21 July 2007

I'm Just Wild about, well, you know...

Well, here it is, the day we’ve spent a decade waiting for. All around the globe, millions and millions people have their away messages up on their e-mail, turned off their cell phones and, in general, unplugged. They won’t answer the door if you knock, and everyone is indoors. There is no TV, no iPod, no video games. If you call their houses, this is what you will hear…

“I’m sorry, but I can’t answer the phone right now. I’m reading Harry Potter, and don’t wish to be disturbed or spoiled until I finish. Leave a message after the beep, and I’ll get back to you on Monday…”

Yes, the world has stopped for a book. THE book. The final installment in the Harry Potter series. I know not everyone is reading the book, but the sales figures don’t lie; most of you are. (Which makes me wonder how many of you are going to read this blog entry, heck, I wrote it days ago so I could read my copy of Deathly Hallows uninterrupted after standing in line at midnight and reading into the wee hours of the morning, but nonetheless, I carry on.)

What is it about Harry that makes it appeal to such a wide audience? Certainly it’s not the fact he’s a boy wizard, because there are many other books about wizard children who go to school. Diane Duane’s been writing about them for two and a half decades already, and Jane Yolen’s Wizard Hall was long before Harry’s time. So the question remains: why has the world embraced Harry?

Well, the stakes are high – what’s higher than life and death? It starts in book one and build from there. Harry himself is a tragic hero, orphaned because of murder and left with relatives who treat him in the most heinous way without being outright abusive. But there are tons of heroes just like him – James from James and the Giant Peach comes to mind, raised by his wretched aunts who treat him like little more than a slave.

No, what I think attracts so many people to Harry Potter’s world is that it’s like a multi-faceted jewel. The worldbuilding is superb, with locations are rich and varied. We feel like we’ve been to Diagon Alley or visited Hogsmeade before and could draw a map if someone asked us to. We know what a Golden Snitch is, and can tell you that you take your chances if you choose to eat Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. (Alas, earwax!)

The characters range from the sublime to the ridiculous, and so three-dimensional you think they could step off the page. From ordinary, somewhat shy Harry to the larger-than-life Weasely twins. The emotions run from elation to misery, like a roller coaster ride. And she’s got this ability to layer story elements so that you’ve got all the pieces of the puzzle, you’re just waiting for her to show you the picture. And when you see you, you say ‘Of course! Why didn’t I see it before?’

No, I don’t think there’s one single thing that makes everyone wild about Harry, but many different things to appeal to different people. It’s the combination, like a good recipe, that has made people turn into Potterheads, and that has surrounded a book – a book! – the same hype and excitement as the latest electronic gadget or major concert event.

It was this very series that propelled me into the world of writing fantasy for children. No, wait, that’s not quite true. It was the final catalyst, I’ll say. Because I read Jo’s story – that she was on welfare, with no formal training, and wrote a book.

“I can do that too, then!” said I. And while Harry Potter was an inspiration, I drew on decades of fairy tales and mythology that I couldn’t get enough of when I was a child, put away and forgotten when I grew up, now driving me to tell my own tales of places that have never been.

And now we’re at the end of Harry’s story, and it is bittersweet. A series of books that has united the world and gotten children to appreciate reading. I hope all the children who have grown up with Harry continue to search out new books, new stories, new imaginary places.

Here I’ll say thanks to Jo Rowling for a terrific ride, and for putting me on a path I might never have found by myself. You and those like you (and I proudly count myself among them) are the keepers of imagination, guides and guardians to pass the love of fantastic tales on to the next generation.

And to dear Harry Potter and his friends, I raise a glass and say: good night and good luck. We will miss you.

Christine Norris is the author of several works for children and adults, including Talisman of Zandria, Return to Zandria, both from LBF Books (www.lbfbooks.com ) and the first two of her Library of Athena novels, to be published by Samhain Publishing in 2008.

She spends her time divided between her writing, substitute teaching, and caring for her family of one husband-creature, a son-animal, a large dog whose greatest achievement is sleeping in one position for an entire day, and a small feline who is very adept in his position as Guardian of the Bathtub. She also works at English Adaptations of novels translated from other languages.
To learn more about Christine Norris, please visit http://www.christine-norris.com. Send an email to Christine at christinenorris02@gmail.com or through her MySpace page, at http://www.myspace.com/christinenorris
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