The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Keep them in the Kiddie Section: Harry Potter is NOT for Adults

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

ImageFor this week's Book Nook, we're revisiting a piece by our esteemed TV Editor, Phoebe Raven, analyzing why the Harry Potter series is not meant for adults.

Did you ever hear of the “adult versions” of the Harry Potter books? Y’all’s dirty minds now think they are spiced up with sex and all that, but “whoa” says the decency, that’s not true. Content-wise these adult versions are actually EXACTLY the same as the normal version. The only thing that differs is the specially designed covers. “Why those?”, you ask now with due right. And the simple answer is this: inherently all adults KNOW that it is wrong and embarrassing to be reading (and obsessing about) these books as an adult and they don’t want to be seen with a book easily identified as a children’s book on the subway or in their lunch break. So the book is made to look more serious. The content still remains what it is, a book meant for kids, not for adults. (The official reasoning behind publishing these adult versions of course is that they look nicer to have on the book shelves between all the other *cough* classics you own.)

But seriously, let’s look at Harry Potter and the phenomenon around it: it is clear to everyone that if we desperately need to think in categories, then we need to put Harry Potter in the category “children’s book”. And it is in good company there, excellent company. There are many books now considered children’s books, which sometimes didn’t even used to be children’s books when they first came out. Robison Crusoe, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Hobbit… (And no, I don’t want to get into the Hobbit discussion now, personally I don’t think of it as a children’s book, but that is the official category it is filed under in bookstores and that’s that.) The reason some of these brilliant classics are now considered for kids is because the social message they once carried has become outdated. Robinson Crusoe back in his day was a novelty, a book that needed to pose as a documentary account of a real man stranded on an island, because it was not seen as proper for educated people to read “fantasy novels”. We no longer live in times like that, so it has been reduced to a nice adventure story for young boys and girls to read. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland contains way more than the story of a girl who ends up in a weird land where nothing is as it should be. The little riddles and clever word-plays Lewis Carroll put in there (and even more so in the sequel Through The Looking Glass) are something only adults can treasure in their full beauty, for the simple fact that a kid of the age of 8 or 12 doesn’t understand the philosophical thought that went into these little riddles and how the things in Wonderland are twisted representatives for things in the real world. But it is exactly these little things a child cannot fully grasp that make these books enjoyable to adults on a whole different level.

Now, what are those hidden messages in Harry Potter? What does it contain that a child/beginning teenager cannot understand? Does it comment on society in any other way than saying that our mail service is way less convenient than using owls and that the telephone is a strange invention to Ron’s dad? In other, more provocative words: what can a 30-year-old get out of Harry Potter that a 13-year-old can’t?

I do not wish to say that the quality of a book comes merely from saying more than it actually says, from adding layer upon layer of psychology, social commentary and moral lessons. But when you look at the classics, that is basically what they are. They all have layers. But we can treasure books and movies and TV shows for what they are, a piece of chocolate to soothe our longing souls for a little bit. We can love a movie for the simple fact that it helped us through the latest patch of heartache, a TV show for cheering us up at the end of our long workdays and a book for taking us back to our childhood days, but at the same time we have to acknowledge that maybe they all don’t provide much more than just that in terms of quality. I admit here that I love watching MacGyver simply because I used to love the show when I was 13 and it reminds of good times with my best friend, but at the same time I acknowledge the fact that it was not always a well-executed or believable show. It was made in an age of television when we didn’t have DVDs, so no one could go back and look at the continuity errors. It was on your screen one week and then it was gone (except for re-runs in later years). It was a time when TV was fleeting. Only recent inventions brought it back to me and I love it for its sentimental value, not for its biased treatment of Russians, Richard Dean Anderson’s craptacular hair do or the sealing of acid leaks with chocolate. What I am missing in the whole Harry Potter mania is the admission of adults that, while it is a nice book to remind us of the great times we had as kids, it is not a book high in quality compared to Irving, McEwan, Pamuk, Coetzee, McCarthy, Franzen (add more names of acclaimed authors here).

