Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Debatables: July—YA best (series-ly)


This month’s Debatable gets serious about YA. Mike and I are taking on the great debate of which YA series is the most influential YA in terms of overall impact.

Yep, we are throwing down the quodlibet gauntlet and arguing whether the Harry Potter series bests the Hunger Games series. We are going for overall influence, not just books, but movies, social impact, topic genre–everything, everything. We are going big on this one.

As a reminder, here are the ground rules:

Each debater is allowed one brief argument (fewer than 300 words) on a previously agreed upon topic. These brief arguments will then be followed by a briefer rebuttal (fewer than 150 words).

Mike, that increasingly prolific writer of children’s books and always popular blogmeister, is my Debatable partner. He has chosen the Harry Potter series:

I am nominating the Hunger Games trilogy:

Image result for hunger games trilogy

As the month’s host, I defer to Mike to lead out the argument:

Mike’s opener:
Whether you love Harry Potter or are indifferent to Harry Potter, you gotta admit that Harry Potter changed everything we once thought we knew about kid lit. Before that little wizard showed up, young adult and middle grade fiction novels were relegated to the bookstore ghetto, to live and die as a dog-eared paperbacks. 

There have been many pre-Harry YA books of great distinction, of course, The Giver, The Outsiders, and about a jillion others that are far superior to anything J.K. Rowling could’ve ever conjured in her Hogwarty mind. But those novels lack a certain magical something that Harry had in spades: Crossover Appeal. 

Harry Potter did to literature what Star Wars did to movies, it found an audience with pretty much everyone. And, man, was that audience rabid. Remember the midnight release parties with lines stretching for blocks? Remember how revealing a spoiler was considered a Crime Against Humanity? Publishers sure do, and they have been attempting to recapture that ol’ HP magic, literally and figuratively, ever since. 

Once upon a time, the kid lit center of gravity was in picture books. Harry Potter (and its decade-long listing on the New York Times bestseller list) changed that business model. The big money is now is YA and that’s where publisher resources have gone—and will continue to go—for the foreseeable future. 

No, I’m not saying that Twilight or Hunger Games or Miss Peregrine wouldn’t have been published if HP didn’t exist. I’m saying that Twilight and Hunger Games are Miss Peregrine enjoy the popularity they have because HP exists. Without that incredibly influential wizard, they would be unfairly slumming with the latter-day Nancy Drews, ignored and overlooked by the masses.

 

Cricket’s remarks:
Granted, Harry and his school chums initiated a noticeable interest among middle/YA readers; however, Suzanne Collins made a lasting impact with her Hunger Games trilogy that is still evident today, going well beyond readership.

First off, Katniss is a relatable hero. Flawed, no superpowers, yet passionate in her beliefs, placing others before her needs, transfers into the real world.  Several articles on how Katniss is inspirational in her purposeful focus are found on the internet. Hunger Games can be found at the core of curriculums revolving around dystopia and totalitarian governments, sharing time with Antigone and I Am Malala. Wizardry may be entertaining, but standing up for one’s beliefs is riveting, inspiring, and powerful in its ability to influence.

Other aspects of influence include the three-fingered salute from Hunger Games, a gesture that’s become a global symbol of resistance. There is also a  resurgence in archery evidenced by Nerf’s crossbow. Hunger Games ushered in other dystopian-themed books/films such as Divergent and Maze Runner. Tricks are for kids; bad government is reality, and Hunger Games has influenced others to take on the reality of tyranny. Saving friends from foes with magical spells doesn’t work in the real world. Courageously standing up for convictions makes a difference.  

Katniss has firmly established that a female hero doesn’t have to be seductive or come from another planet to get things done. Hunger Games also has gender and age appeal–AARP members raved about the series. Even Time noted Katniss Everdeen as an influential character

Admittedly, Harry Potter filled some kind of needed hole in middle/YA  reading needs, yet a boy wizard can’t compare to the lasting influence of a young woman who started out wanting to save her sister and ended up freeing society from injustice.

