18

I recall reading a comment by J. K. Rowling that she didn't think of her books as fantasy until after she had written several and realized that she had ghosts and goblins and other fantasy creatures and fantasy settings as well, and it hit her that they were fantasy.

I also think, but am not sure, that I read another comment of hers that she was not specifically writing them as children's books, that she was writing the story and it just turned out that it appealed to children.

While the author, while writing a book, may not always try to classify it as a particular genre or in a particular demographic, the publishers will do that for marketing purposes.

So this question could have multiple answers. What was JKR's intended audience with the first few books? Did she have a genre and age group in mind? And when the first publishers started marketing the first book, what markets were they targeting?

I'm more interesting in whether the books were written for a particular group, such as us in SF&F, than in the publishing end (since that doesn't effect as much of the content), but I wouldn't want to exclude that info if there have been public comments or discussions about it.

  • 9
    It's a bit hard to imagine how she could have thought a book about a group of 11-year-olds would have appealed to anyone other than children. – Daniel Roseman Feb 9 '12 at 19:38
  • 2
    @DanielRoseman: But, on the other hand, how old was Ender Wiggin? And many of Orson Scott Card's books start with the characters as quite young. True, he's 11 in the first book, but it's also a coming-of-age series, where he has to start young. – Tango Feb 9 '12 at 23:50
  • 1
    On a semi side note, the library I worked at shelved them in both the Children's section and the Young Adult section. – Izkata Feb 10 '12 at 0:26
  • 3
    @AndrewThompson - oh, sort of like I... err... some people buy cool robotic toys "for their children" – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 9 '15 at 18:18
  • 2
    @DanielRoseman So you would call Lord of the Flies a children's book, too? That's basically a book about a group of (approximately) 11-year-olds, too… – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 18 '15 at 10:52
22

Rowling, having delivered the third Harry Potter book to Bloomsbury and now working on the fourth, says she didn't consider her possible audience when she conceived the series. "What excited me was how much I would enjoy writing [Harry Potter]. I never thought about writing for children -- children's books chose me."

Source: "Flying Starts: Seven first-time children's authors and illustrators talk about their fall debuts: J.K. ROWLING (excerpt)," Publisher's Weekly, December 21, 1998

Just to be clear - this doesn't apply to when she was shopping the book around to publishers - by that time, it was already intended to be a children's book (from the same article):

When J.K. Rowling first met her agent, Christopher Little, over a lunch in London in 1995, he felt it only right to sound a cautionary note: "Now, you do realize, you will never make a fortune out of writing children's books?

  • 8
    "Now, you do realize, you will never make a fortune out of writing children's books?"... Oh really ? My goal is to become richer than the Queen... Maybe I should try something else? Oh wait... – Kalissar Aug 7 '13 at 10:25
9

Knowing the history of how the series was conceived (JKR has stated the entire series just "came to her" as she was sitting on a train, and she was troubled because she found herself without a pen or paper to start making notes) I don't know if the series was shaped as either a children's series or an adult's series. The American publisher, Scholastic, does not call Harry Potter a children's series, for what it's worth. I think the Harry Potter series is somewhat in between, personally, possibly in the Young Adult category.

The thing is, though, that it occurred to me that children's and adult literature deal with the same subject matter, so where is the line exactly drawn? Comparing lines from both children's and adult books show these similar themes: Learning humility; the loss of a parent or parents; unconditional love; revenge; equanimity; letting go of the idealization of a parent; death in general; murder; abandonment; fear; anger; obsession; the hero's arc; ethics; family; ignorance versus wisdom; mystery and intrigue; deciphering clues . . . all these themes are present in the Harry Potter novels. Am I going to argue that they're the most brilliant literature ever written? No. But, no matter one's age, I think Harry Potter provides a fun story, a lot of charming moments, some excellent villains (and I don't mean Voldemort!)

I couldn't find a quote from JKR about whether or not she wrote the books for children; admittedly, though, I didn't look very hard. I did find a lot of debate between people who feel they are either children's or adult books. Yes, Sorcerer's Stone is a quaint book written in simple, straightforward language; that doesn't mean it doesn't have adult messages to convey. Harry Potter deals with very adult subjects. My official answer to your question is I don't know :) But I've gone through some of the books I have and done a compare/contrast between children's and adult literature, just to demonstrate how each genre deals with the same topics. If you find it totally irrelevant, please do let me know and I'll edit it out.

