Monday, August 1, 2016

The Power of Potter

While my blog is intended for shameless self-promotion, among other things, I'd be remiss if I didn't share my thoughts and experiences about Harry Potter. With the release of the 8th book, HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD, PARTS 1 & 2 (a script book based on the original play and story by JK Rowling), it's been a decade since the "final" book arrived at bookstores.

But one thing is abundantly clear: Harry Potter still carries an immense weight in popularity.

I had the unique and fortunate experience  of seeing this all happen from the beginning as a bookseller for Barnes  and Noble back in late 90's, early 2000's. Sure, the first 3 books sold well, but I don't think any of us realized how big those stories were becoming about the boy wizard with the lightning bolt scar on his forehead until the 4th book, HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE broke. That was the first of many midnight release parties, but that one stood out because Scholastic sent retailers these cheap plastic cloaks, round black glasses, and lightning bolt scar press-on tattoos for employees to wear as promo materials.

Still, the hugely immense and massively gathering popularity didn't hit home until the 5th book...and by then, we all know one thing for sure: Harry Potter was something special.

And it was special because these were timeless stories about love and friendship, loyalty and betrayal, good and evil...and wrapped up in a magical world created by a once single mother in England, who used to write those first stories by hand while sitting in a cafe with her infant.

Most importantly, or equally so, the Harry Potter books resonated on another level because these were stories enjoyed not just by younger readers but by teens and adults. Families could read together and discuss (something, I'm afraid, doesn't happen nearly enough in this consuming digital age), older siblings would devour the books and hand them down to younger brothers and sisters. And us grown ups would just enjoy them for what they were: great stories.

Of course, when the Harry Potter  movies began to come out, that only drove the books even more. And the movies were well done.

As ORDER OF THE PHOENIX led to HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, it was quite something to see every few years the same attendees at each midnight release  party, many of them just kids but growing up and still in love with Harry, Ron and Hermione. And Snape...just because he was so good at being bad!

With DEATHLY HALLOWS in July 2007, it was obviously a huge deal but tinged with sadness. This was the final book. Sure, a few years later, THE TALES OF BEEDLE THE BARD came out, but fans flocked in massive droves to buy book 7 and it became one of the bestselling books of all-time. And again, I saw some of the same fans, now late teens or even older. And many, many adult fans, too. Most, young and old, came dressed as their favorite character at Hogwarts.

One of my favorite memories of that night is my store manager ripping the plastic wrap off the pallet of boxes of books  as the packed house of fans cheered and counted down to the appointed hour. Second favorite memory was the Potter fan who asked me if I was Snape (we'd all dressed up as made-up Hogwarts professors, and I had been Professor Colin Wordsmith of...well, you guessed it), and in my black clothes, cloak, and shoulder-length long dark hair, I did my best icy Alan Rickman.

Something special, indeed, and incredibly powerful.

Flash forward  to now, a decade later, and with the release of the 8th book (BEEDLE was more of a collection of stories  set in the world of Potter), while I had no doubts, Harry Potter is still as popular as ever. Seeing the fans line up eagerly  awaiting midnight, many of them dressed in black Hogwarts robes and holding wands or portraying another character, hit home again with me. And seeing a lot of young kids being swept up in the fun, many or most of them too young or not even born a decade or more ago, was pretty cool.

But I have to admit something: while I'd read all 6 books, I'd started book 7 but hadn't finished it. And for no particular reason, as sometimes us diehard readers with mountainous TBR  piles on our nightstands can attest to. Sometimes, we put a book down and simply forget. Yeah, I know. Sue me.

Time to fix that. I'm grateful for having experienced this wild magical ride. And Harry Potter will be around for a long time.

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