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Last Updated: Monday, 14 July, 2003, 09:57 GMT 10:57 UK
Are Harry Potter books overhyped?
Author AS Byatt has said JK Rowling's Harry Potter books are written for people with limited imaginations.

Ms Byatt also claimed that many adult Harry Potter lovers turned to the books for comfort because they let them regress to childhood.

Her comments in a column in the New York Times said the books were for people whose interests are confined to the "worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip".

Do you agree with AS Byatt's comments? Or do you think that she is being snobbish over popular literature? Has the obsession with Harry Potter gone too far?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:

These books are wonderful
Jared Hill, USA
Rowling allows us to identify with her characters and live in a world of excitement and adventure for a few hours. The hype has reached an excessive level but these books are wonderful. Rowling is a brilliant writer mostly because she is able to give her audience what they want. She deserves to be rich if she is able to continue this.
Jared Hill, USA

I am 13, and am interested in the works of writers such as Milton, Joyce, Thomas Mann and Gunther Grass. I have a lot of seriousness and stress in my life, and can see merit in books which allow me to temporarily escape that.
Michael, Australia

It would be interesting to find out how many Harry Potter books Ms Byatt has read. I am in my 50's, don't watch soaps, reality TV or gossip programmes, in fact I watch very little TV, especially since I have the new Harry Potter book. Sounds to me a little like sour grapes, as she has not obtained the same notoriety, and possibly money.
Carole Belton, UK

Personally, I've never heard of AS Byatt, and I think that many other people in the world haven't heard of her. On the other hand, I KNOW that most people have heard of JK Rowling, and many people (ex: me) love the Harry Potter series. I think Byatt is jealous because Rowling is a more famous and skilled artist than her.
Omri, Israel

As a lawyer, I have very little time for television or non-legal reading. When I do read fiction, it is to refresh my spirit and my imagination. Ms Rowling's work provides me with pleasure, in a way that more "serious" tomes do not.
Shay Fountain, USA

A little escapism never hurt anyone
L. Loney, Australia
I find it sad that a writer of AS Byatt's calibre should lower herself to make degrading comments about any of her fellow authors' works. It is demeaning and makes her appear snobbish and petty. JK Rowling has created a brilliant and diverse world of fantasy that captures the imagination of all ages. Our world is serious enough. A little escapism never hurt anyone.
L. Loney, Australia

What is so wrong with reading Rowling and Faulkner at the same time? And appreciating them both? I have done it. I am doing it this summer. I enjoy them both. I enjoy enriching literature, I enjoy Harry Potter and sometimes, yes, I watch soap operas.
Amanda, USA

The Harry Potter books are not only poorly and simply written but are also very dangerous. They dumb down witchcraft and the occult, and present a very real danger to children who read them.
Al, UK

You have to be a kid at heart
Kathy, USA
Anyone who doesn't like Harry Potter books would also not like Disney World for the same reason. You have to be a kid at heart. It takes imagination. It's not literal it is fiction, and quite delightful if you're of the right mind to enjoy such a journey.
Kathy, USA

Despite these comments I think that the Potter books are a great way of developing imagination, whether you are a child or a grown up.
Paola Rodriguez, Venezuela

Sounds like someone is a bit jealous - get over it Byatt! The books are good and well-written. One actually requires an imagination to read them. People who watch soaps very likely wouldn't get it and you probably need a dose of that childhood regression you talked about!
Gina, Jamaica

I love Harry Potter
S. Blake, UK
I am a literature graduate with a passion for works by authors as diverse as Milton, Jane Austen and Angela Carter. I do not watch soap operas. I have never watched a reality TV programme in my life. I love Harry Potter. I also find it rather alarming that such a celebrated author and academic as AS Byatt can be capable of such crass and sweeping generalisations.
S. Blake, UK

I agree with Ms Byatt entirely. Having read the first two books to see what the fuss was about, I was left with the conclusion that they are uninteresting and lacking in enjoyment for the adult generation. As children's books, however, I can imagine myself being hooked on them if I was twenty years younger.
Steve Warren, UK

AS Byatt is absolutely right. Unfortunately, she also just describes the majority of the adult population. Simple things amuse simple minds. JK Rowling's work is just simple enough for most of us to understand.
Terri, Canada

How many other books are read by the whole family? This book has caused many an interesting discussion over the meal table.
Caron, England

