Monday, July 23, 2007

Potter Mania for the Last Time (in literature)

The seventh and final installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was finally released after much anxious anticipation and fanfare just after midnight on Saturday morning. It is estimated that 8.3 million copies were sold in the U.S. on Saturday alone (see here), which is a new record.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter phenomenon is no longer anything new. The first book in the series was released 10 years ago. The publishing world was stunned that it turned out to be a runaway best seller. The books were marketed as children’s books, but their popularity with adults was apparent from the beginning. Rowling has a writing style that is quite gripping.

Rowling, who has gone from struggling writer to billionaire (in U.S. Dollars) over the last decade, began the first book in the series with Harry Potter as an 11-year-old boy. Each book covers one school year, and each book has matured along with the book’s characters and Rowling’s target audience. The fourth book, the Goblet of Fire, took a decidedly dicey turn, when a significant character that is represented as being good, was chillingly murdered rather casually by the main villain in the series. Rowling defended this segment by saying that it is not evil to portray how bad evil can be.

Some religious groups have decried the Harry Potter series as promoting witchcraft and other evils. Objective observers will find, however, that the series entails the classic struggle between good and evil. The magic world created by Rowling is a clever and engaging framework around which this struggle takes place. Having interacted with hundreds of children that have read the books and seen the movies (including my own children), I would suggest that the claim by some religionists that the books entice children to dabble in evils is wildly off the mark.

We picked up a copy of the final book in the series on Saturday afternoon. Due to a very unusual set of circumstances, I was able to spend a few rare and blissful hours consuming the first 140 or so pages of the 759-page tome. And that’s where I stand at the moment, since I choose not to read for pleasure on Sundays. I am not a rapid reader. It will likely take me several weeks to finish the book. I do have to share my copy of the book with some of my children. Also, I usually have several reading projects ongoing concurrently at any given time. And frankly, I don’t read a lot of novels.

My lovely wife, on the other hand, is a voracious and rapid reader (ostensibly of novels) — a trait she seems to have come by naturally by way of her mother. She has already completed the book. She reported to me with a happy look on her face that she likes the way Ms. Rowling completed the book and the series. But my wife was wise enough not to provide any clues about what transpires in the novel.

Yesterday at a family gathering, one of my brothers, who has not read any of the Harry Potter books, wanted to know what the scoop was on this final book. A number of people in the room immediately squelched any discussion of the book’s contents. The Harry Potter fans in the family wanted the pleasure of discovering the unfolding drama first hand.

A number of commentators have suggested various meanings behind characters and events in the Harry Potter series. Some note political undertones. The beauty of various works of art is that even the creators of the art cannot fully determine how the audience will interpret it. As a friend of mine once put it, even the artist does not always comprehend his/her Muse.

Suffice it to say that it is obvious that J.K. Rowling is a highly talented writer. She will undoubtedly continue to consult on the two remaining Harry Potter movies. It will be interesting to see what use she puts her talents to in the future. Given her financial status, she could easily retire to never write again. But I hope she doesn’t put that talent to rest yet.

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