Crackle-Glazed Pottery

Adult UK version of cover

It’s hard to believe that Harry Potter’s time at Hogwarts is nearly at an end. I can trace so much of my life over the past few years just by remembering where I was as each book and each movie came out. I didn’t start reading them until the Chamber of Secrets, and I remember I wasn’t too impressed. They seemed cute and well planned out, but not really of a different caliber. My favorite “young adult” books are more along the lines of The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, or especially The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell (illustrated by Maurice Sendak); youthful at heart and respectful of their younger readers. Potter seemed like fun but little more.

Something kept me going, though, and with a little pressure from my friends I picked up Prisoner of Azkeban. Either Rowling got that much better or I just caught up with her, but man is that a great book; a thrilling, scary, mature YA page-turner with an Agatha Christie worthy surprise at the end. Goblet of Fire was just as surprisingly good, and I haven’t looked back. I’ve read the set of books at least twice through by now. Her ability to age the quality of the writing with the age of her characters and readers is marvelous. And how about Severus Snape? Snape alone is a figure worthy of classic Russian literature, unbearably tragic and complex in a way that most modern adult fiction just isn’t able to express. (I believe in you, Snape…Dumbledore was right to put his faith in you, right?)

The first time I ever traveled to London just happened to be during the premier of the Prisoner of Azkeban, which I got to see at the Odeon Theater in Leicester Square, opening night. The whole atmosphere was fairly electric, with a pre-show performance by a wild, white-suited organ player, bathed in the subtly morphing rainbow of neon lights of the organ itself, who waved good-bye as he and his calliope sank into the stage as the previews began.

A year later, in Thailand, just as I returned to a bigger city after about a month of rural travel, the opening night of Goblet of Fire arrived and I just couldn’t pass it up. Even after numerous warnings from locals to wear a sweater to the cinema I only wore a long sleeve dress shirt, and oh was I sorry. Apparently adjusting the AC in theaters to frigidaire levels is common all over Thailand. I went to an early evening show, where I think I was the only person over 20, but somehow even among all the ripped jeans, mini skirts and thin cotton Ts I was the only one shivering. Another electric audience though.

Nothing fancy this time out, and in fact I can’t even pick up my copy of the book until Monday because this weekend I have class all day Saturday and Sunday. If anything the forced wait’ll just whet my appetite. It’s hard to believe, but here it is, Deathly Hallows eve. Is this the most hotly anticipated publishing event of my lifetime? Just how many global readers of Harry Potter are there?

Back when Order of the Phoenix came out I was head receiver at my book store. I remember my surprise when the delivery man stopped me from signing for the books & showed my the “drop-cloth” clause. (Keep in mind that we already has to submit confidentiality statements months before, in order to even be allowed to place pre-orders for the books) Essentially, if I couldn’t guarantee that I would obscure the boxes from public and private view, and hide any evidence that the cardboard boxes held the next Potter book, he wasn’t permitted to leave them with our store — just sign right here. Seriously, he stopped me from unloading his cart because I put a box under the receiving table which could be seen through our back door. We had to put a tarp over the 30 or so boxes for the next five days. In the back room of a small independent you can imagine how conspicuous the drop-cloth island would be, but there you have it. Of course my question was, why print the title of the book in 200pt font on all six panels of each box if you’re going for secrecy?

The passion for Potter sure can be blinding. The books are well known loss leaders, meaning that stores sell Potter below their profit margin in order to rope in any ancillary sales that may come with increased foot traffic. Unfortunately, the desire to buy other books just hasn’t materialized during these Potter parties, but I’ve seen Potter 7 already offered for $18.89 some places. Crazy!

The Deathly Hallows already got posted online, of course, basically since Tuesday night. (I’d link to the Motoko Rich article in the NY Times but one needs a subscription to read those things — so look up Rich if you have one) What’s interesting to me isn’t that it happened. I mean, c’mon, growing up by NYC I could see any mainstream movie I wanted at least three or more days before the release date by knowing what street vendors to look for. It’s the official response to the photographic piracy that I want to hear more about.

I am continually trying to impress upon people the innumerable ways there are to monitor our physical and digital fingerprints, and depending on how far Potter’s lawyers want to take it this could be eye-opening. Check out this article about how Digital DNA Could Reveal Identity of Harry Potter Leaker if you’re interested, where she discusses Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF) data. Also, Scott’s comment on her post from July 20, 2007 06:05 AM provides more practical insight into how these things work.

Anyhow, I hope you get to enjoy the bittersweet pleasure of reading Potter 7 this weekend, but please don’t tell me anything about it until at least Thursday. It’s hard enough to avoid the spoilers as it is.

from not polish on Flickr, creative commons license

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