The book has remained on the shelf unread
Adam, England
I recently purchased the latest HP book for my nephew, as he was complaining that all his friends had a copy. Since then, the book has remained on the shelf unread whilst he carries on with his computer games. It seems that the HP books are more of a "must have" accessory more than anything.
Adam, England

The mark of a limited imagination is one that is unable to appreciate a wide range of works. Harry Potter is indeed escapist fiction - and what is wrong with that? Rowling's smooth and admittedly simple style is a large part of what makes these books enjoyable, relaxing reads. Since when does "quality" have to equal serious, convoluted, and inaccessible to the masses?
Stephanie, USA

It's a sad indication of our time that the books which are getting many adults to read regularly are intended for children. It seems that the media hype has worked again. There are so many classics out there intended for adults - but the "ready meal" culture means that people are too lazy to read anything that truly challenges the adult mind. As for "escapism", there are many alternatives which are written for the over 10s.
Tidy, Wales

Harry Potter is one of the best books ever! I'm 14 and I've read all of them and even started to cry when the main character died in book 5 - and it takes a lot to make me cry. These books, with such a wild imagination, have even made my brother (11) read when all he reads are comics and magazine articles! How's that for proof! Shame on you, don't blame J.K.Rowling if you're not as successful.
Monique, South Africa

All the ideas are derived from earlier classics
Hazel, South Africa
She's absolutely right. I read a great deal of fantastic books as a child (I'm 29 now) and having read HP I can't see what the fuss is about at all. There is nothing new in HP, all the ideas are derived from earlier classics. If you were never much of a reader as a child you might think the HP books are great, but to me they just don't measure up in terms of detail and plot. They work better as films, but the whole craze is just a result of good marketing.
Hazel, South Africa

Isn't fiction supposed to be all about escapism or am I missing the point. HP may not be the best literature but it has engendered more excitement and interest in reading than any book since I was a child, 30 odd years ago. I have read all five books and think they are great fun, good entertainment. Don't we have enough doom and gloom on the news without this woman telling us to read more serious works. I open a book to switch off from reality, not for any other reason.
Angela, Thailand

Having read the first four Harry Potter books I think I can say that in my opinion they are unoriginal, add nothing new to the fantasy genre and aren't particularly well written. I can think of better fantasy titles out there for adults to read. Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" Trilogy a far better read for my mind. But, I don't think that anything that encourages children, or adults for that matter, to read can ever be bad. Ms Byatt should accept that people like the Harry Potter books, and that there is nothing to be looked down on in seeking pleasure from simple escapism.
Giles Hill, UK

The first three HP books were excellent - full of novelty, fast paced, and satisfying to children and adults. Sadly, the fourth book was quite different - a flabby and self-indulgent piece of writing that any decent editor would have sent back to be shortened. The fifth is even worse. I can only suppose that, having waited so long, they felt they had to publish whatever they were given. I'd like to see a return to the tight 300-page format of the first books.
Steve, UK

YES - without a doubt - I enjoyed the first four books, but I have heard just about enough of HP in the news etc. I can't bring myself to read it. Shame really.
Mike, UK

I'm 42 and get great enjoyment from Narnia, Middle Earth and Hogwarts. If that means that somebody called Ms AS Byatt says I have a limited imagination, that's fine by me - I've never heard of her and certainly won't be tempted by her books if that's her attitude to readers.
Debbie, UK

Seriousness as a requirement for greatness? See Dahl, Carroll, Seuss and many more
Al, UK
Seriousness as a requirement for greatness? What a ridiculous notion! See Dahl, Carroll, Seuss and many more. As for Rowling - there's nothing wrong with a well mixed and crafted fantasy incorporating modern idioms and sensibilities. Isn't it vastly preferable to the thinly disguised sermonising of Narnia or the stultifying social strictures of E. Nesbitt? At least Rowling isn't just re-telling classic myths and legends in dumbed-down modern language, which is (in my mind) an alarming modern trend.
Al, UK

This is what annoys me about "intellectuals". They spend their entire lives complaining people never read and spend their lives growing fat in front of the TV. Then, when we do start to read, it's the wrong thing. Methinks Ms Byatt complains too much.
DA Rose, USA (expat)

Byatt's books leave me nodding off to sleep. Booker Prize, Schmooker Prize.
Jennifer Harris-Frowen, USA

