Harry Potter 20 Years Later: How Harry Potter Saved Young Adult Fiction

This month the magical realm of Harry Potter, created by J.K. Rowling, is celebrating it’s twentieth year. The success of the book series transferred into a successful film series starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, as well as a popular website (Pottermore), Spin-off titles like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (which also found success as a film), an amusement park attraction (The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios), and now a stage play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

At the time that the first Harry Potter book was released, young adults and children were accustomed to titles and series such as The Babysitter’s Club, that were a bit more lightweight. The Harry Potter series made way for blockbuster sagas like The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Divergent. Harry Potter easily changed the game for YA fiction.

Though not necessarily original in its common tropes of magic, fantasy, adventure, unfair teachers, a common enemy, heroes, etc., Harry Potter was able to resonate with children and young adults in a way that other tiles could not. Claire Fallon in an article for the Huffington Post writes, “Children’s book writers, especially fantasy authors, who were once the masters of their domain found themselves ignored in media coverage and discussions of ‘Harry Potter.'” Perhaps it was Rowling who wrote the right book at the right time, or she was able to masterfully and creatively construct a seven-book mystery/adventure story arc following characters as they aged into adulthood that coincided with her aging and growing audience. Either way, as Joe Monti, Editorial Director of Saga Press says, “Harry Potter made the careers of many authors possible.”

Harry Potter was able to boosts the sales of YA fiction altogether because of its success. “The Atlantic reported that the number of YA books had increased by a factor of 10 between 1997 and 2009.” The series was also able to help rebuild the disparaging reputation that fantasy had as a genre in YA fiction. Monti says, “Fantasy is mainstream.”

Rowling and Harry Potter as a series took on many risks, including long-form story arcs, thick-sized books, and a fantasy genre as well as the idea that the books also age with the audience. Harry Potter takes on darker themes like lengthy battle scenes, concepts of mortality/fatality, and romantic relationships, all of which challenged what YA fiction was at the time and what publishers can put in front of children and young adults.

Harry Potter was able to open up the horizons for what YA literature could be. Rowling also capitalized on the success of her series, which is part if the reason why Harry Potter has been cemented in pop culture history. It continues, to this day, to pave the way for YA fiction authors.

Link of the Week: The Atlantic features Sherman Alexie in the By Heart Series


By Heart is a literary influence series brought to you by The Atlantic. Writers tell readers about favorite-ever passages from books they love: lines committed to memory, words learned by heart. They share those passages—and the stories behind them—with readers.

Upcoming writers in the series include Fay Weldon, Ayana Mathis, Tracy Chevalier, Walter Mosley, Benjamin Nugent, Adam Mansbach, Andre Aciman, Dina Nayeri, and many more.

In  this article , The Poem That Made Sherman Alexie Want to Drop Everything and Be a Poet, recently published in BY HEART,  writer Joe Fassler  interviews  author Sherman Alexie who never dreamed of being a poet until he read the right one.

Alexie grew up on a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian reservation, confined by its limitations. The poet Adrian C. Louis cracked opened Alexie’s world with a line from his poem “Elegy for the Forgotten Oldsmobile.”

Louis wrote, “O Uncle Adrian! I’m in the reservation of my mind.” This single line released Alexie, allowing him to pursue his sudden and passionate dream of becoming a poet and later a successful novelist.

For him, “The line captured that sense of being tribal, being from a reservation—and the fact that you could never leave. I was the first person in my family ever to go to college, leaving the reservation, leaving my tribe, feeling excited about going but also feeling like I’d betrayed the tribe. And knowing that no matter where I ended up, or what I did, I would always be there. Some large part of me would always be there, on the reservation. At the same time, I’d never seen myself in a work of literature. I loved books, always, but I didn’t know Indians wrote books or poems. And then to see myself so fully understood in one line of a poem, as though that one line of a poem written by someone else was my autobiography … “

Check out Hanging Loose Press where Alexie published his first book. The Press offers internships in both Brooklyn and Boston.