Potter Not

Not that I want to get caught up in Pottermania or -palooza or -philia (and I don’t think that Ron Charles is completely off base. More on that later.) but I find the story of J.K. Rowling far more interesting than a series of books about a boy wizard… but that’s just me.

I’m haven’t read the books, nor do I intend to, because fantasy literature is simply not my thing. This isn’t born of snobbishness, I don’t believe, I have just never been interested in Narnia or the Lord of the Rings or any of their imitators. I once tried to read the first book of the Ring trilogy and only made it through about five pages before realizing how utterly undazzled I was (this would have been in the late sixties when everyone else was reading them while doing drugs… which explains so much about the early seventies to my way of thinking).

When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton. Bilbo was very rich and very peculiar, and had been the wonder of the Shire for sixty years, ever since his remarkable dis- appearance and unexpected return. The riches he had brought back from his travels had now become a local legend, and it was popularly believed, whatever the old folk might say, that the Hill at Bag End was full of tunnels stuffed with treasure.

Oh dear. Kill me now.

Like many of her generation, the Lovely and Talented Casey (seen above, protecting her immortal soul with the Shield of Potterness) is a big fan of the books, the first one coming out right after she turned nine. I think it was when the third book came out that the bookstores started doing the stroke-of-midnight book releases and I remember going that evening after she went to bed so that I could surprise her with a copy because she had a flight at six-thirty the next morning to go play soccer in Washington state for two weeks and was disappointed that she would have to wait until she returned.

Yes, I am a swell dad.

That night was when I encountered the dark and disturbing side of Harry Potter books which manifested itself in grown adults wearing wizard hats and capes and what-not, faces frozen in a rictus of unbearable glee, glassy-eyed and a bit creepy. Employees from the bookstore mingled with the people in line, possibly in an attempt to keep a riot from breaking out as the witching hour approached, handing out Harry Potter glasses and lightning bolt tattoos and making happy chat . Since I was standing there, childless and dressed normally, a woman smiled and pointed out that I came as a “Muggle”.

Since I didn’t have a frigging clue what she was talking about, I just nodded amiably like I do when people talk about economics or hockey. I credit my survival to this day on my amiable nod.

Knowing something of the publishing schedule of the Potter books I wondered how many kids (about the L&T Casey’s age) might grow out of them before the last book hit the shelves. To a certain degree, I was right, since she never got around to finishing the sixth book, having moved on to the books that I have been pushing on her ( The Handmaids Tale, Hitchikers Guide, The World According to Garp, etc.) before she leaves for college. But her interest has been renewed by the Potter zeitgeist and she (along with her mother who loves them) has been spending the past week re-reading each one to get back up to speed in all things Harry.

Aside from those who truly love the books, and obviously millions do, I think this is part of the Big Event nature of our culture, the same thing that causes people who don’t watch football to spend the day at a Super Bowl party and pretending to care who wins. We don’t have many literary Big Events, since our Big Events seem to be limited to sporting championships and television season or series finales, so we should be happy about the Pottermania. More so, when you consider that the next literary Big Event is probably going to be the release of the Dan Brown’s next book.

Oh dear. Kill me now.

(Added) This would be a good a time as any to plug Francine Prose’s Reading Like A Writer which will increase your appreciation of truly good writing. On the other hand, nothing can save Dan Brown…

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