http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07196/801868-44.stmHarry Potter a classic? Successful? No doubtBut classic? Time will tellSunday, July 15, 2007By Bob Hoover, Pittsburgh Post-GazetteThe publication of F. Scott Fitzgeralds "The Great Gatsby"caused few ripples among book buyers in 1925 and wasout of print by the 1940s. Similarly, Herman Melvilles"Moby-Dick" didnt make much of a splash when itappeared in 1851.Today, the two books compete for the honor of "the greatAmerican novel," illustrating that popular success has littleto do with reputation in the world of literature.No one questions the popularity of J.K. Rowlings "HarryPotter series -- 350 million copies now in print worldwide,with the seventh and final book in the series, "Harry Potterand the Deathly Hallows," going on sale Saturday with thelargest first press run, 12 million, in the history of Americanpublishing. Stacy Innerst, Post-GazetteBut that enormous popularity has overshadowed Click illustration for larger image.consideration of the series literary merits. Ms. Rowling haswritten nothing else and has revealed no future literary More coverage:aspirations. Her strength as a writer lies in her ability tocreate a large collection of memorable and cleverly named Harry Potter: The books so farcharacters, a variety of fantastical places and situationsand an ever darker and more threatening plot. The Harry Potter PageHer literary influences include everything from "TomBrowns School Days," written in 1851, to George Lucas"Star Wars" and is spiked with generous doses of "Bulfinchs Mythology" and C.S. Lewis Christian-centered tales.She has no peer when it comes to book sales, but can she take her place alongside the creators of"Winnie the Pooh," "Lord of the Rings," "Little House on the Prairie," "Little Women," "The Wizard ofOz" and "The Chronicles of Narnia," some of the classics in childrens literature?"I think the books themselves will become classics," said Andrea Spooner, editor of childrens booksat Little, Brown. "Rowling has tapped into so many elements of good old-fashioned fantasy thatHarry Potter will be read for a long time."Ms. Spooner, however, believes that Ms. Rowlings legacy will not be entirely literary."Thanks to her, theres an increased visibility and respect for books among children. They also knowabout bookstores now and should have a willingness to go there to buy books rather thansomewhere else."
"Harry Potter" is not destined to be a classic, but its not a just trend that will pass, believes LisaDennis. Shes a specialist in childrens books for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and has read allsix of the adventures."I dont think [Ms. Rowlings] writing will stand the test of time. The series will have long life because Ithink the original readers will share it with their children, a family favorite for a very long time," Ms.Dennis said."I still think Lloyd Alexander and his Westmark Trilogy is better written and has more originalcharacters than the Potter books," she added.First published in 1982, Mr. Alexanders series -- "The Kestrel," "The Beggar Queen" and "TheFirebird" -- is grounded in Welsh folklore about a mythical kingdom. Its still in print."Its a more serious set of books than Harry Potter, " she believes. "That age-old good vs. evilstruggle is expressed more clearly, I think. With Rowling, theres an awful lot of stage businessgoing on as well."What helped Ms. Rowling and hurt Mr. Alexander was the Boy Wizards talent for "going global," Ms.Dennis said. "If Alexander had been able to attract the kind of merchandising and movie deals thatRowling has, he would have sold a lot more books."All these tie-ins make it easier for more people to connect to Harry Potter and care what happensto the characters. If shes done one thing lasting, it was to end kids fears of big fat books."Katherine Ayres is the author of nine books for young readers; her 10th, "Up, Down and Around," apicture book for preschoolers, will be published by Candlewick this fall."From what I see, Harry Potter will be this generations classic fantasy," said Mrs. Ayres, whoteaches the writing of childrens literature at Chatham University."In every generation, the genre is reinvented. There are Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Alexander, [Ursula]LeGuinn. All of them have in common consistent characters and timeless stories."One of the reasons Mrs. Ayres believes that "Harry Potter" is so popular is that the books are"school stories.""Kids can really identify with Hogwarts [Potters school of wizardry]. There are the bad teachers andthe good teachers, the bad students and the good ones and the relationships," she said.Ms. Rowling, though, "really took those stories up a notch by imbuing them with magic."Echoing Ms. Dennis comment on Potters long-term contributions, she said, "The series finally gotolder boys reading big books, and thats something to be said."For several decades, reading surveys by the American Library Association have found that boys andgirls in grade schools read at a similar rate, but once males come of high school age, their readingplummets.The Potter series appeared to buck that trend, said Justin Chandra, associate editor of Simon &Schusters Books for Young Readers.
"Kids, including those who didnt think of themselves as readers, were encouraged to read by all theexcitement and attention that Potter created," he said. "Reluctant readers are now dedicatedreaders. Suddenly, theyre enjoying books."While periodic studies of readership among school children by the U.S. Department of Educationchart a decline in reading for fun, the "Harry Potter" books have "put the brakes on that decline," saidSteven Herb, director of the Education and Behavioral Sciences Library at Penn State University."People in the library world and people in the publishing world know that Harry Potter has donereading a real service," he added."Publishers have reported an increase the sales of fantasy and serial fiction. At libraries andbookstores, Harry brings people together to talk about his books. Its been a cultural and socialbenefit."Mr. Herb said that reports about the drop in the reading of fiction among young people are notsurprising. "Theres so much competition out there with video games, movies, DVDs that the readingof fiction is fighting a losing battle. Still, I cant discount the positive social activity that the Potterbooks have caused."Mr. Chandra believes that the Potter books "will have long-term effects on childrens books, like TheChronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings. They will become part of a whole class of books thatcan stand the test of time."The reason for Potters longevity is that "these books touch on the core stories that will last forever,"he added.Neither Ms. Spooner nor Mr. Chandra would predict what life in childrens literature will be like afterHarry, but both agree that fantasy "will continue to be hot," as the Simon & Schuster editor put it."We are signing up fantasy series that might be viable," Mr. Chandra said, "but forget Potterimitations. Kids are much smarter these days and they can sniff any imitators."His publishers plan is, "Dont flood the market with fantasy, but go with strong stories and strongcharacters that play to the market that Harry Potters developed.""None of us know whats going to happen," said Ms. Spooner, "and all publishers are extremelyreserved about overbuying in the fantasy line. Were also very wary about anything pitched as thenext Harry Potter. "However, Little, Brown and Simon & Schuster are banking on several "middle grade" fantasy seriesto draw on the Potter phenomenon.Ms. Spooner cited "Mysterious Benedict Society" and "Atherton: House of Power" and books byStephanie Meyer.Mr. Chandra pointed to "Pendragon," "Here Be Dragons" and "Spiderwick Chronicles," a series thatwill be released as a Hollywood film next year.
"I dont believe that J.K. Rowling has raised the level of quality writing for children," Ms. Spoonersaid. "What she has done is open up a segment of the market to good writers and turned theattention of others to writing for children."She added, "Rowling has also encouraged a lot of bad writing, too."First published on July 14, 2007 at 11:21 pmPost-Gazette book editor Bob Hoover can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1634.Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07196/801868-44.stm#ixzz1Z3uEN5LI