Now wait a second before you let the bashing begin: I did read several of the HP books and I acknowledge that especially the first one was funny. It had a form of sarcasm I enjoyed, yes. Read this part several times: I liked Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. But I liked it for what it was, a children’s book set in the exciting world of a boarding school, and a magical one at that. It had all the makings of a book a teenager would like. I myself dreamed of going to boarding school for years when I was young. And I had a magic kit and did tricks at my mom’s birthday party, of course I did. I am all grown-up now though. So I smiled at Harry Potter’s humor and the journey with the same smile I smile with at Winnie the Pooh, thinking how I would have loved it as a child and a soft “aww” on my lips because it is so cute. The same way I smile when I see a young boy explaining to his mom how a bus works as if he knew everything at the age of 6. I smile and move on.

Oh, but now you will tell me that Harry Potter has valuable moral teachings like “The good guys will win in the end, but no victory comes without a price” and “Though we know the fight is never over, we still have to go on fighting in the hopes of a better tomorrow” and “The world is confusing and sometimes we struggle to make the right choices, but in the end if we listen to our hearts we end up on the good side” and I nod and agree. Those are lessons I see in Harry Potter, but those are lessons I learned when I was 15. I don’t need to learn them anymore. The same way my mom doesn’t need to watch Garden State or any other coming-of-age story anymore, because she already came of age. Sure, those are lessons I would want my kids to learn and so I would get them the first Harry Potter book for their twelfth birthday and hope they “get it”. But at the age of 24 I don’t need to read these lessons anymore, the same way I don’t need my mom telling me the stove is hot and to keep my fingers off it.

Sure, hi-jinks ensue when I tell the story about the time back in the day when I hadn’t learned that lesson yet and burnt my chin trying to peek into the frying pan, but these hi-jinks are not something I repeat and obsess about until no one around me wants to hear my story anymore.

How many times do you have to hear the lessons Harry Potter repeated amidst its Pigwidgeons, Norwegian Ridgebacks and Professor Snape until you stop planting your hand on the stove to see if it’s hot?

What really bothers me most about all this HP mania is the fact that it is not created by the HP–loving children, but by adults who have become obsessed with something they are far too old (and supposedly too sensible) for. They should know better. Of course the movie people and the marketing people and the media people see the opportunity of making millions of dollars and they wanna cash in. For them it is not necessarily about Harry or about literary quality or about any of that. It is about cash and about milking the cow until it’s dry. And that is the part I can live with. But for all the people on the side of “creating the hype” there have to be several times as many on the side of “buying the hype” and no one can tell me those are all kids. Kids don’t have the market authority, the money or the numbers to make the first movie gross $300 million, or the seventh book have a first print run of twelve million in the US alone.

As my last point I have to say that as a person I have always been skeptical of mass phenomena. Chances are if the masses love it, I will critically observe from a distance and wonder why, for the simple fact that I think mass movements are a helluva scary thing, giving too much power to whoever it is, who is creating and steering the movement. Does this skepticism come from being German? Maybe. More likely though it comes from me being a person who hates masses, being in them especially (you have no idea how agitated I can get at a simple county fair!), because people in masses tend to be exponentially stupid and annoying, standing in passageways, stopping in the door, waving their arms in a way endangering my life and so on. I like things a bit off, a bit odd and a bit oblique. I give most of the objects of mass love a chance though. I came around on LotR pretty quickly, I proudly obsess over the Simpsons and of course I have been through several cycles of boy group mania back in my younger days. But when Harry didn’t use the four chances I gave him to tell me anything other than to keep my hands off the hot stove, I turned and walked away wishing him, and Ron especially, all the best in his fight to defeat Voldemort and to teach the kids morals through leading by example.


Random thought: as a kid I would have found it so terribly uncool if my mom had liked the same books as me, that I would have stopped reading them the minute she touched them.