Is Harry Potter a sacred cow?

“Be mooooved by my sacredness!”

Today’s post is rated E for everyone, but also is rated H for Harry. As in Britain’s real Harry, Harry Potter (We all know Harry Styles is a make believe tale we tell children, like the tooth fairy and Easter Bunny).

As a middle grade fantasy writer, I, and all the other genre writers, know we pale in comparison to The Greatest Book Ever Written, My God (TGBEWMG).

How many people do you know who read the books didn’t like it? The sales, the fandom, the theme park, the movies, the story, all back up the success. It was well-written and cleverly thought out. JK Rowling is awesome with the English language, and, as I’ve said before, no one will ever recreate that level of excitement or sales success ever. I’m serious; it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime books that you just consider yourself lucky or amazed to be alive in when people lined up at midnight, in costume, to pay $30 for a hardcover book, when people around the world were begging for the next copy and crying when the series ended and then the movies too.

I was 10 the first time I had heard of HP. There were three books out and everyone in my elementary school was reading them. Only I, feeling cool, decided not to bother reading them until I think I was the last in my 5th grade class to pick up a copy. Surprisingly, it was interesting and different, more so than most other books I had read*, and I was a huge Goosebumps/Hardy Boys/Encyclopedia Brown fan growing up. Yes, I had read about other magical schools, but not to HP’s level. They really were magical.

*Did I, the video game junkie, just admit to READING?

Along with immense success comes fandom and respect. Even Fifty Shades, much maligned for being half Twilight Fanfic, half softcore porn for women, deserves credit for being able to do what no other book has done since HP and Twilight; cross the 100 million sales barrier for a series (In fact, I’m pretty sure no book will even hit 100 million again, but it’s possible a series could do it. Maybe), especially in an age where the diffusion of entertainment options, decline in reading for pleasure, and massive competition between books make finding those gems much harder.

Well, I have learned that there is a group of Harry Potter have, for whatever reason, decided that because the books were so great, now no one can write a children’s fantasy series, especially if a magical school is involved, and not automatically have either complaints or comparisons to Harry Potter. And in this case I’m referring to those who will dismiss any middle grade fantasy novel the moment they sense “similarities” between your/my story, and HP.

Don’t misunderstand, those of us who write in this genre (middle grade fantasy) would be happy with that level of respect (and sales-even a tenth of them) Rowling received. If someone wants to say “This is the best book I’ve read since Harry Potter” (and one kid DID say something like that to her parents a few months ago during a first read), I’d be thrilled.

But we who write kid’s fantasy like the genre and have our own stories, separate from HP. Will stories have similarities? Of course. There are about 12 unique story ideas in the world, and every story everywhere is a derivative of another one. Every idea builds upon another one. Even my idea, which I know for a fact has never been done before in the way it’s been done (when the story’s completed), is a cobbling of other people’s ideas synthesized with my own. It’s just “First to Market” who gets to claim originality.

Check out Viktor Kloss’ page, Middle Grade (MG) fantasy author. To be fair, I haven’t read his book just yet (will do so soon). But check out his comments- you can’t go more than a few before someone either decides: a) this is too “Harry Potter” and this is an issue, or b) has to plead with fellow posters that is is NOT Harry Potter and they should just like the book. I’d guess at minimum 40% of the commenters feel the urge to mention Harry Potter and try to argue the similarities and difference. Which wouldn’t be necessary if so many folks just didn’t get bothered by similarities.

Read the plot and tell me if it is:

“Two years ago, Ben Greenwood’s parents walked out the door and never returned. The police have all but given up finding them when Ben stumbles upon a peculiar letter addressed to his dad. “You are the most wanted man in the Unseen Kingdoms. Unless you come to us, we cannot help. For your child’s sake, tell us what you know.”

The letter is from an organisation called the Royal Institute of Magic and is dated a day before his parents disappeared. Like most people, fourteen-year-old Ben hasn’t the faintest idea what the Royal Institute of Magic is, but he has his first clue: the logo on the letter.

