Harry Potter And The Hype Machine

The ‘literary’ world is abuzz today over the announced release date for the latest, and last, Potter book on July 21st. It’s already #1 on Amazon and likely to stay there for awhile. That sound you hear is all the fanboys and fangirls girding themselves to brave the mid-summer night to their local bookstore to purchase their copy promptly at midnight. You know it will happen. So, given all the anticipation and hype surrounding the book, the question is:

Can Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows live up to expectations?

Sure, Rowling has said two characters may possibly die and, at the very least, I’m expecting her to end the series in a emphatic manner. One thing is for certain though, the one thing that will certainly die will be thousands of trees.

OK, two questions. This is the series that has fans lining up for midnight release parties? Harry Potter? Sure, the books are fun and all, but I’m at a loss as to why they have generated as much interest as they have. Partly I think it has to do with being in the ‘in crowd’, and partly I don’t know what. I’d ask my #1 son, but I don’t think I’d get a very illuminating response beyond “I dunno…”.

Update: Amazon is reporting that pre-orders for The Deathly Hallows are up 547 percent over book 6. That could be a lot of books. And for John, the deluxe edition is going for $65.

15 thoughts on “Harry Potter And The Hype Machine”

  1. I’ve never read any (partly so as not to be part of the “in” crowd), but I’m not convinced it’s an in-crowd kind of thing . . . unless the majority of hardcore Indie kids are disingenuous.

    I do find it curious that the same story can enthrall a 6 year old and a fifty year old. Maybe there’s something to this witchcraft thing after all . . . But seriously, that’s mostly why I don’t read them; it just seems a powerful fad.

  2. I’ve never read one and have only seen one of the movies. I don’t see anything wrong with them, I’m just not interested. There are way too many classic and modern fantasy and science fiction authors that I have on my list to get to before I die to spend any time with HP.

  3. I’ve already pre-ordered #7. And it’s not a fad or being part of the ‘in’-crowd. It’s not even that Rowling is a spectacular writer – she’s not (though she is good). It’s the fact that she’s created this fascinating universe that’s interesting, vast, imaginative, playful, while being simultaneously dark, evil, and sinister. She’s found a fantastic combination of elements and woven them all together to create a very interesting universe for her readers to live in. Plus, she’s the master of the cliffhanger, dragging this one on for seven volumes. That’s what has this adult reader completely hooked. (And I’m not a huge fan of the movies.)

  4. I’ve read the first 5, but haven’t yet gotten to 6. I’ve enjoyed them, and they have gotten steadily better. My only complaint is that the 5th book is notably written to a higher reading level than the first 4. That makes it hard to read for a 7 or 8 year old.

    The stories feature a kid with a tragic past but a special gift. Kids love these kinds of stories, and always have. It doesn’t surprise me at all.

    In the end, there are far worse things people could be excited about. It’s called “professional wrestling.”

  5. Does everyone have their eyes closed? The real story here is the $35 MSRP price tag. Has any other young adult book ever been priced like this? Is it warranted?

  6. Scott, Rowling intended the reading level to go up with each book, as her intent was to write a series of books that a specific cohort of children could follow as they grew up.

    John, two words – Amazon.com. ;-) Of course, being the book snob that I am, I wouldn’t mind paying $35 for a 600+ page hardcover edition of a series I enjoy. But that’s just me. If the pricetag bothers you, wait for the mass market paperback in a year or so.

  7. Well, recall that the first Potter was rejected by about five publishers because it was the opposite of what they thought a children’s book needed to be. No burning-social-issue-of-the-month, no quota-matching diversity, no pop culture references. Just a strong, twisty plot, Dickensian characters, a fully imagined magical world, and a hero with whom a kid could identify and how. Bloomsbury took it mostly because they were just starting their children’s line, and needed to fill out the catalog. Initial print run: 500.

    Maybe the five publishers were wrong. If all your competitors are wrong about what the customer wants, and you luck into just the thing, how successful will you be?

  8. The popularity of Harry Potter has nothing to do with being in the “in” crowd, because the books were obscure and unknown at first, and earned their popularity honestly, one reader at a time.

    First, the characters are engaging. That is more rare than you think. The main character starts as an orphan of murdered parents (Jommy Cross can tell you this is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser, as can Hamlet and Kal-el) whose fame is a burden rather than a blessing, hated by everyone and yet the destined savior of the world, the misunderstood boy with the secret magic — no child alive has not felt this way, or wished for it. Ron and Hermoine are easy to like. I cannot think of any character outside of Oz that has such appealling natures.

    Second, the book appeals to fantasy readers but also to children and to muggles. When one reads LORD OF THE RINGS or WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, one steps into a secondary world of the author’s creation, and this disorients those not used to it. That is real fantasy. POTTER is not real fantasy: the world is like our own, except for witches and wizards and other standard goblins and unicorns and suchlike one could see looking out the window at Halloween. This book does not take place in a fantasy universe, but in Halloweenland, a place everyone who has watched BEWITCHED knows all about. There is no one excluded from the readership. It appeals to all ages, not to a particular taste or genre of reader.

