When people say these books are children’s books, as if to demean them, I balk. These books dealt with themes that adults do not fully understand or wish to. It dealt with racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, prejudice, and general ignorance. These books taught us that it doesn’t matter how you were raised, but that you get to choose to be kind, loyal, brave, and true. They taught us to be strong under the pressures of this world and to hold fast to what we know to be right. These books taught me so much, they changed me as a person. So just because they’re set against a fantastical backdrop with young protagonists does not mean that their value is any less real.
First book: Starts with the double murder of a pair of twenty-one year olds who were much missed and leaving their baby son a war orphan. A child growing up in abusive conditions that would give Cinderella the horrors. Dealing with peers and teachers who are bullies. The fickleness of fame (from the darling of Gryffindor to the outcast.) The idea that there are things worth fighting and dying for, spoken by the child protagonist. Three children promptly acting on that willingness to sacrifice their lives, and two of them getting injured doing so.
Second book: The equivalent of racism with the pro-pureblood attitude. Plot driven by an eleven year old girl being groomed and then used by a charming, handsome older male. The imbalance of power and resultant abuse inherent in slavery. Fraud perpetuated by stealing something very intimate.
Third book: The equivalent of ableism with a decent, kind and competant adult being considered less than human because he has an illness that adversely affects his behaviour at certain times. A justice system that is the opposite of just. Promises of removing an abused child from the abusive environment can’t always be kept. The innocent suffer while the guilty thrive.
Fouth book: More fickleness of fame. The privileged mistreating and undermining the underprivileged because they can. A master punishing a slave for his own misjudgment, and the slave blaming herself. A sports tournament which involves mortal risk being cheered by spectators. A wonderful young man being murdered simply because he was in the way. A young boy being tortured, humilated and nearly murdered.
Fifth book: PTSD in the teenage protagonist. Severe depression in the protagonist’s godfather, triggered by inherited mental health issues and being forced to stay in a house where abuse occured. A bigoted tyrant who lives to crush everyone under her heel, torturing a teenager for telling the truth in the name of the government (and trying to suck his soul out too). The discovery that your idols can have feet of clay after all. An effort to save the life of someone dear and precious actually costing that very same life. The loss of a father-figure and the resultant guilt.
Sixth book: The idea that a soul can be broken beyond repair. Drugs with the potential for date rape are shown as having achieved exactly that in at least one case, resulting in a pregnancy. Well-meaning chauvinism trying to control the love life of a young woman. Internalised prejuidce resulting in refusing the one you love, not out of lack of love but out of fear of tainting them. The mortality of those that seem powerful and larger than life.
Seventh book: Bad situations can get worse, to the point where even the privileged end up suffering and afraid. More internalised prejudice and
fear hysterical terror of tainting those you love. Self-sacrifice and the loss of loved ones, EVERYWHERE. Those who are bitter are often so with a reason. The necessity of defeating your inner demons, even though it’s never as cool as it sounds. Don’t underestimate those that are enslaved. Other people’s culture isn’t always like your own. Things often come full circle (war ending with the death of a dearly-loved pair of new parents and their orphaned baby son living with his dead mother’s blood relative instead of his young godfather). Even if ‘all is well’ the world is still imperfect, because it’s full of us brilliant imperfect humans.
So… still think that Harry Potter is a kid’s series with no depth?
Kind of but not really. There are other ways to deal with all of these themes. Deeming one theme as adult and another as child is incorrect and ignorant. These are all human themes. The way the themes are handled and the tools the author uses to bring these themes to light and into the reader’s mind is what would define one novel as children’s and another as adult.
I can think of other novels that deal with these general human themes in a more adult manner. Something like American Psycho deals with themes of trying to fit in, not actually knowing yourself or anyone around you, and general identity in a much more adult manner through examining the mind of Patrick Bateman from a first-person perspective.
The fact that the protagonists in the Harry Potter series are young and live in a fantastical backdrop does indeed make the books a series of children’s novels. Sure it does not demean the value of the message it is trying to get across; what it does do is bring those themes to a younger audience by choosing the right characters and settings.
The problem, I think, people have with this is in reading a children’s novel the language and structure ends up being very elementary comparative to other works that deal with the same ideas and themes. People believe you are cheating yourself in some way by subjecting yourself to that.
You will see The Hunger Games get the same treatment. There are many other novels that deal with what is handled in The Hunger Games, especially in the later novels, as far as social injustice, political corruption, and rebellion. Novels like 1984 and Brave New World do just that but in a much more adult way.
The point is, read and enjoy Harry Potter for what it is, an easy read with a decent plot but do not overstate what it is. A simplistic series of children’s novels designed to teach children a set of morals based on the ideals of the author.