Shannon Stacey

Waiting for Harry

Tomorrow’s HP Day, huh? We’ll trek on over to the store and get it, then the three of us will fight over it and keep hiding it from one another.

I have really high hopes for this installment. I want it to bring me back to the fun and magical world of the first 3. (Or first 2 1/2). I want the Weasley’s humor, and the pranks. I want to not have to restrain myself from throwing myself in front of a truck before I’m even halfway through it. The tall child got about 4 chapters into the Order of the Phoenix and put it down for about 8 months. It was freakin depressing!

I do have a wee bit of an issue with the Harry Potter books, stemming from my days as children’s librarian. When the first HP book came out, it was MAGIC! The kids were so excited, and even children I hadn’t seen in there except to be babysat until their parents got home from work were reading. The excitement lasted until book 3.

I’ll never forget one little girl’s face when she saw the Prisoner of Azkaban. Her lip trembled and her eyes watered as she told me she wasn’t going to check it out after all, even though she’d been waiting on the reserve list. It was too long. She wouldn’t be able to read it. Child after child was discouraged by the length of the book. Parents, after hearing how the series had taken a turn for the darker, didn’t let their children read them.

I felt at the time, and I still feel now, that the NYT list went to JK’s head. She forgot her market—her original fan base—and it pisses me off. In case you couldn’t tell.

So while I understand the concept of Harry’s teenage angst and the inability to backpeddle too much as she nears the end of the series, I’m really hoping this one has the original’s humor and spark. Or at least doesn’t make me want to become a suicidal alcoholic.

17 comments to “Waiting for Harry”

  1. Ellen Fisher
      · July 15th, 2005 at 8:54 am · Link

    Shannon, I have to totally disagree with you on the length thing. My daughters (ten and seven) adore these books and have loved them forever. My oldest used to wander around with THE GOBLET OF FIRE when she was small, and people thought she was reading a medical textbook *g*, but the length has never discouraged my kids from reading these books. I know of many, many kids who have devoured them despite the length. Doubtless it depends on the kid, but many kids seemed disappointed to learn that HALF-BLOOD PRINCE would actually be shorter than the fifth book. I think it’s a great thing that someone is writing such big kids’ books… it means they are more likely to look at, say, LORD OF THE RINGS without cringing. They can just think, “Hey, that doesn’t look too much bigger than ORDER OF THE PHOENIX. I can read that.” I’d love to see more long kids’ books being published, personally.

  2. Shannon
      · July 15th, 2005 at 9:31 am · Link

    I’m sure it depends on the kids. My oldest wasn’t deterred by the length at all, but rather by the depressing tone. When he picked it up again, finally, he tore right through it.

    The next town over (our library serves two towns) has a fairly large number of…at risk? children. They struggle in school, and they spend their time wandering through the library and convenience stores until their parents come home, because their parents don’t want them home alone. And, even if their parents could afford to buy them books, let’s just say reading is not a high priority for that part of town.

    But these kids got into Harry Potter. They were enjoying it, and they were reading. And JK knew that. She knew that even children who weren’t recreational readers or children who struggled with reading were loving her books. I can’t help but wish, for those kids’ sakes, that she’d maxed out page and tone-wise with Chamber of Secrets. No, I don’t believe she has some responsibility to single-handedly save the next generation’s literacy rate, but she actually took the series out of it’s own genre.

    As for our own kids…well, we’re writers. I’m sure books have been a part of their lives since we read the little suckers Goodnight Moon while they were still in utero. My older son (my younger’s only 4), my little sister, and several of our friends’s children tore through the books with no thought to length. My son read the history of the Transcontinental Railroad while his classmates were reading Arthur books. We have pretty well-read family and friends, so it’s not an issue with them.

    But I did see those kids, whose parents’ idea of reading material is a TV Guide and maybe a People magazine, walk away without the book because they didn’t think they could read all that. Or they couldn’t read it, even with renewals, in the time they could have it from the library. Their disappointment was heartbreaking.