Mike’s Rebuttal
First things first: Katniss didn’t use a crossbow. Second, the Nerf crossbow was first released in 1995, a full 12 years before the first Hunger Games book came out.

Now to the meat of your argument: Yes, Katniss is a strong, flawed, relatable, femal hero fighting valiantly against a totalitarian government—but she certainly isn’t the defining voice of today’s “Resistance,” as you suggest. (That would be Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale). And influential dystopian-age books for YA existed long before Katniss ever showed up (again, I reference 1993’s The Giver). 

Don’t get me wrong, The Hunger Games is a great, exciting read. In fact, I enjoyed THG trilogy more that Harry Potter. 

But this Debatables topic is about which book is more influential. In that particular Harry versus Hunger competition, Katniss wouldn’t even make it to the cornucopia.

Cricket’s Rebuttal

Thanks, Mike for acknowledging how Hunger Games is a better read-points for my argument of HG’s influence.  I am not interested in reading Harry Potter.

Why?

Magic is so unrealistic in solving problems compared to tenacity and fortitude in righting wrongs (you did notice the photo?). And while there have been a few unique female heroes such as Ripley and Sarah O’Connor, they were adults and Katniss is a teen. A brave young woman willing to sacrifice for family, friends, and the greater good is more admirable than a bespectacled kid wizard with a scar.

So–maybe HP influenced kids to read more than they used to–can Harry make the claim he has influenced politics or human rights concerns? Katniss and the Hunger Games series is an influence that  continues to resonate long after HP’s last spell has dithered away.

Alrighty, readers–time to weight in with votes and comments. Which series is more influential in your opinion: Harry Potter or Hunger Games?

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105 thoughts on “Debatables: July—YA best (series-ly)

  1. This is complex. I think Harry Potter has the edge in cultural influence, and I believe it’s a greater literary achievement than The Hunger Games. But! Within YA literature, The Hunger Games series has been more influential because it was the catalyst for a lot of writing and publishing in they dystopian genre. So, within the parameters of this debate, I vote Harry Potter. Sorry, Cricket.

  2. Pingback: Debatables: The Most Influential YA Series – Hey, Look! A Writer Fellow!

  3. Harry Potter hands down. HP got SOOOOOOOOOOOO many people reading again. Even I want a newspaper like the the Quibbler and the Daily Prophet!!! I have read this series at least 6 times from beginning to end. I have all the movies and have watched them at least 4 times beginning to end and have another marathon planned soon. I’ve seen THG…..and I really liked it. But I LOVE Harry Potter. I even saw him *gasp* naked. Yes, people, I saw Equus at the Sir John Gielgud Theatre in Pickadilly in London. It was AMAZING!!

    Top THAT Katniss!

    • It’s pretty clear how you feel in this one, Boo. But is is the series you are smitten with or Harry Potter?

      • The whole series. I LOVE Luna. And I love Neville Longbottom. and I love the Weasly family and the fun things………….

      • oh! And Hagrid!! and I want a white snowy owl for a pet, and the flying car!!! OMG!! They used a FORD!!! I was SO happy about that…OH!! and while at Edinburgh Castle they pointed out the building that was the inspiration for Hogwarts!!…..and good Lord and gravy train, who can forget Alan Rickman…….and trains…I loves trains…………….and…(getting a hint yet?)

      • Loud and clear. You are smitten for sure.

      • *bats eyelashes and drools……*

  4. I actually don’t have an opinion on which one has been more influential.

    I only know that I hate The Hunger Games, and love Harry Potter. 😉

    • So—not a vote, just an opinion?

    • Personally, I thought the first Hunger Games was a fantastic page turner. The next two books…well, not so much.

      • I just don’t like the premise.

        It’s kind of funny, because I was in high school when THG came out, so my friends were constantly telling me “you really really really need to read this book about kids fighting to the death in gladiator-style contests!” and I was like . . . “I need to read WHAT now?”

