Harry Potter: A Bridging of Audiences in Fiction

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Book Cover, art credit Thomas Taylor

In the first post to the blog on a subject outside of the comic book world, I have decided to focus on one of the largest literary franchises that has been created, that of the wonderful world of Harry Potter. I remember reading these books and them being a formative period in my childhood, and similarly to this day I can recount the opening line of the Philosopher’s Stone, which in itself is a testament to the success that J.K. Rowling achieved with her franchise.

However, the reason for this post is to look instead at how Harry Potter managed to create a bridge between its childhood audience and adults simultaneously, and to some extent defined the Young Adult genre as it stands today. The first Harry Potter book was released in 1997, and generally was well received, winning several prizes that were judged by children. Yet its success was far from over, as throughout 1999 and 2000 the book remained incredibly high on the New York Times bestseller list, showing a lasting success that had rarely been achieved by books from the same genre.

The sequels to the Philosopher’s Stone managed similar successes, gaining multiple awards and accolades, no longer just those awarded by younger readers. The true success for the franchise came following 2001, and the launch of the film franchise. Following the success of the film, the appeal and reach of the Harry Potter series reached new heights, book sales increased and the reception for the franchise reached a new high.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone movie poster, credit Warner Bros. Studios

It seems clear that much of the success which transferred from the films to the books was that younger children who had now witnessed the opening chapter of the series, and perhaps struggled to read the books themselves, had the books read to them by their parents. I know that my own parents read the books to my brother, but as he got older and wanted to read them himself, my parents saw fit to read the books before him to decide if they were suitable. It is likely that many parents did this, particularly as the tone of the books began to get darker and more mature. While this aided those who had grown up reading the franchise remain interested, it is also likely to have helped secure a larger amount of adult interest in the books.

This growth in the mixture of child and adult audiences managed to keep the books, and the films, existing in a kind of limbo between the genres of children’s and adult fiction. This can be witnessed through the comparison of Rowling’s writing to both Roald Dahl, a master of writing for younger audiences, and Jane Austen, whose writings challenged the conceptions of her day in a very mature style. Similarly, Rowling’s work managed to discuss some cultural issues alongside its fantasy tale, such as discussions on racism veiled through the guise of pure-blood, half-blood and muggle relations. This both educated the series’ younger readers, and was well received by its more mature audiences.

As such, Harry Potter managed to pave the way for what is now referred to as the Young Adult genre, something which I do not recall hearing of when I was younger. If it did not help create it, it definitely defined it, but also made the divide between children and adult fiction more blurred. After the success of the Harry Potter franchise, I have seen more and more adults reading books that would have fallen in the same area as Harry Potter when it was first published. Moreover, while adults I know were averse to reading books considered to be targeted at children in my youth, this cynicism of the genres has dissipated. I was both shocked and amazed to hear recently that my granddad, who will be celebrating his 90th birthday shortly, was reading the Hunger Games series, and furthermore had enjoyed them greatly. While this is a testament to the success of the Hunger Games as well, I personally do not believe that this acceptance of novels aimed at younger audiences would have been as widely accepted by adult readers if the Harry Potter franchise had not paved the way.

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