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The question up for discussion is, are the HP books going to be popular a generation from now?
Some writers – notably A. S. Byatt and Harold Bloom – think, or at the very least hope and pray, not. Others, like John Granger, think so.
If Mr. Granger is to be believed (and I think he is), there is an astonishingly rich literary and symbolic structure underlying not just each book but the entire series. On the other hand, while I enjoy the books very much, I cannot deny that their style is fairly pedestrian.
It seems to me that many, probably most, HP fans enjoy the mystery of what will happen next. I submit that this is, in fact, the driving force behind their unprecedented popularity. But after Saturday, there won't be much left to try to figure out. I'm not saying that every mystery will be resolved and question answered neatly and satisfactorily. I do, though, expect that when most of the mysteries are gone and the big questions are answered and there's no next book to expect, most fans' interest in the things that remain will wane. (I noted during my pre-Deathly Hallows reading of books 1-6 that I'm actually fairly bored with books 1-3 now.)
Also, in a generation, the fate of Harry Potter might be part of general cultural knowledge, something that almost every Anglophonic child will grow up just sort of knowing, so that they won't experience the anticipation that we all feel. (Woe betide anyone who goes straight to the back of the book and yells out the ending in my local bookstore on Saturday morning. I have a big rubber mallet, and I'll use it, too.)
Mr. Granger has written that the dearth of academic commentary on HP is probably a result of academics waiting sensibly for the ending before lit-critting (although that he doesn't let that stop him from making snide comments about academic disinterest in HP), and I hope he is right, because as I say I agree that there is a huge literary structure behind the plot. But that kind of analysis doesn't generally appeal to the average for-fun reader.
Although most people know how The Lord of the Rings turns out, the story remains popular because its appeal lies as much, if not more, in how the story is told as in what the story is. I don't think that HP has the same narrative strength as LotR, though. Nor does HP strike me as having the coming-of-age interest of The Catcher in the Rye (although there aren't many who read that for fun these days) or of Judy Blume's oeuvre.
So my expectation is that the popular HP phenomenon will turn out to be limited to the past decade, or perhaps until the last movie comes out. What do y'all think?
Edited for spelling.
That assumption doesn't jive with my experience, so I'm curious what you've witnessed that leads you to believe it. My experience has been that most adults quite like the Harry Potter books.
Maybe you mean that Harry Potter is lacking something extra - since you point out that the Christian allegory in Narnia gives adults something to cite as "serious." Personally, I find allegory tiresome, and I don't think that a story's status as an allegory makes it any more eligible for the canon than a non-allegorical work. Most allegory is just fussy and boring. I think a lot of people share that view.
And besides, there are plenty of works in the canon of children's literature that make no pretensions to anything greater or more literary than to delight children and to instill in them a love of reading. I'm thinking now of one of my old favorites, James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.
A true classic is almost never read without already knowing how it will end. To take indisputable examples, we know before we start reading that Oedipus killed his dad and married his mom and will gouge out his eyes before it's all said and done, and we know that Romeo and Juliet will each commit suicide in the Capulet family sepulchre.
Of course, all this only raises the question more forcefully whether Harry Potter will prove to be a classic. Only time will tell.
It may well be that adults and children read for entirely different reasons - children more to be delighted, and adults more to be educated. I'd be open to the possibility that a "children's classic" follows a completely different set of rules because of this difference. That is, a child might find it tiresome to read a story that he or she already knows, since it lacks the element of surprise.
Personally, I doubt it. I remember as a child reading and re-reading my favorite books. I had not forgotten the endings, I just loved them.
Regarding the fact that the series has concluded, and therefore the pull of mystery might be diminished: there is always a first time for a new reader. Books and films that make us groan "this again!" might be the first exposure for some child; the yardstick against which future "imitators" are judged.
Will they last? Time will tell, but when people describe the series to me (a lot of friends are rabid fans) it reminds me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If the story and characters are especially memorable, it kind of trumps the style or quality of the prose (I wonder how well written the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys books are)? The accusation that the stories are repetitive in structure reminds me of the Sherlock Holmes stories, that I discovered at the local library as a teen and devoured over one long, happy summer.
I think it will stand the test of time. All the children of this generation who fell in love with it will read it to their kids. But beyond that, the academic world not only reads books that are great works of literature, but also reads books that were important in their time and affected the culture. I think we can all agree that this is the case with HP. Maybe not a great example but I remember in college reading Pamela by Samuel Richardson. It was a huge success in its time period. I wouldn't say it was extremely well written compared to other works of its time, but it shows readers what was important to the people of that time. In some ways children's literature reflects cultures and time periods more so than adult novels, because they show what we want to teach our children through the characters. Even if the future academic world doesn't see HP as a great literary work for the canon I don't think they can ignore the cultural phenomenon it became, which still amazes many including JK Rowling. Also, outside of the literary world I think HP will live on for kids and adults.
I think that it is indeed possible that the HP books will be read 50 years from now. I wonder what Tolkien thought about the longetivity of Lord of the Rings?
Pollyanna was a big bestseller at the turn of the last century and has survived as a classic, although I don't know how much it's really read these days. If Harry Potter had been written in the 1950s he would've been in a space ship. It's possible in a 100 years a teenaged boy with a magic wand might not seem terribly relevant (much like the boy in the space ship does now). Perhaps it may go the way of the Horatio Alger novels, so hot in the 19th century but not read by kids nowadays; perhaps not.
I think it will certainly last another generation, maybe two.
It would also make an interesting paper on how HP reflects the cultural beliefs of its time . . .but I'm not writing it:-)