      • Agreed it does sound bizarre, but that is what Collins was trying to point out, how bizarre the world can be. What caught my attention is the fortitude of one girl who didn’t want to be a hero, and became one.

      • To me, it didn’t sound bizarre so much as . . . wildly unappealing? Because I really dislike violence in stories, and kind of go out of my way to avoid it as much as I can. So for my friends to be assuming that I would WANT to read the series . . . idk, it felt like how you would feel if you happened to hate peanut butter, and then somebody was like, “here, you’ll totally love these PEANUT BUTTER cookies! try one!”

        #nothanks #ithinki’llpass

      • That makes sense—there would be some confusion as to why they would want you to read something you definitely didn’t care for.

      • I totally agree with that. I didn’t want to read HG’s because I’d heard a lot of negative stuff about it (the violence, mainly). But once I began it, I couldn’t put it down. The other two books? Not anywhere near as good.

  5. Much as I like Cricket’s argument, and wish it was true, I’m afraid I have to agree with Mike that Harry Potter is the more influential of the two, as a cultural phenomenon. Also, I personally found the Hunger Games books disappointing. It felt “dashed off.” The characters kept rushing from one thing to another — and some of the most interesting ones dropped like flies, with hardly any attention to the emotional impact of their deaths. IMHO, if she’d spent more time developing the characters and investing in the emotional payoffs, they’d’ve been better books. I also was disappointed in the way Collins spoke about her books when they became a phenomenon, referring to them as “anti-war,” rather than claiming her themes of fighting oppression and inequality. Whatever her frailties as a writer, Rowling at least tries to use her influence as a superstar author to speak out against injustice.

  6. Harry Potter, hands down! HP changed everything in dystopian literature. And no other series has flooded the marketing world with theme parks, theatrical productions in London and NYC. I don’t dismiss, The Hunger Games, Twilight, and its popularity and influence. But it just doesn’t compare to the Harry Potter phenomenon! Mike you have it right!

  7. I’d argue that HP isn’t YA, to put it simply. HP crosses so many lines. I’m a librarian and have found Harry Potter shelved in the children’s, tweens, AND YA section of our library. It manages to encompass so many themes of growing up that it never seems to be limited to one genre. By contrast, The Hunger Games is very much limited to being a young adult’s series, so I don’t think there’s quite a fair comparison. If we’re counting HP as YA, then yes, I’d say it’s much more influential. However, I personally don’t think I’d count HP as being defined as simply YA.

    • I agree! Mike thought HP drifts into YA, but the librarian within days it’s mainly a juvie.

      • I’d say it has a good foot in both, so it’s really subjective where you choose to put it.

      • Well, our library shelves Harry in juvie, but many of my students would agree it’s a YA pick, especially older. But that’s being contentious and Mike will send a yellow flag on the field of debating.

    • I thought the books got more YA as the series continued. Books 5-7 in particular feel very YA.

      • Fair, but there are plenty of children’s series that feature characters aging. Hardly anyone considers Anne of Green Gables, Narnia, or Little House on the Prairie YA even though they feature characters aging up and exploring themes that come with young adulthood.

      • Thank you, Trinity for that needed point. Really, Harry Potter is more juvie than YA, but fine I acquiesced to Mike’s request.

  8. This is an interesting debate! Not talking about the myths, but as the HP we know today, Rowling’s series has been around for twenty-two years. HG just over a decade. To me, the truest test will be time, so in that case, I gotta go with the one that’s lasted the longest so far. We might not know for another 50 years which one truly prevailed! We’ll be dead, so our kids will have to answer the question. The first LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE book came out 87 years ago. Just saying . . .

  9. Ah, C’Muse. You and I belong to a dying arm of the human race, the one that cares about great literature and wants the most influential series of books to be something laudable. Unfortunately, I think Mike could have successfully debated against Hunger Games with Captain Underpants.

    But maybe I’m just cynical in my middle age….

