What Makes a Classic: Can Harry Potter "Expecto" Become a Keeper?
Today’s blog post is brought to us by a guest author, Sadie Cutler. Sadie is currently studying Mechanical Engineering at BYU and is an avid reader and Harry Potter fan.
I think many would agree that Harry Potter books are some of the best of our time, and that J.K. Rowling has a gift even Dickens would envy. But, do their popularity and brilliance really put them on the same playing field as Pride and Prejudice and Oliver Twist?
I would say yes, here’s why.
Spellbound by Harry Potter
I love to read. My parents are huge believers in the importance of, “the improvement of [one’s] mind by extensive reading (Pride and Prejudice).” From a very young age, I was the proud owner of a library card and a small collection of books of my very own. My mom took us to the library two or three times every week for story time and to check out a new collection of books. I enjoyed crawling into my parent’s bed every morning with a stack of books, ready to explore the new worlds within their crisp pages.
When I was five, my mom, sister, and I discovered Harry Potter for the first time and, like the rest of the world, we became immediately hooked. We read eagerly as each new installment arrived, at first out loud together, and later separately. As the slowest reader of the three of us, I always got the book last but never suffered more than two days of painful anticipation.
The year Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out we were on vacation, and I remember how easily we shut out the beautiful Irish hills rolling by outside the car window and focused on the more enticing world of Harry Potter. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, on that same trip, to my sister sobbing after learning of (spoiler alert!) Dumbledore’s death.
Needless to say, we all cried our eyes out in our hotel room, and I was a little less surprised when I got to that part of the book 3 days later.
Bigger and Better Things?
In search of worlds like the one I found in Harry Potter, I quickly gravitated to other works of fantasy, like Narnia, Middle-earth, and Shannon Hale’s Bayern. My fantasy period lapped into mystery and the likes of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. I then decided to expand my literary repertoire to include more “classic literature.”
At every step of my literary exploration, my mother was there to guide and recommend. My mom is always reading and reads nearly a book a week. Under her careful tutelage, I began with Little Women, The Secret Garden, Jane Austen, and Les Miserables. My love of reading classics has continued, and although I find less time to read in college, I love sneaking into the pages of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and David Copperfield when classwork allows.
“Classic”: A Hermione Definition
The definition of the term “classic literature” has always confused me, because it covers such a broad range of books. It is also a moving target. If you looked, say 30 years ago, for a list of 100 books everyone should read, you could find one but you wouldn’t have found it on the world wide web because the web didn’t exist yet. Bookstores, you know the ones you have to go to in person, hardly exist at all today, but the stores used to compile lists, and publishers too. The basis for all these lists was Charles Eliot’s The Harvard Classics (1909).
For example, my mom has a reading list she has been chipping away at for years. Funny thing, though: every few years, some books drop off as new ones are added. Reading a constantly changing list can be pretty frustrating!
Why do Muggles Read Classics?
- Classics become the basis of cultural literacy. If you want to understand cultural references or want people to ‘get’ your references, you have to have read what everyone is talking about (kind of like having seen The Princess Bride).
- Classics are well-written, aka they’re enjoyable to read. It can be hard to find a book that is worth your time just because the writing is good. So look no further for a good book!
- Classics teach us about the depth of human character and experience. They’re about humans that make mistakes, are funny, bad-tempered, well-intentioned, and trying their best, or not. I think everyone can relate to that.
- Classics help us decide to be better people. In the words of David Copperfield, “whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show” (David Copperfield).
The Chosen One of My Own Story
I have read Harry Potter so many times, that I slip easily into the story, and walk around with the characters as they experience hardship, heartbreak, difficult choices, love, joy, triumph, learning, and the whole gamut of human emotion and experience. When I moved away from home for the first time, I thought about Harry and how lucky I am to have family who thinks of me highly, and more often than once a year. It makes me want to reach out and be there for people who aren’t as lucky.
I think we all have that slightly annoying friend like Dobby who thinks we’re awesome and wants to hang out all the time. I’ve found that by following Harry’s example of kindness, those people can become “free elves” in their own right.
So if reading classics is supposed to make me a better person, it is for this reason, that I feel Harry Potter fits snugly into my growing collection of classic literature.
Let’s face it, classic or not, Harry Potter is a HUGE part of our culture. Harry Potter movies, fan-fiction, parodies, jokes, songs, games, food, and fans are found, I believe, on all 7 continents (I know because I recently had a cousin visit Antarctica).
As an astute internet user once joked, “Why does Lord Voldemort use Twitter not Facebook?”…because he has followers, not friends. Harry Potter certainly has a lot of followers that aren’t going anywhere, myself included.
When my kids start to read, we will read Harry Potter together. When we go on long road trips, we will listen to Jim Dale (arguably the most gifted reader ever) read Harry Potter to us, we will celebrate Harry Potter’s birthday every year with butterbeer like he is a member of the family, and we will all certainly dress up as Harry Potter characters for Halloween.
Books become classics because they stay relevant. They matter. To a lot of people, and for a long time. So, is Harry Potter currently honored with a place in the annals of great world literature? Perhaps not, but some day it will be because it is a true classic.
After all, it’s about the boy who lives on.
Are YOU a TRUE Harry Potter fan? Take our Harry Potter book quizzes and find out!