Note: Please, for the sake of my sanity and to facilitate a reasonable discussion, read my previous 2 posts on Harry Potter as well as all of the linked posts by Scott Peterson as well as the comments threads on those posts before posting a comment on this thread
In the discussion below with Jane I had a valuable insight into the whole Harry Potter debate. It seems to me that a fundamental assumption made by critics of HP is that they are books for kids and that childrens literature should be held to a different standard than books for adults. All the staunch supporters of HP I’ve seen, on the other hand, seem to be refusing to hold a double standard, ignoring the question of whether the books are appropriate for children. So far I’ve not yet seen the debate clearly framed in this way, but people seem to be talking past one another because they make different assumptions and judge the books by vastly different criteria.
In my senior year of college I took a class in Children’s Literature offered by the Education Department. I was the lone lit major in the class and I soon learned that the skills I’d learned and the criteria I’d used to read books in my lit classes were not the same as the ones we were expected to use in Kiddie Lit.
The first and foremost question we were to ask was “Is it age appropriate?” And most of the time when I disagreed with Prof C. on the merits of a book it was because I was enjoying it by my own criteria while she was seeing it from the point of view of an educator. Only now am I starting to see some of these books I wanted to champion through her eyes and realizing that I now agree with her. They may be fun books, but I will not hand them to my child.
In fact the biggest beef I have with J.K. Rowling is precisely this: she doesn’t seem to have any real concern for her audience. She has set out to do something that is, to my knowledge, new in the field of children’s literature: to write a series of books that grows as the reader grows. Each book advances Harry one year in school. The assumption is the reader is similarly advancing. But is this a valid assumption? It stupidly ignores the possibility of new readers.
And thus the dilemma. A book that is appropriate for a sixteen year old may not be appropriate for a reader of eight. (And I’ve heard of even younger readers tackling the series.) But the books continues to grow darker and darker and to deal with “age-appropriate” material. Like sexuality and death.
I have a hard time believing that Rowling can’t see this, so my conclusion is she doesn’t care. I have huge problems with someone who takes such a cavalier attitude towards children. Writing children’s literature is much harder than writing for adults. And the children’s book writer has certain ethical responsibilities to her audience that a writer for adults does not have (though all writers share some ethical responsibilites to their audience.) If she is blind to the problem then we have a whole other set of issues.A writer who doesn’t understand her obligations to her audience also has no business writing for children.
Parents and teachers need to realize this. They have a serious obligatin to the children under their watch to make sure they are not given inappropriate material. But the publishing industry needs to help them out and stop marketing harmful books to kids.
The Harry Potter debates will contine to rage with lack of understanding on both sides unless we can agree on the criteria for what makes a book appropriate and inappropriate for children.