CHILDREN'S BOOKS:

[The servants] always obeyed her and gave her her own way in everything, because the Mem Sahib would be angry if she was disturbed by [Mary's] crying, by the time she was six years old she was as tyrannical and selfish a pig as ever lived.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately. The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

If someone had asked Jared Grace what jobs his brother and sister would have when they grew up, he would have had no trouble replying. He would have said that his brother, Simon, would be either a veterinarian or a lion tamer. He would have said that his sister, Mallory, would either be an Olympic fencer or in jail for stabbing someone. But he couldn't say what job he would grow up to have.

The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi

The little Rabbit grew old and shabby, but the Boy loved him just as much. He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To [the Boy] [the Rabbit] was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

All night I sat there with the body of my brother and did not sleep. I vowed that someday I would go back and kill the wild dogs in the cave. I would kill all of them. I thought how I would do it, but mostly I thought of Ramo, my brother.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

"Can I have a pig, too, Pop?" asked Avery.

"No, I only distribute pigs to early risers," said Mr. Arable. "Fern was up at daylight, trying to rid the world of injustice. As a result, she now has a pig. A small one, to be sure, but nevertheless a pig. It just shows what can happen if a person gets out of bed promptly."

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White


ADULT BOOKS

My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and married and where I was born. Instead, they returned to Ireland what I was four, my brother Malachy, three, the twins, Oliver and Eugene, barely one, and my sister, Margaret, dead and gone.

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt


The rock struck Piggy a glancing blow from chin to knee; the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist. Piggy, saying nothing, with no time for even a grunt, traveled through the air sideways from the rock, turning over as he went. The rock bounded twice and was lost in the forest. Piggy fell forty feet and landed on his back across the square red rock in the sea.

The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of my art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov

Drebber received a blow from the stick, in the pit of the stomach, perhaps, which killed him without leaving any mark. The night was so wet that no one was about, so Charpentier dragged the body of his victim into the empty house. As to the candle, and the blood, and the writing on the wall, and the ring, they may all be so many tricks to throw the police on the wrong scent.

Sherlock Holmes and A Study In Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Cleverness, as usual, takes all the credit it possibly can. But it's not the Clever Mind that's responsible when things work out. It's the mind that sees what's in front of it, and follows the nature of things. [...] Egotistical Desire tries to force the round peg into the square hole and the square peg into the round hole. Cleverness tries to devise craftier ways of making pegs fit where they don't belong. Knowledge tries to figure out why round pegs fit round holes, but not square ones. The Pooh Way doesn't try. It doesn't think about it. It just does it. And when it does, it doesn't appear to do much of anything. But Things Get Done.

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

Can I say of her innocent and girlish beauty, that it faded, and was no more, when its breath falls on my cheek now, as it fell that night? Can I say she ever changed, when my remembrance brings her back to life, thus only; and, truer to its loving youth than I have been, or man ever is, still holds fast what it cherished then?

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

  • 1
    +1 I liked your comparison. Very interesting! I still think it's possible -- though highly subjective, of course -- to tell a book written for adults from a book written for kids. Not always by an excerpt, but a chapter will do. And there always will be books which are hard to classify. Harry Potter, though, I have no doubts: I find the style and subject matter to be for kids/young adults. But that's just my opinion :) – Andres F. Jan 25 '13 at 21:25
  • 1
    (It goes without saying that the intended audience says nothing about the quality of the book!) – Andres F. Jan 25 '13 at 21:27
  • 1
    When I first read them, it seemed to me that the reading level aged with the main characters. It makes sense, as the entire world is essentially perceived through Harry's eyes as he grows up, but I can't think of another series of books that has done this. – T.E.D. May 2 '16 at 16:01
7

I 'd have to say that the Sorcerer's Stone was written primarily for children. I do not have any canonical proof or quote from the author, but rather a sort of textual comparison.

Consider the opening:

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you'd expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn't hold with such nonsense.

Compared to the opening of The Hobbit, a book intentionally written for children:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

Although it might defy an empirical analysis, the two passages do have a similar sense of whimsy...

  • 4
    The beginning of Philosopher's / Sorcerer's Stone, and that phrasing, doesn't strike me so much as for children as it does for fun and a playful approach to language and story-telling. The paragraph in question wouldn't be out-of-place in a Douglas Adams book and those weren't written specifically for children. It's silly and humorous and happens to appeal to a vast range of ages. – Meat Trademark Sep 23 '13 at 6:40
  • There's a simplicity to it that does sound like she's telling a story to a child, though. Sort of explaining things in easy terms. – Kyle Delaney Sep 18 '17 at 14:15
3

The series begins as a fairy tale and ends as adult literature. The fourth book provides the transition. Notice in the first three, Harry basically is sent home happy that he defeated Voldemort or rescued his godfather. By the end of Goblet however, he is devastated by the loss of a classmate, a fellow champion. It marks the beginning of much darker themes and tones. In the fifth book, Harry has a lot of angst, something children do not truly understand. Further, he faces the loss of people close to him in the last four books. Because of his losses, he becomes independent and matures quickly into a man. We also see how deeply flawed, damaged, and ultimately broken Harry is in the later books. Harry Potter is by no means a children's tale. I'm not saying the material is rated R, and I think children could still enjoy all 7 books, but I think adults draw so much more out of the books than do children. I started the series when I was 6 and finished when I was 13. Now in my senior year of high school, I am rereading the books and boy have they, or rather, I changed.

