Sometimes, in order to determine whether or not a contemporary work is a piece of literature or simply a popular novel, we have to wait a few years and come back after some of the hype has died down.
This is most certainly the case with the Harry Potter novels. Since they skyrocketed to instant popularity as soon as they debuted in the early 2000s, the novels have enjoyed immense success and game worldwide, leading to seven books, eight movies, and countless other pop-culture reference points, including a theme park adventure!
With that level of craze around a series of novels, it becomes difficult to extract yourself from it, and evaluate the works on their own terms. The movies inevitably distort the books, and color your perceptions.
See a side by side movie vs books comparison for Harry Potter in this video:
Now that it’s been 9 years since the final book of the series was released, and 5 years from the release of the last film, we’ve had a chance to step back a bit from Harry Potter, and look more deeply into the writing.
In my view, these works are excellent, and while they may merit the title of children’s literature, they don’t quite stack up to high literary form in the way that so many other works do.
What I like about the books is their consistency. Many themes introduced in the early novels proceed throughout the series, and its only in the last book where the true interconnected nature of all the others is revealed in full form.
That, however, does not necessarily make them literature. Many popular books have common themes spread throughout; indeed, consistency should be the standard of any decent writing.
To become a work of literature a book must stand the test of time in terms of how it critiques and moves society forward. I don’t see that coming from the Harry Potter books. They’re great fun and very entertaining, but I don’t see them becoming a great part of the literary canon.