    And while I certainly hate society’s penchant for dumbing down to kids—led, of course, by the school systems—I just wish the magic of this series could have lived on longer for the kids who’d never considered reading a book outside of a classroom until Harry Potter came along. Morphing from juvenile fiction to YA fiction to damn near adult fiction without losing the JF classification just isn’t right to me.

  3. Charlene
      · July 15th, 2005 at 9:33 am · Link

    Um. As somebody who first encountered Tolkien at age 5, I have to say that story will captivate any age reader, regardless of book length, given the chance.

    The last book was darker, but that made sense to me. I like that Harry isn’t frozen in time and is growing up, with the books reflecting his growing complexity. That said, I can understand some young readers (and their parents) being put off by the series now. Some of the material in the last book would be too dark for some readers, and as a parent you have to make those judgements on what’s too much for your kid.

  4. Anna Lucia
      · July 15th, 2005 at 11:40 am · Link

    I’m right with you, Shan. Now, I’ll have to admit up front I haven’t read any of the books, so I’m only talking about the movies, ok? But for me, as an adult, even the first was upsetting in places. I love the magical sparkle, but I have to be in a good mood to want to enter that world unscathed….

    I’ve seen this before with writers who wrote ripping yarns for kids, or fantasy stories for young adults. They achieve fame, recognition, and suddenly seem to think, “Hey! People are taking me SERIOUSLY!” and go one to write serious books. They might want to pay more attention to what made people take them seriously to start with.

    I hope those daunted kids find their way to CS Lewis and other magical, beautiful stories.

  5. AngieW
      · July 15th, 2005 at 12:19 pm · Link

    Charli, I’m going to have to disagree with you. I don’t think that most of us, that frequent Shan’s blog, are probably representative of the population of kids that she’s talking about. She’s not talking about the children who already have a love of reading – I too was reading classics at the age of 5. She’s talking about those readers that JKR drew in DESPITE their struggles with reading, literacy. The ones who don’t have an inborn love of reading but rather one that needs to be nurtured. I believe (correct me if I’m mis-speaking here Shan) that what Shan is saying and what I can agree with in theory (having never read HP) is that JKR stopped writing for the children as much as she started writing for the adults who carry the cash supply. And in doing so, lost a spark that drew in some of those who needed it the most.

    How’d I do Shan?

  6. Shannon
      · July 15th, 2005 at 12:56 pm · Link

    Unfortunately, Anna, I very much doubt that these kids will ever visit Narnia.

    Awesome, Angie! :thumb:

    I think I kind of melded two separate HP issues into one post. With regard to my family, I don’t care for the exceptionally dark, angst of the last two books. I do understand that Harry is growing, and that JKR anticipated Harry’s fans growing along with him. And sophisticated themes were present even in the Sorcerer’s Stone. But there was a humor and sparkle that offset the darker undertones that’s totally missing now. That’s why my son put it down for 8 months. He came back to it when he was in a place to read it. (For which I was so glad. I despise censoring the child and the husband and I had been debating the issue quite heatedly. He solved it himself.) Length definitely doesn’t deter us.

    With regard to length and overall content, I guess I’m saddened more than pissed off that she turned the series the way she did. Some of those kids were at the library every day—from school dismissal to whenever their parents came home—and I could never get them to read a book. Hatchet, Fribble, Magic Tree House, you name it. But they wanted to read about Harry. Until Prisoner of Azkaban. Reading was a struggle for them (there were at least THREE of them who were ridiculed by their PARENTS for thinking they were so smart all of a sudden :rant:) and it was easier to walk away than to try to make it through Azkaban.

    And no, I don’t think JKR has a responsibility to keep her books accessible to these kids. That’s as ridiculous as the people who claim romance writers are responsible for the younger generation’s sex education. I just wish she’d stayed with the game plan. The kids loved them and the adults loved them and they sold like hotcakes. Instead it seems like she’s set the bar so high—and the expectations are so high—that she keeps having to top herself with length, darkness, and dead people.

    Anyway. I see everybody’s point. Really, I do. I think I just carry a lot of residual anger about Azkaban’s release with me. I even tried pushing the audio version, just to keep them in the story, but to no avail.

