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Pottermania

It is not hype but the sheer magic and popularity of Harry Potter that has entertained adults and children alike over the last few years, says TIMERI N. MURARI, reflecting on the release of Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix yesterday.


LAST night, my friend's teenage son queued outside a bookstore at that magic hour of midnight. Waterstones, the biggest bookstore chain in the United Kingdom spent £200,000 on its West End store. They threw a huge party for celebrity adults and their children, complete with a Hollywood style red carpet for those fortunate enough to be invited. Every magazine and newspaper, from the Guardian to Vanity Fair, in the U.K. carried photographs of this celebrity-studded party.

There will be a million pound web cast, Madonna-style, with an expected audience of 500 million viewers worldwide. Of course, it is Pottermania. At the midnight hour 6200 book stores, supermarkets and even petrol stations remained opened to sell the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Amazon books already have orders for 350,000 copies. This is an under estimation, as the last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire sold one million copies overnight.

Waterstones also redecorated its London store to look like a Disneyland, except it will be Harry Potter land. In New York, at midnight of June 21, the cover of the book will light up Times Square and Harry Potter look-alikes will hand out a million badges and stickers. Meanwhile, the author herself, J.K. Rowling, will be seen only twice. She has given an exclusive interview to the BBC and, a few days after publication, she will be the centre of Royal Albert Hall for 4,000 lucky children to question her. This interview will go out live on the web and Microsoft and British Telephone will spend a million pounds on the production and expect 500 millions hits. She will not be signing any copies this year as the last time; she suffered from wrist and elbow injury.

Harry Potter is now bigger than "Star Wars", "Rocky", "X-Men" or any other entertainment franchise. Pottermania is now worth an estimated three billion pounds a year, with still two more books to come and a possible five films. Diane Nelson, the Warner Brothers marketing director, said in a recent interview: "The success is unprecedented. Harry Potter is a bigger property than anything else Warner Brothers have seen. The interest is equal in the United States, Japan, in Germany. It's astonishing and we're nowhere near saturation point. The appetite is not a trend; it is a real ever green property."

Admittedly, I have read only one Harry Potter, the first one. The others have passed me by and I have yet to catch a Harry Potter movie. So how did it get to be so huge? Rowling is the richest woman in the U.K., richer than the Queen is. The two films released to date have generated £4,000 million for Warner Brothers. And the licensing deals have generated another £ 3,000 million.


The hype has been tremendous. Even a year before publication, Bloomsbury began to hype the novel. The book has a million pound marketing budget, and Sarah Beal, the marketing director has been cleverly orchestrating the magazines, newspaper and television. She claimed only five people, not herself, have read the novel. Harry Potter has been in children's television shows and in the Times Educational Supplement. She had also released the cover of the book, two covers in fact. For the child reader, the cover is in bright colours; for the adult who does not want to be seen reading a child's book, the cover is in black and white. Walk into any toy store, and you can buy a Hogwart's Castle for £79, and a Hogwart train for £100. No child's book has ever been so commercialised and many feel it is cheapening the child's imagination.

Michael Jacobsen, founder of the website Save-Harry.com, feels that the big business is destroying the magic of Rowling. "An adored literary phenomenon is being put to work to sell toys and junk food. Something that should live in the imagination of children has been taken over by profiteers. That's not what Harry would have wanted. It's over-hyped".

Sarah Beal, in an interview dismissed Jacobsen's critique, as "rubbish. We're talking here of getting children to enjoy reading and families to go to bookstores together". While Warner Brothers, naturally, claim that they have been enormously respectful of the book. "We have been careful not to saturate or over-hype. And even if people think we have, they should remember that once all the promotion that Warner Brothers does is over, the thing that will live forever, far longer than anything that we do, is the books."

I do believe they are right. We have to remember that when this then single mother wrote the first Harry Potter, sitting in a café scribbling away in a notebook, nearly every publisher rejected the manuscript. Her agent finally sold it for a thousand pounds advance and warned her not to expect anything further. Her second novel sold a few more than the first and it was only when the third novel hit the bookstands that Harry Potter became a phenomenon. So it was not hype but the sheer magic and popularity of the character that has entertained child and adults for the last few years. The hype has only come later, catching up with popular taste.



Harry's creator... the sky is the limit for J.K. Rowing

By the end of next week, Harry Potter will have sold over 200 million copies, been translated into 47 languages and out gunned Bond/Matrix at the movie box office whenever it wants to. There are two more books to come and the sky is the limit for J.K Rowling. However, she did admit that success has made it harder for her to write because of the tremendous expectation.

In some ways, she's now a prisoner of Harry Potter and will never be able to escape him.

Timeri N. Murari is a novelist and filmmaker. Meet him at www.timerimurari.com

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