The Harry Potter premier in London’s Trafalgar Square yesterday was extraordinary. As if Britain had suddenly become Hogwart’s and little Wizards everywhere been morphed into Royalty. Tears, thrills, waving crowds. Phoenix’s founder has to confess to a twinge of jealousy, even Schadenfreude at it all. He remembers his agent when Fire Bringer came out, telling him to check out ‘the competition’, with the arrival of JK Rowling’s first book. So, as the thrill of seeing his own work in the shops turned to horror as Harry Potter books turned into piles like New York sky scrapers, in one way he has lived in that shadow more than most. At school presentations, especially in America, he would ask what kids thought of the books, and then do a very good impression of Septimus Snape, snarling at ‘PPPPOTTER.HARRY POTTER!‘ The truth is though he, like everyone else, adored the series, though also being a little grumpy in the Bloomsbury premier of the first movie. He also defended the books, especially in Christian America, against the absurd charge of being evil.
Yet Children’s authors, in fact all authors, have lived in the shadow of the Potter Phenomenon, and carefully orchestrated phenomenon it has been. Brilliantly stage-managed, and channelled towards movies and merchandising with an enormous degree of talent. But the reason for that is certainly not stage management alone. It was always said, and we believe quite rightly, that the books began as a word of mouth phenomenon in schools. Their power is their extraordinary narrative energy, their remarkable reinvention, drawing on all the great myths, their humour and joy, but their inclusive, highly sensitive values as well, in defence of the young, of imagination, and of the magic of life. Fully in tune with the inescapable opposites of Good and Evil, and perhaps above all filled with a great deal of love.
Sober writers, ‘great minds’, serious intellectuals wondered why children and adults were hunched on tubes reading not The Brother’s Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, War and Peace, or even Pride and Prejudice, but happy to pick up those colourful volumes. The truth is not only the essential child within, and the vital dialogue between adulthood and childhood that makes the world, but also makes ‘children’s literature’, so wrongly dismissed sometimes, as the very gateway to genius and imagination. There are many other books to be read and written, and now the hype tells us its all over. Of course it isn’t, because the books will always be there, and JK Rowling, fearsome in defence of her own copyright, has started her own online book world. We wonder if she will turn that to supporting other writers and stories, in a defence of reading itself, but can only smile approvingly at all she has achieved. ‘Harry Potter is dead – Long live Harry Potter!.’