  • 2
    Are you saying that children's books are happy and don't have downbeat endings or deal with death or sad topics? Or that they don't deal with flawed characters? That seems to be what you're saying - that the happy ending ones are fairy tales, and more juvenile lit than the later ones. But many excellent children's books and many original versions of fairy tales deal with the same stuff the later books deal with. It's also a mark of good writing that, as people gain more experience, they can re-read the same material and have more insight into the material. – Tango Jan 25 '13 at 17:51
  • Right, the original versions deal with these topics, but society has decided that children can't handle reality, so we must crop down fairytales to remnants of what they were. I'm saying that the later Harry Potter books cannot be categorized as fairytale by today's standards. In which Disneyfied story has the good guy gone through such struggles and periods of darkness within him/herself? Disney stories are unfortunately what most children read today because parents believe that little Johnny and little Peggy would be scarred for life if they were to understand the true nature of man. – FatePlaysChess Feb 13 '13 at 2:12
2

My library has a comprehensive rating system of books, and the Harry Potter series earned the following ratings: Philosopher's Stone: U-MG (Upper Middle Grade) Chamber of Secrets: U-MG (Upper Middle Grade Prisoner of Azkaban: N-YA (New Young Adult) Goblet of Fire: YA (Young Adult) Order of the Phoenix: YA (Young Adult) Half-Blood Prince: YA (Young Adult) Deathly Hallows: E-YA (Edgy Young Adult)

I find this to be fairly accurate. The most common argument seems to be that Harry Potter, while dark, isn't dark enough to even be considered "teen" or "YA" (even though it's a story about teenagers, had movies adapted from it that are largely PG-13, and has a 15+ average reading level,) because it's themes aren't any different from any Children's books, and to the people posing this argument, I must ask: did you read Harry Potter? Yes, Children's books can deal with dark topics. But let me ask you, are you seriously saying there's no difference between the peaceful, quiet death of Charlotte (a spider) in Charlotte's Web, and the bloody, horrific, and tragic death of Severus Snape, (a human,) in the Deathly Hallows? These books are patronized to a bizarre extent. I've never seen these books as children's books. Children's books present human drama and thematic material, if dark, in a soft, usually unnoticeable manner. The characters in Harry Potter are either teenagers or adults, if not, older children, and face themes and situations that are decidedly adult (political corruption, murder, torture, suicide, murder-suicides, the realities of war, obsession/love, trauma and PTSD, lust and sensuality, even, to a noticeable degree, rape and incest). These are characters who raise their voices, fight and bleed, feel lust and unrequited love, torture, hurt, and murder each other, drink alcohol and make-out, and occasionally use adult language. The violence, thematic material, sensuality, behavior, and language in Harry Potter never struck me as children's. What's more, it's a coming of age novel. The characters grow. The story is complex, dramatically gritty and true, and closer to reality than the typical "children's" fantasy is. It all locks in to a narrative that is detailed and fairly intelligent and professional. It is both stylish, mature, and cool, and quirky, quaint, and sometimes a little silly. But it's never overly ridiculous or childish. There is a limit to the type of drama and the things children's books can depict or imply, and Harry Potter shows very true, real, gritty human drama (with a cast of characters that are either teens or adults, and aren't children for the vast majority of the series,) as well as heavy descriptions and implications of violence, thematic content, and sensuality that goes beyond anything seen in a children's book. Harry has always been a very dark, mature character to me. You know the mental breakdown he has at the end of the 5th book? Some of the dark thoughts of murder he feels and expresses in the third book? His constant moments of depression from book 3 on? You will find nothing like that in a Children's book. Try to find me scenes as violent as the graveyard scene, the snake attack scene, Pettigrew's death/Hermione torture scene, the Sectumsempra scene, the entire Battle of Hogwarts scene, the Battle of the Astronomy tower, the Battle of the Department of Mysteries, George's injury, or Ron's injury scene, amongst others, in a children's book. Try to find me romantic relationships as realistic and deep as Tonks and Lupin, Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione, Bill and Fleur, even Lavender and Ron, Harry and Cho, and Hermione and Viktor in a children's book. Try to find me children's books with gritty human drama and darkly-depicted, deep, gritty themes that reflect genuine social and political issues (all things that Harry Potter does well) and then come talk to me.

