Literature vs. Fiction

In my AP English class a few days ago, we were talking about what the difference between literature and fiction is – how to distinguish them.

Literature, we decided, was novels that were more written for the author and contained rhetorical terms, themes, and symbolism. Also, that literature often challenges beliefs and society.

Fiction is written more for the readers, and doesn’t usually contain any of the extra thought that is put into books of literature quality. I’d actually put a lot of YA novels under here, which are usually dramatic or about love and sex.

At one point in our discussion, though, we reached something that definitely caught my interest: is Harry Potter fiction or literature?

And of course, we all know what I said: LITERATUREOKAY?

But in an AP class that type of answer doesn’t go too well, nor did we really decide to discuss that more thoroughly. However, I really wanted to talk about it. So, I went to my forum and brought it up to my friends, and listed a few reasons why I thought that it was considered literature. The topic didn’t get discussed very much, but only because no one tried to prove me wrong.

So, blog post? Yes, exactly. This is my attempt to find someone who will go into a throw-down with me and try to prove Harry Potter is fiction.

Here are my main points as to why Harry Potter is literature:

  • Harry Potter may be a children’s book, and it may look like it is only a fad of our generation, but it is also deeply read by adults. Also, is Chronicles of Narnia not considered literature?
  • Going off this, I have recently learned of one college and one high school that has a class devoted completely to studying Harry Potter. There is no doubt in my mind that this number will increase. If this was just a fad or only a piece of fiction, would there be any need to study it at all?
  • There are thousands of people who have created communities around this book. There are three different things that I have found to be the most important parts of Harry Potter culture –
  1. Wizard Rock, or WRock, music. The topics of these bands’ songs can range from popular  to minor characters, or important moments in the books.
  2. Harry Potter conventions. Even after the series has long ended, there are still Harry Potter conventions. I plan to go to one next summer, LeakyCon.
  3. Harry Potter fanfiction. There are a few hundred of devoted Harry Potter fanfiction-fiends who write to study the themes and (popular or minor) characters of Harry Potter.
  • Going back to the study of Harry Potter. Many say that there are no themes or points to the books, merely that it is only about good vs. evil and is a standard children’s book. However, there are themes that are very carefully interwoven throughout them.
  1. Prejudice – The idea that whether you were born into a magical or non-magical family affects how worthy you are of magic. This caused war and death, showing readers the gravity of what prejudice can really do.
  2. Basis of family – Harry grew up without a proper family, but managed to find one when he went to Hogwarts. Goes to show that you can always find someone to love you.
  3. Sorting/judging – When characters first attended Hogwarts, they got Sorted. While many believe that they didn’t pick their House, Harry had the choice between Slytherin and Gryffindor. He chose a different path from Voldemort, making him good and not evil. He was not marked to be good, but chose it.
  • Finally, the characters. Draco – along with Snape, Voldemort, and Dumbledore – are some of the many complex characters within the novel that address how history and life can affect actions and beliefs.

Tell me what you think. Literature or fiction? Why? Feel free to leave long responses – I am not afraid!





Filed under Harry Potter

6 responses to “Literature vs. Fiction

  1. M G Kizzia

    I am not sure Jo would thank you for the literature designation, but in her absence, let me suggest that the division of fiction into fiction and literature is an artificial construct. Even two college profs are not necessarily going to agree on what makes a small portion of the whole “literature.” but maybe that is what your teacher meant for you to get out of the exercise.

    The Fiction Side: The Storyteller
    The Non-Fiction Side: Word & Spirit

    • Oh, of course! I’m not at all saying that either of these are the only two ways to describe literature and fiction. But, from my point of view and for the point of this little blurb, these are the definitions I think most apply.

  2. That’s a really valid question. I would be one of those people that sat on the fence and suggest that all literature is fiction, and all fiction is literature. I say this because you can determine the deeper meanings and themes from all sorts of novels, prejudice, love etc. I would actually be far more superficial and suggest that fiction only really becomes literature when it’s mass read.

    On a much deeper level though – whilst I agree with the points that you made about HP being Literature, you also have to consider other books – the same could be said about the Twilight Saga, or popular kids books.

    I don’t actually know where I’m going with this, so I’ll leave it there for the time being!

    • I think in many cases your beliefs are true, but there are stories like Gossip Girl and the Luxe novels that I would say are not the definition of Literature that I chose. I don’t think there’s much thought put into the stories beyond a need for drama and love, and when that happens, I don’t believe it can count as true literature – something that will stand the test of time and hold meaning in years to come.

      And when it comes to Twilight, I don’t think the same can be said for it. I believe that, if anyone ever bothered to study it at all, the only study it would be about is how it called to the thirst for love from pre-teen girls and how it affected that generation to become so crazy for it (or the characters). Plus, while there is a large fan base for Twilight – and it has inspired TwiRock and a lot of fanfiction for it – the amount is a lot more miniscule than it is for Harry Potter. It seems near impossible for Twilight to create a community around it, which I think is important to calling something literature.

      Finally, I don’t think there are enough complex characters and themes within Twilight to truly resemble real-life, and therefore become an important piece of literature. Characters: Edward is probably the most complex character within the novel, which is only because he can’t resist Bella, but absolutely loves her. Bella herself is merely a shell that makes food for her father and does her homework after spending hours cuddling with Edward. She has no depth to truly relate to. Themes: Twilight doesn’t challenge society in practically any way, and the only true fighting (vampires vs. werewolves) is done because they want Bella’s love.

      I hope that doesn’t only make sense to me. 🙂

  3. thegeekswereright

    It’s the same in college. A lot of Professors (though this is slowly changing) like to lord themselves over the rebel force that is college kids raised on Harry Potter. I’ve gotten into debates with some Professors who haven’t even read the books but still feel the need to point out how HP isn’t literature. I get a lot of satisfaction out of reminding them about the billions J.K. has with her “kiddy” book. Meanwhile, their novel has only been read by their own students.

    But that’s a little mean of me. All of your points are valid and I agree wholeheartedly. Nice post!

    • I can’t stand people who say that books aren’t literature without even giving them a chance. It’s like people who sneer at Avatar for being a cartoon. Just because it’s a cartoon doesn’t mean it has no merit or quality!

      (And thanks for commenting! 🙂 )

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