What a load of rubbish. Has this woman read all the books? They are extremely imaginative, they have a great plot. They cover a number of serious issues like racism, coping with death, corruption, teenagers dealing with the opposite sex etc. This woman clearly doesn't know what she is talking about.
Louise, England

At last someone of Byatt's stature makes sense of the Potter bandwagon. I'd suggest it's not only the readers lacking imagination but the writing itself. A few good ideas spun out over countless books, with vapid characters and too much "childish" simplicity. There are great children to adult writers. But we'll live JK with the kids shall we?
Monlibu, England

I (aged 27) have read four of the five so far. The Harry Potter books are a damn good story, but that is all. Her style of writing is not a patch on Roald Dahl. Hopefully the books can get kids inspired to read and write more, and move on to the more thought-provoking authors.
Andy, Oxford, UK

Children's imagination is only constrained by insisting certain things 'can't' be done
Chastal, London
I would question whether AS Byatt has such a brilliant imagination herself... can she not imagine that people can enjoy simple, rich, fantasy at certain times as well as contemplating the more serious things in life? Children's imagination is unlimited and is only constrained by society insisting that certain things "can't" be done. I think it refreshing that we can all escape back to our unlimited childhood imaginations through these books.
Chastal, London

At last, someone has dared to say that the emperor is naked! Harry Potter books are painfully short of detail, Tolkien and many others, (including great authors like Terry Pratchett) manage to create whole worlds, and then a coherent history to back it up.
Gavin Thomas, London, UK

They wouldn't appear in my top 20 favourite books. I have read far, far better. I can understand the hype with the children but I don't understand the adult hysteria. I can only think that those adults who think the books are a phenomenon don't read very much.
Harvey, England

I wonder if AS Byatt has actually read any of the books? Because lacking "seriousness" is not something I think you could level at the Harry Potter books. How much more serious can life and death decisions be?
Mark George, UK

They seem delicious and more-ish but ultimately they're unsatisfying
Nicola, England
The Harry Potter books are fluff, just candyfloss for the brain. They seem delicious and more-ish while you're devouring them, but ultimately they're unsatisfying. Nourish your mind with something else instead.
Nicola, England

You will find with literature and art, what is new and often popular, is often compared to the "classics", as a means of belittling it. Why not stop comparing it and just enjoy it? After all, is there anything so wrong with adults trying to recapture a little bit of their childhood?
Greg Osborne, South Africa, living in Ireland

As for lacking "seriousness" - when was that ever a requirement of a great book?
Darrell, Canada

I believe we are seeing addictive behaviour at work here. Children have become fixated on the books, not because they are particularly well written but because they are being presented as 'must have' merchandise no different than other marketing pushes. Beanie babies, pet rocks, Potter books, all the same process. Children have become indoctrinated by the advertising campaign the result of which is as unhealthy as any other addiction.
Kenneth Jessett, USA

I read a large range of books, including those of AS Byatt herself (Possession is one of my favourite books), and have a degree in English Literature. I also have read all the Harry Potter books and have enjoyed them enormously. Of course they are escapism - and what's wrong with that? There's room for all kinds of literature, and it would be a boring world indeed if only 'serious' books were available. Perhaps Ms Byatt should get herself a job as a censor?
Katherine, UK

They're over-hyped, yes, but that doesn't detract from their quality. They're excellent children's books (perhaps more suitable for teenagers than younger children) and they are certainly quite serious. They've struck a chord with many people, just not with Ms Byatt.
Chris Hutchings, Scotland

Is AS Byatt auditioning for a role in the fifth Harry Potter movie? Her pompous, arrogant comments combined with her sourpuss demeanour would surely make her the ideal candidate to play Umbridge!
FJ, Ireland

AS Byatt would do well to remember that a 'limited imagination' is far better than none at all. Any author that inspires children to queue at midnight for a book in this day and age is to be congratulated and not criticised. Children should be encouraged to read a wide range of books, including those that lack 'seriousness'. Books are to be enjoyed and if they happen to provide comfort too at whatever age - well what's wrong with that! A great writer is one who entertains, invokes thought and inspires the reader - all of which I believe JK Rowling has succeeded in doing with her books.
Vanessa, UK