Harry Potter is more adult than it is children's, actually.

The closest comparison I can think of is the His Dark Materials series. Which is YA. Just like Harry Potter.

Wikipedia lists the following genres for the Harry Potter series: Fantasy, YOUNG ADULT FICTION, mystery, thriller, coming-of-age, (Bildungsroman) and magical realism, with elements of adventure, horror, and romance.

Also, a series with a predominantly tween/teen readership, a movie that had to be cut to avoid an R rating, as well as a predominantly PG-13 rated movie series, and a mainly teenage cast of characters, is not, under any circumstances, a children's series.

Short answer: It's Young Adult. Think The Hunger Games, Twilight, Divergent, etc.... I've always thought that was sort of obvious.

0

I have no sources and no quotes thus you really can only take what I say at face value I would almost say it is practically conspiracy level due to just how far Harry Potter book series is spread throughout the world.

My understanding has always been that she never wrote it for children or adults she wrote it because she wanted to. It is known that she was rejected by a very large amount of publishers before finally being accepted. That at some point the tone changed in one way or another to a lighter nature.

There are a lot of detailed explanations and examples above but I will just give some layman's term type explanations for publishing book rating and what I think used to be general knowledge but we either forgot or was straight up erased from the internet.

Briefly I will let you know why no quotes or proof is given. I have a very bad habit of planning and researching and plotting out ideas and whatnot but never executing on them. I have been a writer for 20 years but have never finished anything significant hundreds of unfinished ideas for books movies tv shows videogames litter every facet of my life yet I am so consumed by the creations of others in my obsession I never finish any of my own stuff :( I have however researched publushing a book and what it takes to death often finding something in the process I don't like and giving up not proud of it but it's a fact. It would take me days maybe weeks to properly correctly find the correct quotes and sources to give proof of my claims so you can just say they are unsubstantiated unless you know themselves and are better at organizing thoughts then I am.

Ok now back to the original question. Was Harry Potter written for children? No absolutely not. Written for children No way at all. Published for Children? Yes.

I am about to say some controversial things. J.K. Rowling is one of my favorite writers I love the Harry Potter books but she is nowhere near as good of a writer as we think she is. To clarify I mean vocabulary not using redundant words a few other things. The world she created the characters their motivations are good but the pacing is often all over the place some words are repeated far too often and with a few exceptions the buildup for certain events is off. Quality is inconsistent but we don't care because the world she created is so amazing that we want to keep reading anyway.

Two pretty much blasphemous things to say Harry Potter was originally intended for adults and JK Rowling isn't as good of a writer as we think she is. Both are the case though.

You won't find any evidence ANYWHERE that Harry Potter was not for children initially but it is the case. A billion dollar marketing campaign across 7 books and 8 movies in a time span of what 15 years or so has been very carefully orchestrated to make the statement that used to be a fact "Harry Potter was never intended specifically for children" change to the question hey is it true Harry Potter wasn't meant for kids?" I would not be surprised at all to find a clause in J.K. Rowling's contract from the middle of the series on specifically saying she can never mention she didn't want the books intended for children ever again."

She did state in many instances that she wanted to do more with certain characters but was unable to never giving reasons. Always very vague comments.

The truth is you don't need proof to believe it. You can see the evidence in almost every Harry Potter book. There are certain patterns and passages you read in the series where you KNOW you just feel in your bones that the author wanted to take things farther then the story did. At some point in the Harry Potter series most likely in between first and final draft she compromised her original vision for what she had written and it shows on the pages of anything to do with Death Eaters and Avada Kedavra in almost every book.

I would suspect but cannot prove she initially accepted this but started to rebel around the middle of the series. Able to give the justification that the characters were older so she should be able to get edgier with them.

There are so many unwritten rules in publishing children's or young adult books every publisher has their own. Rules are far more lenient in books then for film/television and videogames but they most certainly exist. One of the ones they all seem to agree on is the age of a character determining the severity of an act of violence they act in or are acted on same with sexual situation. Those are the obvious ones though.

