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Post-Potter July 25, 2007

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Books.

This is my requisite Harry Potter post. But perhaps not the one most might expect.

Whether you’ve read the series or not (or even liked how it came to a close), there’s no denying that J. K. Rowling has achieved something remarkable with Harry Potter. The ten-year opus-in-the-making has entertained readers the world over, with the release of each book an eagerly anticipated affair. Some are of the opinion that Harry Potter has singlehandedly brought back the allure of books. While this overstates the matter somewhat, there is no denying that over the past decade there has been a certain excitement surrounding reading that wasn’t exactly there before — especially among the young — and Rowling has been a large part of that.

I have to wonder, however, if years from now Harry Potter will still resonate in the hearts and minds of future readers to whom the completed series is readily available.

It’s simple, really. Part of the charm of the series — aside from the inherent mystique of magic, kids cast in the role of heroes, or the epic battle between good and evil — is the sense of time to which the story is tied. Each book represents a year in our eponymous wizard’s life, and thus in progressing through the books Harry and the rest of the cast grow up before our eyes. Indeed, in writing the series Rowling has evidently gone to great lengths to have this theme of growing up ring true, with each succeeding installment becoming more mature, some would even say darker, than that which preceeded it.

Yet the trouble is that current readers, particularly younger ones, had no choice but to wait and grow up with the book as the series was being written. Consider: a child whose parents had probably been reading Harry Potter to him at six years of age would now be sixteen at the time of the final book’s release. For such a person, the progression of the story and its themes through the books would seem natural precisely because of having himself matured in the intervening years while the story was still a work in progress. This will not be the case for future readers, for whom no such natural impediment exists with all the books having been released. They will have at their fingertips the entire story as it was meant to be read, and perhaps be more acutely aware that the sense of wonder and innocence with which the tale begins slowly ebbs away with each additional book. To contend otherwise is to turn a blind eye to the “snogging” that takes place in later books, the abrupt and perhaps unnecessary deaths of beloved characters, or how arguably crass language such as “effin'” or “bitch” manages to creep into the narrative and feels terribly out of place in what otherwise began as a children’s series.

This brings me back to the point. With the completed series available and such elements evident in later books, how will future parents introduce their children to the wonders of Harry Potter? Will they wait until their children are older? Or will they merely set limits, reading to their children the earlier installments while putting off passing on the later ones when they are “ready”? I admit that to think about such things feels like throwing a wet rag over something as harmless as Harry Potter, which overall is a wonderful tale with a very positive message. But at the same time a very good case can be made that the completed series is not as entirely appropriate for children as it was when the first book came out (on its own) over a decade ago.

Ultimately, only time will tell whether these things will cast a shadow over such a brilliant feat of creativity as Harry Potter or if there is so much more magic in J. K. Rowling’s work than we already give her credit for.



1. la fleur - August 22, 2007

I think the Potter books will withstand time, but I do agree that the reading experience will not be as exciting for future generations. They just won’t understand the suspense we had. Perhaps future parents will tell stories of waiting in line for Harry Potter books, and their kids will just think that their parents were geeks. They won’t “get” it
But thats okay…I love all of the books for varying reasons, but I think one of the most important aspects is that Rowling got kids and others excited about reading again. Hopefully that excitement will hold through all those kids to come.

2. catherineeliza - September 5, 2007

I read all seven books in a row this summer and I agree, they’re better with gaps in between. But I do think they’re compelling enough for future generations to still want to read all seven.

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