s fantasy is Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence. There are others as well who rank higher in the pantheon.

mazingerz88's avatar

Absolutely NOT. If someone thinks it is, then Jane Austen wrote Twilight.

flutherother's avatar

No, they are entertaining but neither deep nor original.

Aethelflaed's avatar

So, let me first get this out of the way: What children will actually want to read in 30 years is very, very different from what parents and academics will consider to be great and classic. For instance: I’ve never read Pippi Longstocking. Nor did I know any kids who read Pippi Longstocking growing up. And I honestly think that the qualities that win Pippi such acclaim are ones that you don’t appreciate until you’re an adult who’s ready for some nostalgia, and the same goes for many other “classics”.

Second, you cannot base the entire series off of the first book (I’m assuming that’s the one you read). Rowling created the books so that whatever age the characters were, that was her target demographic: If Harry was 11, she wrote for 11 year olds. If Harry was 17, it was written at a 17 year old level. In the first book, the second book – ok, maybe not so much character development. But once you start reading book 5 (when Harry is 15), there’s tons of it. Rowling specifically sets him up to go through a very “moody” phase, in which he feels all alone and that no one understands him (with, admittedly, good reason). There’s a transition from him being a kid who wants to save everyone to more of an adult who feels an obligation to save everyone and to stand up for what he believes in. The 7th book is really the one to read if you’re looking for greater literary techniques – the storytelling is more advanced, there are more complex plots interwoven, there’s a whole Nazi symbolism thing that’s really great, and a great deal of character development. Which sort of makes sense – I don’t know about you, but I grew a lot more as a person when I was 17 and 18 (which I include because 17 is the age at which wizards become adults, so it’s comparable to our 18) than when I was 11.

I think kids will be reading them for years to come, because children want escapism and parents approve of the message. Children want to be transported to a place where they can do their chores with a flick of a wand, where they’ll have great friends with strong bonds and not a whole lot of backstabbing, where camaraderie and individuality are encouraged, where there will always be a better family just dying to welcome you into their arms and homes, and where they get to eventually win over the school bully and that teacher who randomly hates you. To quote Andrew Futral “Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity.” So to me, if what it takes for something to become a classic is a great use of language and character development, then let me ask: Why is Winnie the Pooh so big? I don’t consider A.A. Milne to be blowing me away with his use of language, and there’s virtually no character development. But these aren’t the things we look for in children’s literature. Instead, we look for a fun ride that will teach our children the values we so desperately wish to instill in them, and that will capture their imaginations so much that they’ll want to read the books on their own.

Hibernate's avatar

It’s good but if someones wants their kids to read good literature they can always try classics. Dickens, Twain London etc have better pieces than Harry Potter. If kids want SF they can go for Verne, Wells, Heinlein etc.

Supacase's avatar

I think of it like The Little House series, though obviously with a different demographic. Little House isn’t great literature, but it is engaging and has stood the test of time. Best comparison I can think of off the top of my head.

Harry Potter may not be great literature, either, but I believe it will remain a popular and important series. The main thing I remember about HP was that it renewed an interest in reading – kids were focused on TV and the internet.

snowberry's avatar

The difference between Harry Potter and the Little House series is that L.H. was autobiographical in nature, while H.P. is simply a novel. And I do believe that L.H. does show character development as she grows up.

filmfann's avatar

Yes and no. They are great literature, but not Children’s literature. I wouldn’t want any child reading them who wasn’t at least a tween. They just get darker and darker.
That said, they are remarkable in how the stories develop and build on each other. I wasn’t crazy about the 2nd book until I read the 6th, and realized what had happened.
Harry Potter will be around for many, many years. Sorry, @mattbrowne, no one reads Pipi Longstalking anymore.

linguaphile's avatar

@Supacase Exactly what I was thinking!! The Little House series aren’t as popular as they were in the 80’s, but they’re still engaging—I think it’s the ‘coming of age’ story that keeps kids coming back. My 8 year old daughter enjoys them and just finished reading Pollyanna.

I’m seeing a big gap between what kids find fascinating and interesting and what adults consider literature. Some of the more classical stories have lost their relevancy for today’s youth—stories like “Where the Red Fern Grows” or “Kidnapped” have not lost their inherent value, but seriously don’t have the same allure to today’s young readers. Are they literature? Yes, but they’re lost ground with young readers. It seems to me that Dark is Rising series totally fell off the map until the movie “The Seeker” brought the series back.

The Nancy Drew series are, honestly, not excellent pieces of literature- they’re formulaic and the characters are pretty two-dimensional, but Nancy has lasted since 1929 and is still being read. Nancy’s somehow still relevant, while the Sweet Valley High and Babysitter’s Clubs are disappearing into the recycling bins. It’s a paradox to me because Nancy’s so clean cut in contrast to today’s popular Pretty Little Liars. I don’t see many kids reading Anne of Green Gables anymore but I still consider Anne to be good literature.

My point—is the test of time really an indicator of good literature? I know many books that were beautifully written, but are collecting dust on library shelves or filling the free boxes. They’re still good— they just fell out of favor and the reverse is true- books that have endured, like The Call of the Wild are still literature, but might have fallen off the popularity list, for now.

One of the things that makes Harry Potter intriguing for me is goes beyond the stories—JK Rowling’s included mythology from, Rome, Greece, Babylonia, the Orients, the Celts, Vikings and even had some Native American references. There were also historical parallels to different battles and supremacies. All wrapped up in a coming of age story… Only time will tell with Harry Potter.

janbb's avatar

@linguaphile I just want to say I love the way you write and think.

Jeruba's avatar

No. They are splendid fun, and mostly well written (although books 2 through 7 needed much more editorial attention than they got in their rush to print), and I think anything that gets kids reading is wonderful.

But great? no. Literature? no. Children’s? no, not exclusively. Their greatest virtues are their appealing characters and their readability for a wide range of ages.

I think taking it a little more slowly and expending more care at the level of words and paragraphs would have strengthened the books and made them more enduring. The suspense of waiting for the next one and seeing how it all ended was terrific for sales. What will be interesting to see is if the process of getting from beginning to end will hold future readers now that everyone knows how things turn out.

I suppose some people might have wondered the same thing about Dickens’s serialized novels: who will ever read them in the future now that everyone knows who died, who the real villain was, whom the hero married after all? But after a lapse of time, it was a new generation of readers, and everything was fresh once again.

linguaphile's avatar

@janbb Thank you, I feel honored!

martianspringtime's avatar

I think this is a very subjective question that a lot of people answer as if it were an objective one.
I think that the books are well written and Jo has done a pretty great job at filling in plot holes. The characters are – to me – easy to empathize with without being vague, generalizations of characters. The books appeal to a variety of age groups and cultures. They teach what I think are good qualities, and if nothing else get kids reading and using their imagination. So are they great literature? If great literature can be defined by how I’ve described the series, and assuming my description is relatively true, then absolutely.

I’m also not sure what great children’s literature consists of, and I’m not sure who could be a better judge of what qualifies than children themselves.

linguaphile's avatar

On this topic… In an auction, just won an old Children’s Literature book from 1921. I realized after I bought it that it’s a teacher’s guide to different things to teach children. 90% of what’s in that book is… poetry!

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