Discovering Harry Potter: Does Age Matter?

This is a fairly personal topic I’d like to write myself, but will leave to more experienced Potterheads.

I was ten when the first Harry Potter book came out. I grew up in a moderate, but still observant Christian family who considered it too much of a risk to expose me and my then-six-year-old brother to a series that contained any form of witchcraft. I didn’t read the books then and later, got too busy with other books. Besides, I didn’t want to be labeled childish for carrying around HP paperbacks in, say, high school.

As an adult, I’ve finally gotten around to opening my Hogwarts letter and starting the series, and it’s been a lot of fun. However, I can’t escape this fact: I’m a thirty-something woman. I have a different HP experience than the average 11-year-old.

And so I’m curious to see an analysis of this phenomenon. Does age matter when you’re discovering HP for the first or two hundredth time? How do children and adults view the series differently? Are there less or more "mature" ways to interact with it? Or, as I suspect, has Harry Potter bridged age gaps in a way other book series can only dream about doing? If yes, how did J.K. and Harry do it?

  • Oh, this is a really good point. I grew up with HP and participated in fan culture while it was still going on, but recently met someone who never got involved until last year. We both love the series, but we have vastly different interpretations and relationships with the HP universe. Partly because of age, sure, but I think also because of our relationship to the fandom/culture surrounding it. – Emily Esten 6 years ago
  • A nice idea for a topic, Stephanie. I have to confess to having a little bias in favour of the HP books as I was an extra on the last HP film, but having said that, I too discovered the books shortly afterwards. So, at the tender middle-age of 49 I started reading them. As an adult, what I discovered was a remarkably consistent form of storytelling that also matured and darkened in its subject matter as its young readers grew up. One thing I will credit Rowling with is encouraging a generation of children to do what successive UK governments had failed to do - namely to read for pleasure! I enjoyed discussing the stories with my nephew as he grew up and trying to solve the great puzzle, so in that respect alone it helped to connect the young and the not so young in a shared literary experience. It also opened up a few interesting discussions with other adults who saw me reading the books on the Tube; those who, perhaps under different circumstances, I might never have spoken to. – Amyus 6 years ago
  • I grew up with the Harry Potter series so it's an important part of my childhood. I was actually too young when they first came out, so my mom would read them to me as bedtime stories instead. It turned into a bonding experience as my mom became almost equally immersed in the wizarding world as I was. I'm sure it was a different experience for her than it was for me. Since I was a child and the Harry Potter series involves a "coming of age" narrative, the human issues I was reading about were mostly on par with my own experiences growing up. The books and my life could co-exist side by side. For my mom, it perhaps provides a bit of nostalgia. It takes her back to when she was younger and makes her feel like a kid again. Feeling "like a kid" again while reading the books and actually being a kid while reading them is obviously a completely different perspective. Perhaps, for adults, it provides a mini-vacation from a world that seems to have lost a bit of its magic. It reminds you of an innate sense of curiosity and wonder we often lose as we get older. For kids reading them, there is perhaps less of a barrier between the wizarding world and our own. After all, Harry Potter incorporates our own (Muggle) world and the wizarding world within the same universe. The wizarding world seems like an undiscovered realm that we're too oblivious to realize is hidden right under our noses. The capacity for human ignorance can be astounding, so why can't there be a bit of magic we've failed to notice? Our entire existence is both a miracle and a mystery. Maybe J.K. Rowling is a witch herself! She certainly cast a spell on several generations worth of readers. As to how she did that so successfully, that's a more difficult question to answer. Audiences tend to like the ole' good versus evil storylines. Its voices aren't solely adolescent ones either, which separate it from YA that almost exclusively focus on kids' perspectives. I also greatly admire anything that's relegated to being mere "children's entertainment" which is instead handled with maturity and depth and acknowledges kids' capacities for awareness and intelligence that exist outside of adult comprehension. – aprosaicpintofpisces 6 years ago
  • Speaking from personal experience, the way my twelve-year old brother and I experience the books completely differently. The Harry potter series is indisputably fascinating and entertaining to most readers, but age is usually required to see the broader themes of discrimination (blood purity) and class struggle (sacred 28) in the wizarding world, ideas not really important to younger readers. – JoanneK 6 years ago
  • I didn't experience the Harry Potter book series until I was in high school, and only watched the movies as a kid growing up. When I finally did read the books I was pleasantly surprised by my ability to interpret and appreciate it, feeling as though I would have missed out on a lot of understanding had I absentmindedly consumed it as a child. I still grew up with Harry Potter, just in a different way. That being said, I think Harry Potter does transcend certain tropes that people can appreciate in all woks of life-- whether they are currently experiencing the struggles of growing up or relating to them in our past. It truly is a phenomenon. However I think a large part of it might have been the widely accepted exposure of such a developed fantasy world is mainstream media. Harry Potter was something we could share with others and through social interaction our connection to the franchise grew even deeper. Sharing is caring. – Slaidey 6 years ago
  • Harry Potter has the ability to inspire and excite both adults and children reading it for the first time - however, in vastly different ways. Being someone who first read the books at age 8, I have an entirely different relationship with the story and the characters than my mum did when she read them mid-40s, and even my best friend who has just read them age 20. I think that a child's mind is so much more open to wonder and magic, so can really imagine that Hogwarts and the wizarding world could be real. I felt excited when learning about magic, and I felt scared when Harry faced Voldemort. I felt happy when Gryffindor won the House Cup, and I COULD NOT WAIT to find out what would happen in the next instalment. The events in the story and the emotions that they produce have more of an impact on a child, who view the story as a thrilling adventure that they may never have experienced before. Along with this, being a similar age to the characters, children will automatically have much more of a connection, and an ability to understand and relate to what the characters are going through themselves. An adult, however much they enjoy the story, accept it as being just a story. I think age does matter when it comes to Harry Potter; not that it cannot be enjoyed at any age, but I do feel glad that I had the experience I did with Harry Potter, because I don't think I would have the same love and appreciation for it if I hadn't read it until now. – nicnac 6 years ago
  • @nicnac: I've noticed the same phenomenon you mention. It really makes me regret that I didn't read the series as a kid, or at least ask my parents for permission. It can feel a little awkward, being a brand new Potterhead in your thirties. But then, I do like how all the thoughts and feelings I have about it are new. As in, I haven't grown up with HP and known everything there is to know about it for as long as I can remember. So each discovery is like a new surprise. :) – Stephanie M. 6 years ago

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