Is It Fair To Judge Old Books Based On Today’s Standards? || How Harry Potter Holds Up Today

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Hey friends! I’m coming at you today with another discussion post! I intended to post this one way back in November haha but I kept pushing it back back back so now here we are!

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This one was inspired by someone’s review of Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On that I saw in Goodreads, a glowing review where they praised it, calling it better than J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and pointing out how it fixed all the problems with the latter. Now, it’s no secret that I’m a total Potterhead, so I was a little miffed that anyone could call Carry On better than Harry Potter. Especially since the former is, in my opinion, basically plagiarism!

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Still, the reviewer pointed out several problems with the Harry Potter series. You could argue that there are quite a few, but I think what has clearly stirred up the most upset and controversy over the past few years is the lack of diversity: there are very few people of color, and no lgbtq+ relationships.

To be quite honest, I get a little annoyed when people criticize the books for this lack of diversity.  The books were published in the 90s and early 2000s, and I know that the push for diversity is something that is very recent. If someone published an amazing seven book series of an insane amazing world like that today and everyone was straight and white, I think this would certainly be a problem. The world just isn’t like that! And I will sometimes point that out in my reviews. But for books published in the past where people didn’t really care, I don’t really care either.

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There are so many different types of people in the world, and we should all be represented! But, that just wasn’t as important several years ago, and I definitely don’t think we should fault authors for not being able to see into the future and see what will become important. For all we know, we’re all writing something terrible right now, but it just isn’t an issue yet!

In reviews, I do think that it’s okay to point out the lack of diversity, if you want to. But I definitely don’t think reviewers should leave a nasty review, or take off a star in their rating, for not being up to the standards of today!

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Let’s Chat

What do you think? Is it fair to judge older books based off recent standards? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

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18 thoughts on “Is It Fair To Judge Old Books Based On Today’s Standards? || How Harry Potter Holds Up Today

  1. Priyasha says:

    Simon Snow has very similar traits to Harry Potter but seriously they both are different characters… Rainbow Rowell (Author) beautiful took some points and made that ‘ Carry On ‘ .
    So I love Harry Potter (He is epic !!) and I also love Simon Snow so much. 😍

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Shannon @ MediaShadowReads says:

    I do agree with you, it’s much the same with tv and films etc. Times have changed and definitely for the better and the industries are making moves to a more equal standpoint. BUT it doesn’t mean we should completely disregard old books, movies, dramas etc. They are still part of a lot of our childhoods and still have incredible worlds within and for a lot of us those older books, tv shows and movies hold special memories… I don’t think it’s fair to taint that for those that do still enjoy them. We should respect that yes they could have been better but that they still hold special places for a lot of us.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. bathandbooks says:

    I also think that Harry Potter is quite representative of some areas of Britain. While there are large cities with big populations of POC in the UK, there are many areas that are very white-washed. We have characters like Dean Thomas, Cho and the Patil twins, and other characters whose race is not stated in the books (Hermione from Cursed Child for example). According to a 2011 census 87% of the UK are white, so while there could be more characters from other backgrounds, seeing as we don’t know how many actually are from a specific race I’m not sure it needed to be specific. That wasn’t the point of the book.

    And whilst I love many novels with LGBT representation, I’m not sure the publishing world was progressive enough in the 90’s and early 00’s (unfortunately!). Look how many people reacted negatively when she outed Dumbledore.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kay Wisteria | Hammock of Books says:

      I see your point, but considering that some POC characters like Cho Chang were essentially stereotypes and all of the main characters were white, I would say that Rowling did very poorly in terms of representation and were the books written today, should have done more. Since it was written so long ago though, like you’re saying about LGBT rep, I think we can give her a pass on this one 🙂

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  4. Briana | Pages Unbound says:

    My short answer is “no.”

    I majored in English in college and then studied medieval literature in graduate school, and you learn really fast that when you are trying to discuss books that you can’t just sit there and complain about how books from the past don’t adhere to today’s standards and views. Saying a text from the 1300’s is sexist is boring and not something anyone should ever bother to point out in a class discussion. We all know it’s sexist and women didn’t have the same rights or place in society as they did today.

    Obviously HP is more recent, but to me the same rules apply. HP is very much of the time it was written, and I think we can acknowledge that and still enjoy it. I don’t expect writers to anticipate the social mores and worldviews of 20 years in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Olivia @ Purely Olivia says:

    This is such an interesting post! I definitely see what you mean about how, well, at the time Harry Potter was written it was normal to have a lack of diversity in books. I still wish that these books DID have diversity, because it would have been such an amazing chance for so many people to see themselves represented in such a beloved series, but I do understand that this book was not written in 2019 and shouldn’t necessarily be held to the standards that books are held to today.

    Great post! I’m also a huge fellow potterhead, and I don’t think anything could diminish my love for these wonderful books. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Margaret @ Weird Zeal says:

    This is a really interesting dilemma and I think you articulated it really well! I agree that we shouldn’t totally judge something from 20+ years ago by today’s standards in terms of diversity, but we should definitely look at that and think about how we can do better today! I think Carry On, and other books that are inspired by HP, are the result of that – noticing the lack of diversity and thinking about how that type of story would look with different identities represented. Context is important; in the 90s, diversity in books wasn’t a big thing, so today we can look back on that, appreciate it for it is, and push for more diversity in today’s books!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Kelly | Another Book in the Wall says:

    I LOVE THIS DISCUSSION, KAY! ❤️ You honestly pick such great topics to talk about! While Harry Potter might’ve had a few faults in regards to diversity, I don’t believe we should criticize it for not meeting today’s standards. The HP series is 20 years old and the expectations of novels during that time were vastly different from those today.

    For instance, in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the men more often than not, act misogynistic. But, this was before many efforts were made in feminist movements, so how can I fault Stoker for not adhering to modern standards?

    Anywho, I thought this was a lovely discussion and I agree with every word you said! 😊

    Like

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