I don’t know if the Harry Potter series will become a beloved classic, like Narnia and Little House and Oz. I think there’s a chance they might dry up and disappear.
Not right away, of course; Harry Potter was so absolutely huge that whole generations of kids who grew up on Harry’s brave adventures are planning on reading it to their kids. So the next generation is going to get a earful of Harry, whether they really want to or not.
But will that Harry Potter dosage be satisfying? Because when I think about Harry Potter, I think about my daughter Amy.
Amy was eight when we started reading her Harry Potter, and back then there were only two of them. She read the first one and absolutely adored it, and thought the second one was too scary but she kind-of liked it because, well, she liked the first one and when you’re a kid and decide you love something, you kind of cling to it. So even though she sort of had to race past certain sections of the second book, she still listened to it on CD about a bazillion times. (And why not? Jim Dale’s voice was awesome.)
And every couple of years, a new book came out! And she found Azkaban to be really terribly scary, and it was, but by then Amy was a little older and used to frights. And the death at the end of Goblet of Fire – a very long book – was very sad, but by then Amy had been to a few funerals, so it really resonated with her. And by the time Harry got all snotty in Order of the Phoenix, Amy was starting to creep into her teenaged years, and hated the book because Harry was mirroring her own uncomfortable rebellion. And then there’s the really big death in Half-Blood Prince, which by then Amy was coming to realize that anyone could die and was starting to come to terms with her own mortality, and then by the time the final book came out she was pretty much done with high school.
I think of what eight-year-old Amy, scared of the basilisk, would have thought of the terrors at the end of Half-Blood Prince. I wonder if little Amy would have related at all to the comparatively plot-free antics of Harry in Order of the Phoenix – would it have emotionally resonated with her?
No, the specialness of Harry Potter is that for her entire childhood, Amy had a book series that grew up with her. Just as she matured, Harry did, and together they walked a path. I know for a fact that Amy found it comforting that Harry struggled with some of the things she did, even if she never articulated it as such – but if the Boy Who Lived had to worry about dating and felt awkward and didn’t know what to do sometimes, well, that’s why she clung to those books.
Now, I have no doubt some parents will try to dole out Harry Potter one year at a time, reading the next one as a birthday present – and this is wise, even if it’s doomed to fail. (Too many movies out there, son, and too many friends with DVD players.) But I think pouring all of Harry Potter into a kid at any age is going to be a little disappointing – at thirteen, they may find the beginning books a little too twee, and at Amy’s age they may find Dumbledore’s journey in the cave to be uncomfortably terrifying.
I think Harry Potter will be around for a while. But I also think there’s a good chance that we literally got the magic of an age, and in a hundred years Harry will be one of those beloved classics that adults will read for pleasure, but the kids will have moved on to something else.
That’s fine. Not everything has to last for the ages.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.