Adults crave innocent refuge of Potter stories

  July 9, 2003 at 12:31 AM ET
  Cheeser     HPANA (via New York Times)

From the New York Timesopens in new window:

What is the secret of the explosive and worldwide success of the Harry Potter books? Why do they satisfy children and - a much harder question - why do so many adults read them?

A surprising number of people, including many students of literature, will tell you they haven't really lived in a book since they were children. Sadly, being taught literature often destroys the life of the books.

...the attraction for children can be explained by the powerful working of the fantasy of escape and empowerment, combined with the fact that the stories are comfortable, funny, just frightening enough.

It is written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, and the exaggerated (more exciting, not threatening) mirror-worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip. Its values, and everything in it, are, as Gatsby said of his own world when the light had gone out of his dream, "only personal." Nobody is trying to save or destroy anything beyond Harry Potter and his friends and family.

The newspaper has also posted five responsesopens in new window to this article, one of which is:

For those of us who have many times found ourselves trapped in discussions (if such they can be called) of this sort with adult Potter fans, but who have lacked the clarity or sensitivity to state our side of the case so well, Ms. Byatt's article is indispensable: a classic and precise piece of true criticism, neither bile nor reverence, but brilliant dissection.

Let children who love Harry read on. But let adults know that their obsessive devotion is feeding something far more frightening than the dark arts: a retreat from the complexities of adulthood in a dangerous world.

Thanks to Geri for finding the original article this weekend (sorry for the delay).


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