Mark Terry

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Harry Potter Dilemma

September 4, 2009
So, I was wondering. What if the Harry Potter novels hadn't taken off and sold more copies than the Bible? What if, perhaps, the first book had been moderately successful?

Would the editors have said: Jo, Jo, Jo, I'm sorry, but these books, they're just too long. You have to cut them back. Costs too much to print these long books, besides, nobody will buy them.

Would the editors have said: Really, Jo, it's too dark. Lighten them up.

Would the editors have said: This whole section with the Dursleys, I mean, really, they're abusive, don't you think?

Would the editors have said: Killing a teacher? Absolutely not!

Would the editors have said: You've got a teacher here who's torturing students. Writing lines that use their own blood and carves scars into the back of their hands? Absolutely not. Just make her mean, not a sadist.

Would they have said: Hagrid's mother was a giant and his father was a normal-sized man. What kind of sexual image are you trying to impart here, anyway? I mean, physically, can you...? Oh, never mind. Just cut that out.

Would they have said: He's always breaking the rules. And Fred and George, stealing things from the caretaker's office? 

Would they have said: Quidditch? How come nobody gets killed in those games? They need safety belts. And nets. And...

What do you think?


Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Funny . . . Magickeepers II is going to be longer, and my editor is cool with that. He has let me keep some things I thought I might have to part with that were too scary (nary a comment). BUT . . . it bothers him when Nicholai whines or sulks. Maybe I am just used to teens, but . . . .

But this post is brilliant because I could TOTALLY see that.


4:33 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Overall, I think there are publishers for kids that are very brave and very smart. They've been publishing controversial books like Judy Blume's et al., books that use the word "scrotum" and in general cover topics like divorce and violence and sex.

Yet for all that, publishers for kids seem to have a lot of tension about staying politically correct and not offending people, so it's a weird dichotomy.

6:04 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

Fascinating entry. I can see that happening all too easily.

6:18 AM  
Blogger Deborah Leiter said...

Didn't I hear that Rowling's first HP actually get rejected 27 times or something before it was accepted?

8:17 AM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

Enchanted Ink sort of touched on this last week. Parents are all different, so you can't please all of them. My theory on kids is that, in no time before now, have we been more protective of our kids. There's no more turning them out at 8am and them going where they will and coming home at dinner. There's no more 12-year-old babysitters. No more getting dropped off at the mall with your friend at ten. No more biking four miles away.

I'm not saying it's better or worse, but when I volunteered at Pegasus Farms (horse-riding for handicapped), there was a lot of talk about the dignity of risk. I think we've taken just a bit of that dignity away from our kids these days.

I don't know whether or not that's a good thing, but... I can see why kids are drawn to stories where they can fight evil just as well as grown-ups and where they get to take more risks.

Just my theory, though. :-) Since I've just read the whole series again in a row. AWESOME! I'm on 7 again, now!

8:20 AM  
Blogger LurkerMonkey said...

I don't know what her original contract looked like, but the first book was published by a dinky press at the time (Bloomsbury) with an initial print run of only 5,000. Scholastic bought U.S. rights at auction after word of mouth reached this country. But I'd be very surprised if they bought ALL seven novels right away. So, sadly, if the first book had tanked in the U.S., they would probably have just dropped her contract and she would have faded into obscurity.

My guess is that she didn't sign a contract for the last 4 books or so until after they knew it was big and she could get away with all that darker stuff.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Richmond Writer said...

You know the difference between her and other writers is an obsession that takes risks. I don't mean preoccupation of the mind. I am referring here to her statement that it unnerved the director of movie 1 or 2 that she had this entire history of Dean Thomas written out. He gets a rare line in the book. Nor is his history ever revealed in the books but he has a long one.

I read a child's comment on that struck me hard as a writer. Harry stepped over a pack of self-shuffling cards as he entered Ron's room for the first time. Think about it. This one line detail tells you Ron is messy, it tells you about the magical world she built, and it tells you that Harry notices. When he states it is the best room ever, he isn't judging either the poverty or the messiness of the room. He is thrilled by the magic—even the cards—though they are never mentioned again. It is a brilliant detail that shows not tells.

Stephen King in On Writing said he writes and writes and writes. Sigh, this is not what I do. As a photographer I understand the concept. I take 400 photos and only send out 75 of the best ones. I wouldn't have 75 good ones if I didn't take 400 total. I doctor the 75 I send out.

God help me I can't write 400 pages in order to have 75 worth editing. That, however, is exactly what these writers do.

Powerful people don't tell either King or Rowling to cut this or that because they know beyond a shadow of doubt every detail is a pack of cards.

6:02 PM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks said...

I think the books definitely would have been (and should have been) shorter--from #4 on.

I still love 'em though.

8:36 PM  

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