The not so obvious ones are things like how easy the story is to follow the vocabulary used. J.K. Rowling gets around this by most of her extensive vocabulary being fictional which the publisher can't really say anything about because the words are fictional in creation which when you think about it is pretty brilliant. How long the story is how easy to digest it is the font size on the page the spacing of the font on the page. It has to be easy on the eyes and easy on the brain. Another not so obvious one is the frequency of acts deemed uncouth or negative. The degree of detail to which those acts can be described. You will never find a children's book describe a violent act over several pages it's always direct to the point within about two or three paragraphs then cuts directly to how a character feels about that teaching that moral dilemma. Which leads to the final not so obvious rule.

Always a life lesson always always always. The good guys win the bad guys lose lessons learned along the way. You can never have the Protagonist the voice of the story turn evil. You can have sad and violent things happen as long as their is a resolution of some kind in the end. There is no rule like that for an adult book. I had read somewhere once that JK rowling wanted to write a book from Voldemorts perspective initially. Good luck finding evidence of that anywhere in the world.

So the quote constantly being given is that a publisher told J.K. Rowling that this would never sell as a children's book" that is the famous underdog story we have been told. I don't think that is what happened though. I think some of the publishers said things like "this is to generic to sell to adults."Some of them said this writing is better for a children's book" and she kept revising and changing things until one publisher finally said something like " I wouldn't be able to sell this to adults the market is too saturated but have you thought about selling it as a children's book?"

That publisher who said that to her whoever they were whatever company they represented that is the moment in time Harry Potter became a children's book. You won't find evidence of this anywhere because it doesn't help the narrative of the Behemoth of cult status that Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling herself have reached.

It doesn't help a publisher for books 3-7 when people started complaining the story wasn't dark enough to say "Funny you should mention that because originally she wanted to sell it as an adult novel series."

Just like it doesn't help J.K. Rowling to say "I wanted to write it as an adult series but was more or less told my writing quality wasn't up to snuff so it was written as a children's book instead"

However a quote like "publishers told J.K. Rowling Harry Potter would never sell as a children's book" never mentions J.K. Rowling's writing ability. It also helps establish the underdog story of publishers told her it wouldn't sell as a children's book but look how well it has done as such! No publisher is going to question what J.K. Rowling says about them because her presence is so iconic now in culture that no one would ever believe them anyway.

If they were going to however it is much easier for a publisher to accept the negative criticism that they passed on Harry Potter because they thought it wouldn't sell as a children's book as opposed to they passet on Harry Potter. One gives valid reason as "a shucks I guess we could of sold it as a children's book we were wrong" where the other just says " hi we are the first 20 publishers who passed on Harry Potter one of the most profitable series in the existence of literature oops"

I had also read as had many of you I would suspect that J.K. strongly Considered making Deathly Hallows an adult book straight up. Knew it was the final book in the series knew there wasn't a publisher on earth that wouldn't of published anything she wrote for it and knew because it was the last book in the series that if publishers were like no you need to make that lighter in tone that's too dark blah blah she would just go to another one. If they threatened not to publish the next book in the series? Oh well too bad there is no next book in the series.

Sometimes the lack of evidence is the evidence itself but all the evidence you need is in the Harry Potter book themselves any scene with Avada Kedavra or a death eater in books 1-6 compared to book 7 that is all the evidence you will ever need. We will never have actual tangible evidence. Any that existed has been erased from history.

I said in the beginning J.K. Rowling is not as good an author as we think she is. I would now revise that and say that the publisher made it appear so. When she started the series she wasn't but when she was writing the books she was still improving her writing books 4-7 may as well have been written by a different person. She didn't have the ability in the beginning of the book series but by the middle she did and the publisher was holding her back. Now that it was classified as a children's story she could only be so much.

There is a silver lining here this entire was it or was it not a children's book has lead to a revolution in leniency for young adult books. 20 years ago Battle Royale was banned in the United States. A few years ago a book series classified as young adult called "The 100" was written. Very similar themes.

Before the success of Deathly Hallows where JK Rowling said I am going to write what I want to write period end of discussion the unwritten rules were far stricter for children's stories. Now no publisher is going to be stupid enough to tell a successful writer what they can or cannot have in their book because every publisher is looking for the next Harry Potter. As long as your book is a series and not a one off you have much better chance of less suppression from publishers. What happened to J.K. Rowling probably won't happen to you if you wrote a book like that now.

  • Welcome to the Science Fiction and Fantasy site on Stack Exchange! Also, thank you for your answer. You may want to read through our help pages (the link is at the top of the page) to get a clear understanding of the site. The intent is to provide clear answers to the questions asked, not to provide opinions or our thoughts, but to provide what will eventually be a resource for research, where the answers are based on facts and well supported. If you want to discuss, join us in the chat room, but this section is intended for specific and factual answers, not what we think may be the case. – Tango Dec 11 '15 at 16:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.