Success will always be challenged or slammed
Richard Roma, USA
A literary author acting snobbish? Why I have never heard of such a thing. Success will always be challenged or slammed. What are AS Byatt's motives behind her complaints; does she have a new book coming out? (publicity) If you want to get recognized, go against the popular grain.
Richard Roma, USA

These books are written for kids. Some adults enjoy them. What's the big deal? I read a lot, a few books a week. I don't particularly like Harry Potter, it's a bit simplistic for my taste, but I will not criticize them, or try to discourage others from reading them, just like I won't try to convince others to listen to my favourite rock tracks instead of boy/girl bands. Capitalism is all about freedom of choice, so let people vote with their wallets.
Allen, UK

A S Byatt sounds like an English teacher whom I had the misfortune to encounter at school, who, by his insistence on only allowing children to read 'good literature' drove many of his pupils away from the fun and pleasure that reading can offer. JK Rowling has written some rattling good stories that are very readable. Great literature they are not, but anything that encourages children (and adults) to read and to use their imaginations is surely a good thing.
Kati, England

As a 32 year old avid reader of many different genres of books, I believe that the Harry Potter books do their job, which is to open the imagination of the reader, and if it helps get children away from computer games and the TV, so much the better.
Karen, UK

Yes, they are over-hyped - by the media - but they are still the best books for a generation. They most closely compare with CS Lewis's Narnia series, which was a thinly disguised Christian creationist tract. JK Rowling has made a better story out of honesty, integrity and humanity. Please keep it up!
Justin Rowles, UK

I was a bookseller when the second Harry Potter book came out and I remember that it made barely a ripple. The publisher (Bloomsbury) wasn't particularly hyping it, because they didn't have the money to hype it. But it was shortly afterwards that all the fuss kicked off, and it was because the kids who were reading the books were getting so excited about them, and their parents were just grateful that the kids were actually reading.

The rest of the circus - the movies, the 'adult' covers, the media frenzy - came about as the direct result of the enthusiasm of the target audience, not as the result of media-spin by the publishers, who I think were as surprised as the rest of us.
Ariel, UK

The definition of a good book is one that is pleasurable to read
Jon, England
There are many authors who have a better style than JK Rowling but that does not mean I enjoy reading them. The definition of a good book is one that is pleasurable to read, not one that is serious.
Jon, England

So, more power to JK's story-telling. And tell AS Byatt to grow up and take it on the chin. Or write more entertaining books.
Ariel, UK

What complete rubbish, these books take you completely into the world of Hogwarts and its pupils. I have never read a book that encourages you to use your imagination to its limits as these books. I take my copy of order of the Phoenix to work to read on my breaks, as it takes your mind completely off what ever stress the day is throwing at me. I also believe that the films do not completely capture the extent and depth of the work that has been created.
Clare L, Manchester

Yes - without a doubt. I enjoyed the first four books, but I have heard just about enough of HP in the news etc... I can't bring myself to read it. Shame really.
Mike, UK

AS Byatt is jealous. It's obvious! She herself must lack imagination in order to criticise Harry Potter books in the NYT! Get a life Byatt!
Andrew Hammond, UK

You've got to hand it to the marketing men
Simon, UK
Yes. They are thinly characterised, unoriginal, poorly written and very derivative. Compared to other children's authors the books are weak. You've got to hand it to the marketing men. That adults read them for pleasure is frankly worrying.
Simon, UK

I think it's all simply hype and marketing. I don't want to read those books and my kids, 11 and 13 show little or no interest in them. A lady I once knew was quite obsessed with Harry Potter and she did seem to have quite a limited imagination, so I agree with Ms Byatt on this occasion.
Mark Wilkinson, UK

I would agree with the comment about adult Harry Potter readers (like myself), but isn't escapism one of the main reasons an adult would read any children's books? As for the rest of her comments, they smack of snobbery and sour grapes to me.
Dan, UK

Although not guilty of great literature, it should be remembered that JK Rowling and Harry Potter are responsible for bringing large numbers of children back to the written word and away from the computer games. Having rediscovered the joys of reading, perhaps they will go on to read the works of A S Byatt. But then again, perhaps they should read something more entertaining instead.
Paul Williams, UK

Of course they are overhyped, but so what? I've no interest in reading them (or watching the films) but they appear to give a lot of enjoyment to a lot of people.
Philip, England

Who is AS Byatt? Enough said.
Paul Hill, UK





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