    Let me give you a story: my children read books. My second son went to his doctor’s appointment with his nose buried in Eragon. His pediatrician told me he hadn’t seen a child intently reading a book since Harry Potter came out; that, when J.K. Rowling released her magic, he’d come out to a waiting room of kids immersed in novels.

    It’s been YEARS since HP came out, yet my two oldest attended an O.W.L. camp hosted by the local library. Their former third grade teacher still loves dressing up as a HP character for Halloween. An article on Harry Potter is guaranteed to boost internet hits, comments, and search rankings.

    Nothing’s ever gotten close nor, I fear, ever will again.

  10. I don’t get Harry’s appeal. I guess I’m happy kids are reading?

  11. Sorry Cricket, but Mike gets this one. HP has/had a world wide influence on kids and adults. Grown adults get dressed up to go to the midnight viewing parties, and I don’t see any end in sight to this. Kids eat it up. A year ago, I had never read HP. Even though it had been out for ages and everyone I knew had read it. So I decided I needed to read it just for the cultural references I come across all the time (another evidence of HP’s influence). I checked with my local library but HP was always checked out. Always. I was not going to pay to read it, because I wasn’t dying to read it, but I mentioned it and 2 of my friends had the series they said they’d loan me. I got the series from my sister as she and her girls had read it and loved it. I did read through the series and I liked it. It had lovable and despicable characters, characters I will remember for a long, long time.
    I read the Hunger Games and saw 2 of the movies and although I really liked it, it just isn’t as “big” as Harry Potter.
    Congratulations Mike, I think you nailed it. Did you get first pick?

    Have a great day, Cricket and Mike!
    Judy

  12. OK, I truly LOVED The Hunger Games series, BUT…absolutely NO question, Harry Potter will win out anything that comes along. I’ll add to what Mike said on his blog—NO series has ever crossed generations the way HP has. Literally people of ALL ages were reading and sharing—-and STILL reading and sharing these books. I ADORE the writing, the characters, the story, the world…J(oanna) K Rowling. She has given me joy that’s incomparable and taught me as a writer in priceless ways 😀

      • What I do wish is that you would reconsider reading the HP series. It’s not the magic that makes it so “magical” as a series—it’s the characters and the story. The magic is the world, the fun, the tools. Rowling’s writing style is different than Collins’ , but both are excellent storytellers. I have all these books (LOTR and The Legend series too…SO good) on my shelves, and I wish I had the time to read them all again, but the only series I’ve read multiple times — 4+ and it has 7 books, not 3–is Potter and I’m STILL drawn to wanting to pick it up again and know that, at some point, I will. Another difference between all these series is that Potter is the only one in which the characters grow and age a year with each book—we watch these characters grow up! It’s a MUCH different kind of read.

      • I hear the passion in so many readers about HP’s story arc, yet I have to like the premise to connect with the characters. The wizard school idea just doesn’t grab me. I know, my students are out right shocked I won’t, haven’t, and don’t plan on reading HP. LotR didn’t grab me either.

  13. Harry Potter. Hands down. Every time. The end! 😀 … for all the reasons already mentioned in the comments, plus these … children who started reading The Philosopher’s Stone were adults by the time The Deathly Hallows came out. Those ten years encompass the most influential years of our lives. That’s called zeitgeist.
    Also, the breadth of relatable secondary characters, (to say nothing of the main ones) created a wide pool for the readers to find echoes of themselves within.
    Also, the depth of the magical world JK Rowling created was like nothing else around at the time … and lots of other reasons that would turn into a book themselves if I let ’em. 🙂
    So yeah, Harry for the win. 😀

  14. I have to admit that my first thought was LHOTP as well but realized that I definitely had a personal bias with that one, having grown up on it. But as a teacher during the HP era…wow…did it create a generation of readers!

    It also was so influential that entertainment industries, via Time Warner and Universal Studios, created a whole theme park amusement/adventure dedicated to it. So marketing and capitalism gave it extra influence points as well. HP gets my vote.