    And boy can I ramble on or what? :blah:

  7. Charlene
      · July 15th, 2005 at 1:32 pm · Link

    I do understand what you’re saying about the kids who are struggling to read, Shan. And yes, Angie, I agree we’re atypical; Alex is two and we already need to replace three of her books because they’ve been read to pieces. Given the national statistics on literacy, lots of kids are not growing up reading like that.

    But maybe, possibly, Harry opened a door for them that might lead to other things. Juvenile SF/F is full of wonderful stories. In any case, I don’t see the series going back to what it was. And maybe JKR has plans to write more stories similar to the early books once the series is finished, who knows?

    As for me, I can’t wait for tomorrow. I want my copy! :nod:

  8. Shannon
      · July 15th, 2005 at 1:44 pm · Link

    The husband and I are both suprised we haven’t seen any mention of a Ginny Weasley spin-off yet. We think she’d be the best bet for a “girl” series. But, while girls will read a boy-led series—like HP—I’m not sure how many boys will read a girl-led series.

    I’m sure she must have something planned. Even though she’ll have more money than God by the time she wraps this up, writers write. And the world will be watching.

    (I can’t imagine the pressure of being her. Or Nora. :baby:)

  9. Walt
      · July 15th, 2005 at 2:34 pm · Link

    It makes you wonder who’re J.K.Rowling’s critique partners are…

    There’s no question that the books have gotten darker and moodier. In short, I think the books are growing up. I also think the payoff with each successive book has bettered the previous one. The layered characterizations have been consistant.

    The latest books ARE a challenge. And what’s worse, you’re not guaranteed a happy ending. THAT ALONE would be enough to frighten off some.

    Harry’s attitude in the first several chapters of the fifth book got to me… it ticked ME off, and I’m an adult reader. I have sympathy for those really vested in Harry-As-Hero.

    I’ve seen a scan of one of the spoiler moments this morning. Let’s say you don’t want to turn to the bottom of Page 606, as that’s what I saw today, and it was a decent spoiler! But out of context, there’s no way to confirm what really happened.

    I can’t wait either.

    Some films you want to go to, and others win the Oscar for “Best Picture”.
    Some books get bought up and read like crazy, and others win awards.

  10. Anna Lucia
      · July 15th, 2005 at 3:38 pm · Link

    Every kid should visit Narnia. And every adult must return there. *sigh*

  11. Rachel Bo
      · July 15th, 2005 at 5:21 pm · Link


    I agree with your post. As the mother of a 10 year old who started reading the Harry Potter series when she was eight, with great enthusiasm, I have definitely seen that enthusiasm wane with the increase in the book’s length, and somewhat with the darker tone. My daughter is a very active child, spending the majority of her non-school time outdoors – sports, gardening, clubhouse-building, selling lemonade, swimming – definitely not a couch potato. She loves reading as well, but pretty much limits her reading to about an hour in the evenings. When a ten year old can read about thirty pages in an hour (because it is mother-daughter time and she reads out loud, which slows her down some, and we talk about it, which slows her down even more), and the book is 600 pages long, and they think about the idea that it’s going to take them 200 days (and my daughter DID do the math, after she read those 30 pages on the first night) they DO get discouraged. Of course, it didn’t take quite that long, because I read a good portion of it out loud to her, but even THAT was a rub, because SHE wanted to read it to ME, but realized that it would go faster the other way around and finally requested it – most children are not long on patience, and ultimately, she just wanted to know what HAPPENED. It seems to me that what has happened with the series is that the length and content has evolved into something more suited to adult readers. Now, whether this was a conscious effort on Rowling’s part, or something that just happened as the story developed, I don’t know. What I do know is that you’re right, if this next book doesn’t begin to revisit some of the comraderie and humor of the first two, I may keep reading it, but J.K. will probably have lost my daughter as a potential reader for any further installments…and that would be a shame. And…has anyone heard what the page count is?


  12. Jill
      · July 15th, 2005 at 5:37 pm · Link

    My kids and I have devoured all five books. But my youngest was deeply disturbed by four and five, and as excited as I am about six, I’m fairly certain things aren’t going to lighten up soon.