    Third, the author made a daring attempt to have the books age as the reading audience ages, so that when Harry is thirteen, the book is written for a thirteen year old, and when sixteen, for a sixteen year old. Each book hence grows into more depth as it is written, and this maintains excitement: it is not a series readers are outgrowing, as often happens with kids books. Unlike the Narnia books, there is a coherent story arc that runs throughout.

    Fourth, the morality is clear. That is immensely refreshing in a field where, for example, PERDIDO STREET STATION is regarded with high esteem, and CHILDHOOD’S END or FOUNDATION is considered a classic. Don’t get me wrong, these are fine books, worthy of being counted among the best–but the moral code portrayed is murky and questionable. Clarke has invasion by what are basically devils be a good thing; Asimov has math, not moral choices, shape the future, which is destined to be an empire, not a republic.

    Fifth, it’s cute. Little wizards on broomsticks playing soccer in midair with enchanted balls; Nearly-Headless ghosts; little bits of humor are sprinkled throughout.

    Sixths, despite its cuteness, it is serious, and this is the most important thing of all in a children’s book. This book is about life and death, a mother’s love and sacrifice, the horror of necromancy, and the awkwardness of growing up.

    Finally, it is readable. The wordsmithing is workmanlike and it is easy to turn the page.

    I have read many books that had one or two of these qualities. But, try as I might, I can think of none that had them all.

    Every science fiction writer should don their garlands and with reverent steps approach the altar of the market place and sacrifice two turtle-doves to the muses in thanks for Rowlings’ work. The money and readership she brings into the SFF field benefits all lesser writers, myself included.

  9. The Harry Potter books are, I think, good fun. I enjoy reading them. They haven’t seriously altered my life, but I haven’t regretted the time I spent reading them at all.

    As for the midnight releases…I can’t speak to why the kids go, but I know why my wife and I go. At our local mall, they block off everything but a passage to the bookstore (since you can’t wander the rest of the mall when its closed) and they put up signs that declare it to be the “forbidden forest.”

    And there are HUGE numbers of people there. Kids, beleagured parents, joyful teenagers and twentysomethings in costumes. They do face painting, and raffles, and then people line up and get their books.

    I wouldn’t die if I didn’t get the book right at midnight. I’d just get on with life, bill paying, writing, all that. But the reason I go is for the sheer, unadulterated joy of seeing that many people up at midnight, clamoring and excited…FOR A BOOK. I love that. I adore that.

    I wish it happened when Stephen King puts out a new book, or Neil Gaiman, or Terry Pratchett. Those are midnight lines I would embrace vicariously. But the Harry Potter lines are still fun, and I get a book out of it, and that’s enough to get me out of the house at midnight any day.

  10. THE WAITING OUTSIDE STARTED AS A STATEMENT BY THE BOYS (AND THEIR PARENTS)WHO READ THEM FIRST AND SHOWED THEY WOULD READ A BIG BOOK AND WANT TO READ A SECOND..ITS A take that -IN YOUR FACE- TO ALL THE “HE DOESN’T SEEM TO READ WELL OR ABSORB THE MATERIAL CRAP” THAT BOYS HAVE HAD TO PUT UP WITH before harRy potter PROVED THAT IT WASN’T THAT THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY READ IT’S THAT WE DIDN’T CARE ABOUT sPOPT THE DOG BECAUSE HE SUCKED AND WE DIDN’T care WHAT jANE eayre OR WHATEVER THOUGHT….sPELLCHECK ETC.?? Me???i NEED COFFEE!!

  11. She is a good writer and leaves just enough clues to keep you guessing! Looking forward to the last installment.

  12. I for one am just happy that my son WANTS to stay up till midnight for a book and will start reading it on the way home at 1am. WE had a blast last time and saw some people we know. The parents all sat in a corner while the kids (aged 11-15) checked out other books, got involved in group discussions and acted like they enjoyed reading and understood it. IT might not be Shakespear but it is reading and alright reading at that….

    Think of it as Harry Potter being pot, a gateway drug. When the series is over they might linger in the book store and pick up Tolkien, or Erikson or Howard or Bradbury……

  13. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Potter books well enough. I may even bite the bullet and pre-order this one. I’m just astounded that there is this much anticipation and yes, hype, around a book. Especially considering the slow decline of reading in society.

    And John, it was Bill on the coffee, not Pete Tzinsky…

  14. I dont recall a whole lot of entertaining, intelligent, age appropriate fantasy for kids in that age group before HP came along. Now there are entire rows in bookstores filled with nothing but YA fantasy.

    It may be just that for what seems like an entire generation of kids, HP was their first quality exposure to the genre and that’s earned JKRowling some well deserved, maniacal loyalty from her fanbase.

    Kind of like the Beatles back in the day – right place, right time, and an audience absolutely starving for what they were doing.

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