  15. Sorry Cricket, but I gotta go with Mike here. HP inspired a whole new generation of readers. Kids who were mildly interested in books (my daughter, for example) are now avid readers in their 30’s. I do like THG too.

  16. I’m gonna add my voice to this by saying I agree with Mr. Mike, but not because of his arguments. I worked at an independent bookstore in the early 2000s when HP started to take off. That series single-handedly saved many indie bookstores with HP release parties, HP costume contests, HP pre-order prizes, etc. As book sales for the series skyrocketed, it carried many other titles along on its coattails. It single-handedly revived and expanded the children’s publishing market. Hunger Games merely benefited from something HP had already started. Nuff said.

  17. Corey on said:

    This is a difficult debate for me to comment on not because I don’t have an opinion (of *course* I have an opinion!) but because you are limiting me to these two series. I wouldn’t have picked either of them. But since I must choose between them, the answer is HP hands down. There are the aforementioned reasons of spin-off, getting generations of children to read again, amusement parks, etc. But there is also another reason: The Hunger Games books are not well written. Yup, I said it. Great premise, and I am all in with Collins’s use of Panem (bread in Latin) as the capitol for a competition about food, as well as her nod to the eerie and unforgettable movie Battle Royale, which she has spoken of as being an influence. (If you have not seen this movie, stop commenting here and go and watch it. But only after you have put your children to bed.) The books also get progressively weaker as the trilogy moves on unlike HP which after a dip in Order of the Phoenix –just too verbose– ends with a bang and sustains the series as a whole with really well crafted characters with clever names that reward smart readers. I mean, in Order of the Phoenix, for example, when Harry first arrives at the Ministry of Magic for his trial, Mr. Weasley types 5 digits into the telephone keypad, and if you look at the letters that correspond to the numbers, it spells out M-A-G-I-C. Now that is attention to detail.

    This leads me to my second point about why it’s HP all the way: that bit of nerdy trivia about the keypad was provided to me by the amazing hosts of an amazing pod cast called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text which, if you are looking for nerdy fun in the sun, is not to be missed. Two friends and Harvard Divinity School students Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile examine every chapter from every book as if they are sacred texts. They also have guests in who are fans of the show, including John Green (yes, that John Green).

    http://www.harrypottersacredtext.com/

    I am sure there are pod casts out there for The Hunger Games, but no way is it taking on and withstanding this level of intellectual rigor.

    Now: you might be asking, what series would I have elected as the most influential? Why, the one that inspired JK Rowling in the first place. It is about an 11 year-old boy who wakes up on his birthday to discover his magical powers. It takes place in England, and a battle between good and evil ensues, where not everyone survives. Sound familiar? It should. It’s called The Dark is Rising sequence by the one and only Susan Cooper. And they were written decades before Harry was ever delivered on a flying motorbike to Privet Drive. Without The Dark is Rising, HP would never have been and that is what makes it so undeniably influential.

    • So the actual hoopla credit should be going to Cooper instead of Rowling.
      And yes, I knew all along HP would win *sigh*

      • Corey on said:

        You’re being very brave in the face of Mike’s HP grab, cricketmuse, and it’s good that you knew you were fighting a losing battle from the outset but fought bravely anyway. Very Katniss-like. I do, though, want to push back ever so slightly and quite respectfully on your dismissal of Magic and how it’s an escape, not realistic, and what undermines Harry and the gang as opposed to the dogged determination and fighting that Katniss and crew undertake. It’s not about magic as magic: it’s about helping children who are in desperate circumstances–growing up as an orphan, in deprivation, not ever feeling loved, then discovering that you will have to work harder than everyone else (and that all of those people are relying on you no less) just to literally live– believe they can get through it, and not just survive but thrive. The very best YA books always send that message coded in the story. Kids read them not to escape, but in fact to help them survive the not so wonderful real world in which they live. That’s the real magic of HP and the true importance of great YA literature that we have from Gaiman, Lowry, Cooper, and the like.