  13. Crystal*
      · July 15th, 2005 at 6:17 pm · Link

    Do NOT read if you haven’t read book 5. Please. heh

    Book five was almost obscenely dark. I spiralled down further and further into Harry’s hell with him. And then I just got flat pissed. Who was this evil, bitch, troll character who gave Harry lines that had such awful ramifications? And dared to attack teachers? Oh man, I was hot! :cursin::whip:
    And then when the twins left? I could have wept. God, I love Fred and George. Love them.
    And the word on this one? Even darker. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll read it. More than once. But it’s hard to be excited about the book when the “good” parts are few and far between. The word is more deaths and still as dark.
    I would love to compare notes when we’ve all finished it. I’m curious as to how others perceived it.

  14. Marianne McA
      · July 16th, 2005 at 1:55 pm · Link

    I thought Book 5 was dark, I don’t think Book 4 or this one were unreasonably gloomy. And as there are only 607 pages (in the UK edition anyway) anything on 606 will be a spoiler. It does get serious at the end – but you have to be set up for Book 7, and I think great books can have very dark episodes. Was I the only one who was cut-up about Aslan’s death or the finality of the Last Battle? Beth’s death in Little Women? Walter’s poem in Rilla of Ingleside?
    The first books were easier – but as someone said the children who read them are now older. Book 4 was my oldest daughter’s first proper read – she’s now 14. I don’t think a ‘Philosopher’s Stone’- level read would hold her attention, but she’s been upstairs all afternoon with book 6 – and while she reads fluently, she’s not a reader, so that’s a tribute to the writing.
    A thought, completely without basis – maybe Rowling writes instinctively for her daughter’s age group?
    My youngest daughter is ten, and dyslexic, and I’m not looking forward to reading the whole thing out loud (CDs not out till August) – but the price of writing it at a level that she could read would be to deprive other children of vast sections of that huge imaginative world.
    We were queueing with 250 other people at midnight, and the people behind us were having the same who-dies discussion that I was having with my daughter, and the mothers were all as knowledgeable as the children. Must be good for children’s literacy. Maybe it’s just my perception as my children get older, but I get the impression there’s more good children’s literature out there than a few years ago – as if the HP books have made publishers aware of the possibilities of marketing to children. [Of course we also get books with flashy holographic covers called things like Zorba: the Greek fairy, but every cloud…]

  15. Briana
      · July 17th, 2005 at 2:51 pm · Link

    Shan, I’m very interested to see what you thought of book 6. I devoured it yesterday and find distinct plusses and minuses in it.

    And I still haven’t forgiven her for what she did to one of my faves at the end of book 5.

    Great discussion going on here, by the way!

  16. kate
      · July 17th, 2005 at 4:20 pm · Link

    I just read book six too, Briana. Go look at my blog with its spoiler and see if you agree. (the spoiler is in the comments.)

    I’m convinced I’m right. And I’m taking bets.

  17. Shannon
      · July 18th, 2005 at 7:58 am · Link

    The tall kid got it Saturday afternoon and finished it at about 9:30 last night. So it’s my turn! :cheer:

    I’ve managed to sneak a few pages here and there, and so far I’m loving this one like I haven’t loved one since the first 3. It’s drawn me right in. Hopefully I’ll get through it quickly enough that people will still be talking about it!

    And Anna, for some reason the tall kid just won’t visit Narnia. I’ve tried a couple of times, and I’ve even considered getting him the set for his birthday. (He’ll be ten on Saturday, and do you think I’ve shopped yet? Noooooooo.) But he’s always read non-fiction, and the only fiction he’s ever really showed an interest in is HP and the Star Wars tie-ins. He’ll read occasional books that peak his interest, like Richard Peck’s Depression era books. He didn’t even like the Artemis Fowl books, although the husband likes them.

    One weird thing about my son—he’s extremely resistant to having a book chosen for him. If I toss him a book and say “This looked like something you might like” he gives me the arched eyebrow look and lets it sit. So he needs to decide to visit Narnia all on his own. Or it at least needs to appear that he decided on his own. :nod:

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