J.K. Rowling's first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, was published in Britain in 1997. Fourteen years later sales of her seven book series stand at over 450 million. One has to wonder how the first twelve publishing houses that Rowling approached with her book are feeling. I suspect a bit like the "reject" label they put on her manuscript.
Our family remained Muggles for quite some time. My theory had been that there were already more great children's books than we had time to read, so why bother to expand the list. Plus I hate jumping on bandwagons. Then one day Rebekah told me that they were going to grow up culturally illiterate if they didn't become familiar with the story. It was a great line, and successful too.
In the interests of being culturally literate I got the first book and we started reading it aloud. Reading aloud was the hallmark activity of our family, and we had some rules that were meant to be followed.
1. It was absolutely forbidden to sneak the book and read ahead.
2. It was also forbidden to laugh at me if I got choked up over a scene and started crying.
Rule number 1 was followed religiously. Rule number 2 was blatantly ignored. We kept right on reading right through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. All for the sake of being culturally literate of course.
I should point out that by the time the final book came out Rebekah and David were both attending university here in Kamloops, but that didn't stop us from reading the book together. We had started them together and we intended to finish them together. Sadly, in the end life got in the way and we each finished the final chapters of the book on our own. It made me realize that half of the enjoyment of reading Harry Potter had come from the howls of protest when I would close the book and say that was enough, the tension that gripped everyone as I read through a scary bit, or the speculation as to what was going to happen next.
The Harry Potter books are a lot like asparagus and cilantro. People ether seem to love them or hate them. Some people felt they were classics in the making, and credited them with getting otherwise reluctant readers engaged with the written word. Others felt they were basically the spawn of the devil and were leading a generation of youth into the occult. On a forum I used to frequent simply putting the initials HP into the subject line was guaranteed to start an argument that could continue for hundreds of comments. The fights would only stop when the moderator stepped in and closed the thread. Just like magic, a few days later another thread would start and the whole thing would take off again.
I find J.K. Rowling's story almost as good as the books she has written. I am fascinated by how the whole story line came to her in four hours on a delayed train trip between Manchester and London. She didn't have a pen to scribble down her ideas, so simply sat and pondered Harry. She said she thinks the story might not have come together the same way if she had interrupted her thoughts by stopping to write them down.
I also find it interesting that she ignores one of the hallmark rules of good writing and makes it work. Here is a blurb from Stephen King's excellent book On Writing.
"I insist that you use the adverb in dialogue attribution only in the rarest and most special occasions...and not even then if you can avoid it."
Here are a few examples of what Stephen King is talking about, taken from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.
"I want to read it," said Harry furiously, "as it's mine."
"Oh, this is Crabbe and this is Goyle," said the pale boy carelessly, noticing where Harry was looking.
"Typical," said Harry darkly. "Just what I always wanted. To make a fool of myself on a broomstick in front of Malfoy."
How well does she succeed at this rule breaking? Aside from selling 450 million books, that is. Adverb hating Stephen King himself is quoted as saying J.K. Rowling is a great writer, and he lists her books in the back of his On Writing book as some of the best he has read. High praise indeed!
So does the release of the final Harry Potter movie signal the end of an era? In some ways yes. The hype over an upcoming book or movie is now a thing of the past. But there will never stop being new readers who discover the series, and my guess would be that the Harry Potter books will remain popular for many years to come.
Plus there is the new Pottermore site coming in October, where readers are going to get an "exciting online experience around the reading of the Harry Potter books." It is also reported that this fall the books will be coming out in e-reader format. Maybe there is another round of Butterbeer coming after all.