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Harry hullabaloo

The date is July 21, 2007. A large group of muggles sits dumbstruck, their mouths agape as they watch the queen of the wizarding world ascend. J K Rowling comes forward, holding a fat book in one hand and clutching her best pen in the other. She moves into the limelight. She lifts her writing hand and points it at the crowd. The crowd does not stir… Then she mutters the familiar incantation: ‘Imperio…

It was as though the muggles were under the Imperius curse as they lined the front of bookstores on July 21. They waited with baited breath to know whether the world had indeed been saved from the wrath of the Dark Lord. It was as if the muggle world had fused with the wizarding world, and the destiny of both would be revealed in a book called Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

On July 21, 2007, history was created with the unveiling of the seventh book in the Harry Potter series. The media hype, clubbed with overwhelming public curiosity, turned the last Potter book into a global phenomenon. Everyone wanted to get their hands on a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Everyone wanted to know Harry’s fate. Some even flipped to the last pages to find out whether he survived the final duel against his old nemesis Lord Voldemort.

At the end of the first day, 11 million copies were sold in the UK and the US; 2.2 million books worldwide. The 607-page tome steamrolled all its opponents in the literary world, with the highest weekend grossing ever. (The book was tactfully released on a weekend so that readers could finish the book in peace!) By Sunday morning, reviews of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were out in all the newspapers.

Harry Potter can justifiably be called an addiction. People clamour for more Potter each time they finish a book. Initially the books were brought out for young readers, but, as the plot thickened, many adults clambered on board too.

So what is it about the books that’s caused such a stir around the world? And what has the number of copies sold got to do with the story?
I’d say it’s Rowling who is the true wizard, not so much Harry Potter. For she has cast her magic on young and old alike, for nearly a decade. No other book has ever sold so successfully. Indeed, many people believe that the Harry Potter phenomenon has as much to do with clever marketing as with writing ability.

The first Harry Potter book was released in the UK in 1997. It was barely noticed. With the second and third books, people had begun flocking to the bookstores but even then there wasn’t so much hype. Harry Potter really began to be a legend with the release of the movie. This was followed by the fourth and the fifth in the series, and suddenly everyone, especially children, began to be interested in the story of The Boy Who Lived. Two years later came the record-breaking Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince,and, finally, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Is it only Harry Potter or do all books get similar treatment by the media? Would an Indian Harry Potter, written by an Indian author in Hindi, have received as much attention in the Indian media? Has reading Harry Potter become a ‘me-too’ activity, a sort of status symbol in our country? Are those who have not yet managed to read the latest book treated as ‘losers’?

Maybe. Maybe not. But what the Harry Potter phenomenon has managed to do is get young people to read again. Children who are reluctant to go through their textbooks demolish the 600-odd-page Harry Potter in a day, and with relish! Thanks to the Harry Potter craze, it is said, sales of books like The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Eragon have increased too.

So, what is it about the Harry Potter books that is so appealing to children and to adults? According to Rowling it’s the fantasy world she so effectively creates. And the bravery portrayed in the books. Like the storyline, the reason behind the books’ phenomenal success seems destined to remain a mystery for some time yet.

 -- Sushant Sharma
(Sushant Sharma is a student based in New Delhi)

InfoChange News & Features, August 2007

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