How JK and HP Changed MG and YA

For this week’s Road Trip Wednesday,  YA Highway asks what is your favorite literary moment?

So I think it will come as no surprise that I am a huge Harry Potter fan, not just as a reader, but also as a writer. The whole Harry Potter experience has colored and shaped the young readers’ book industry immeasurably, to which anyone in the industry will attest.

Of course the big change has to do with sales, with the size of the market. Before Harry Potter, books for young readers rarely crossed over into adult best sellers. Now they frequently do. Agents, publishers and now even established writers are keen to explore this realm. No one could have predicted  this. If you’d told me, when I was reading A Wrinkle in Time as a youngster in the 1980s, that in twenty years a book about a boy wizard would become the best-selling book of all time, I would have laughed.

Truth is often stranger than fiction.

I love Harry Potter for so many reasons, but for me what the phenomenon did to the industry is not as important as what the plot did to story-telling. If Harry Potter is ever criticized (which it is) then it is often on the basis that it’s not very original. Sure the themes and settings are derived from Lord of the Rings and the Narnia Series and sure the over-arching plot is really nothing but “The Hero’s Journey” but so what? You could say the same of Star Wars or any number of other fantasies.

But for books for children Harry Potter did something that is rarely seen in escapist fantasy: a character, a child, is murdered right there on the page.

“Kill the spare,” Voldemort says, towards the end of The Goblet of Fire, and poor Cedric Diggory gets turned into an Avada cadaver RIGHT THERE ON THE PAGE.

I remember reading this scene, the first time I read the book, in the wee hours of the morning, after reading all night (as one does) and thinking: “Now everything changes”. And I was thrilled, and delighted, and excited for the possibility that kidlit fantasy had just graduated to something darker and scarier and less safe.

I know kids have been dying in books for a while, but usually only in “contemporary issues” books  and almost never actually on the page. Cedric’s death scene was a precursor to all the violent devastation of the HUNGER GAMES. Without Cedric there would be no (spoilers spoilers spoilers) Rue, Finnick, or Prim. We would not see beloved characters killed “on screen” as it were.

Cedric died so that others might…well…die. Poor Cedric.

I won’t say that it’s my favorite literary moment. There are others – I don’t think I can choose. But this one is right up there for sure. It was a game changer. And this is my game.

7 thoughts on “How JK and HP Changed MG and YA

  1. I think you’re right. GOBLET OF FIRE changed things. Not just with Cedric’s death, but the whole gruesome scene in the graveyard. I remember reading the bit where Wormtail cuts off his hand and thinking “how are they going to do *that* in the movies and keep it PG13?!” But I think it was JKR’s unpatronizing attitude to MG and YA that was a wake-up call. And she continued to do it with PHOENIX and HALF-BLOOD PRINCE. Real teen romance (from the ball in GOBLET onwards), death, torture, betrayal… and harsh realities of life that you can’t escape from, even in the wizarding world, which I think was partly the point she was making. Yes, MG and YA hasn’t been the same since. 🙂

  2. You are so right about this. GOBLET OF FIRE was so different in many ways than the ones that came before and definitely darker. I think this is why it’s my favourite in the series, actually. Great post! 😀

  3. I think this might be why GOBLET OF FIRE was one of my favorites (second only to Deathly Hallows). It really was a game changer. The series got so much darker after that.

    And I would argue that nearly every book follows the Hero’s Journey in some way or another. All stories are formulaic–even ones that appear to challenge the rules of fiction, because if they’re not, they’re usually not very satisfying.

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