      • I realize there is more to Harry’s appeal than the magic aspect: friendship, overcoming adversity, personal growth—all important messages. I’m concerned with kids learning to deal with real problems with real solutions and magic is an easy out that can hinder critical thinking skills, using actual everyday resources. Katniss relies on her own insights, intuition, and made use of her resources to forge her solutions.

    • Didn’t know about this podcast, Corey, so thanks 🙂 Would’ve been ALL over it back before Hallows when I was deep into all the theorizing. Hope I can find time at some point! And did J.K. herself say THE DARK IS RISING was an inspiration?

      • Corey on said:

        Rowling has not ever commented to say that Cooper was a direct influence, no. But like Neil Gaiman, Rowling cites Cooper as one of those early authors that English kids read and read a lot. Rowling is a bit cagey on talking about her influences in general (unlike Gaiman this time, who has gone on at length about what C.S. Lewis’s “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” meant to him as a child left to read) but when you have a boy named Will Stanton, the youngest child in a large family where he doesn’t quite fit in, who then wakes up on his 11th birthday to discover that he has magical powers and that they will be called upon much sooner than they ought because evil–the dark–is coming, you can’t miss the parallels.

      • No fault in admitting influence comes from great authors, as in Gaiman’s nod to Lewis. Being close-lipped makes one suspicious about why an author doesn’t acknowledge source inspiration.

      • Just ordered the book from the library 🙂 Now it’s a matter of finding time to read it! Thanks for making me aware of Susan Cooper 😀

      • I need to get my library to replace its missing copy!

      • Don’t you hate when that happens? It’s either “stolen” or misplaced :/ Happened a few times recently to me *sigh* And you can’t order it through your library system? I love ours. The whole county is connected 😀 😀 😀

      • Usually they will order the book if I request it. The perks of being a former librarian and a current volunteer. 🙂

      • I love my librarians 😀

      • Me too. Got the t-shirt to prove it. 👌🏼

  18. I think in Rowling’s case, it’s likely due to people accusing her of “stealing,” and I can tell you, from personal experience, there were a few little things I’d come up with while writing that showed up in HP and thought—“well, guess I can’t use THAT”—these things happen. The imagination is a funny thing because some things can influence it, but there are ideas that are original to a person, but similar thoughts come up in the process for others too. Anyway, our creations are usually a combination of influence and our fresh ideas and ways of brainstorming 🙂

    • I think it’s important that writers acknowledge any inspiration in order to avoid accusations. I think there was a bit of a flap with Life of Pi, but Martel discussed how he was inspired by another story.

  19. I’m sorry Cricket, but I do think that HP wins hand down (or all hands up waving frantically!) 🙂 I enjoy both series. However. HP is more kid-friendly in the first couple of books. My 10 and 11-year-old grandkids are deeply into HP and the magic and the imagination. In my opinion, HG is too mature for them. I’d give them a few years before they get into the violent political ugliness of HG. That said, as HP grows and his book series continues, the plot increases in horror and nastiness by characters. But good wins over evil in each book. Lastly, EVERYONE in my family has read and been addicted to HP’s story arc. At the time when book 6 was published, my college-aged son at the time sniffed at the idea of reading a “kid’s book.” Yet, over that Christmas, he began the first one (being bored with us, his boring family) and then we didn’t see him for six days, hidden on the couch, reading all six books in a row…)
    HG is a ‘good’ book and spurred imaginations and realization of how political heavyweights, if ignored, can take over people’s good sense and once the powerful have too much power, the rest of society suffers. Katniss is a great female role model, yes, but in HP, so is Hermione. And I like Myrtle and Luna and don’t forget Ginny! Lots of strong female characters. I like how Hermione is not afraid to be super smart and not hide the fact, too.
    Oh, and lastly, my 6-year-0ld grandson’s name? Neville.
    Just sayin’….

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