Armed with nothing but his wits and the help of his good friend Charlie, Ben sets out to find the Institute and, through them, his parents. To succeed, he will have to navigate a land filled with fantastic creatures and Spellshooters, where magic can be bought and sold, to unravel an ancient family secret that could hold the key to defeating an evil the Institute has been fighting for the last five hundred years.”

Sure, you could argue his magic or parts of plots come from other sources…Dungeons and Dragons, Lord of the Rings, et cetera. But notice in the comments what one book gets mentioned as being “too similar” or “this book is NOT Harry Potter! Only a few similarities please like it!”

*Update: Victor sent me a blogpost. I’m glad he got some people who like it the way they liked Harry Potter, which he notes. But he also has to feel the urge to specify how his book is a) NOT Harry Potter and b) not using concepts not already used, such as the “world within a world”. Apparently some Harry Potter fans also believe the ideas in the novels were original to her, and forget about the great writers before her who shared ideas which laid down the groundwork.

I write this because your humble, lonely, merely “aspiring” author has written his own book, also MG fantasy, also with a character who is sent to a preparatory academy, who also receives a letter (in her tree-shaped mailbox) saying she and her sister were accepted to this school, which is not for everyone. That’s honestly about it for the similarities. I have no wizards, witches, dragons, ghosts, trolls, or elves in mine (In book 1, the only one written), no one picks where they live at school, the main character has a separate life than Harry, and the main villain is not an evil wizard who wants to live forever/destroy the world (in fact it’s not even human). In addition to writing my own ideas, I did as much as possible to avoid the comparisons, and I would think and hope on its merits the book will be well-received, or poorly received if it sucks that bad. If anything, I might guilty more of being too influenced by Naruto than Harry Potter.

I can only wonder, though, if my editor was right after she read my first draft, and I’m just going to get the “Harry Potter did it! Harry Potter did it!” comments. If you think this doesn’t matter to a MG fantasy writer, picture review after review of people wasting time talking about how this book is/is not like TGBEWMG, as opposed to saying what it is about my book they liked/disliked, independent of other works.

The thing is, the series I’m writing has no relation to Harry Potter, or Naruto, other than some occasional similarities. But will readers give book 2 a chance if book 1 is a “knockoff?”

For the record, I wonder how many of these “You just stole from Harry Potter” types thought the same when Hunger Games was accused of ripping off Battle Royale, or when Divergent was accused of ripping off Hunger Games (to be fair, I did not read Divergent, nor do I know what the plot is about; it’s anecdotal what I’ve heard from readers). Somehow that didn’t impact sales for Suzanne Collins or Veronica Roth. So why do some Harry Potter fans treat the series like it’s a sacred cow that cannot be replicated in any way?

(Okay, rant over, off the soapbox. Now time to get back to work)

Please someone, prove me to be a ranting jackass. Find me proof of diehard Potterfans who WANT to find a new MG Fantasy series to fall in love with, the way they fell in love in Harry Potter.

Image is from www.robertscottbell.com. I have no ownership rights, and I am not making money or benefiting from using that image.

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2 thoughts on “Is Harry Potter a sacred cow?

  1. Just wanted to point out that people like to accuse authors of “ripping of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter” even when their books were written years BEFORE hers. Magical Boarding Schools are actually a whole genre, and I wouldn’t worry too much about readers who read so little that they don’t know that. But yes, sadly, most people don’t read very much. Or when they do, they only read the next big thing. You should only care about what readers of “the next big thing” want if your goal is to be the next big thing. Good luck with your books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • joWrites- you are right that people really ought to read more before they ascribe “originality” or “ripoff” to someone’s work. I’m going forward and not caring whether someone who is misinformed or uninformed will make assertions against me that aren’t true. In any case, thanks for your encouragement!

      Liked by 1 person

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