[Editor’s Note: This post has a discussion video that is meant to go with it. If/when I get all of the kinks and editing done, I will upload it to this post.]
We can’t talk about Harry Potter without first talking about children’s literature in general, but before we place Harry into that context, there are few things we should know:
1. Children’s literature is fundamentally different from most, if not all, other types of literature. For instance, take women’s literature (an oft-studied area): when we say “women’s” in this context, we typically mean literature BY women and not necessarily FOR women. In fact, this logic applies to most areas of literature, but the opposite is true for children’s literature. When we say children’s literature, we typically mean literature written FOR this audience and very rarely BY it. Which brings me to:
2. What does this say about literature in general? Using my example of women’s literature, what exactly classifies a work as being FOR women, or could a man possibly write women’s literature if it encompasses literature FOR that audience? If Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights were written FOR women, is that to say a man could or should not read them? Many of these literary labels are inaccurate: it has become more likely to find this area as “literature by women”; even Wikipedia does not call it women’s literature, choosing instead to label it as “women’s writing.” But as I’ve said, children’s literature is fundamentally different–in that most of it really is written FOR that audience–and so it is much harder to define. There are four major kinds of works that must be considered:
a. Works written for children.
b. Works chosen by adults for children.
c. Works written by children (they exist!).
d. Works chosen by children for children.
3. I never thought this would be such an important consideration for the Harry Potter series–at least not until I read Deathly Hallows, and even then I should have been more perceptive to it much sooner in the series: fairy tales were NEVER ORIGINALLY INTENDED for children. They were stories that tended to have moralistic values written for a general audience. Perhaps because of this, fairy tales quickly became associated with children, and so we must take them into consideration. However, there are far too many misconceptions surrounding them, especially in the context of children’s literature, so we must take care in making over-generalizations. Bluebeard is a perfect example: you won’t see Disney adapting it anytime soon.
As I’ve said, this is merely a general overview of somethings to keep in mind before you put Harry in a children’s literature context. There are many preconceptions associated with this area of literature, especially with that last tidbit. Of course there is more, but for now this should suffice.