Newswise — Muggles Alert! Book six of the Harry Potter series is set for release on Saturday, July 16. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is already creating a buzz. 10.8 million copies will be available in the U.S. alone.
But what is it that makes the Harry Potter series so enduring, and special to readers of all ages? To find out, we went to the University of Maryland's very own Harry Potter expert - Jennie Levine. In real life, she is the Curator for Historical Manuscripts in the University's Hornbake Library archives. But her OTHER life is, perhaps, more magical - she's the co-creator of one of the most popular Harry Potter fan sites on the web, http://www.sugarquill.net.
1) We've been following Harry and his Hogwarts exploits for quite some time now. What do you foresee for the "Half-blood Prince?"
In the last Harry Potter book (Order of the Phoenix), J.K. Rowling threw in so many new and unexpected plot elements that I think fans are hesitant to speculate too much. People are spending time trying to figure out some of the "givens" - who will be the next Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, who will die, and who is the Half-Blood Prince? There are a lot of things that could potentially happen for fans to get excited about, however. For example:
* Two of the main characters, Ron and Hermione, will turn 17 during the school year, which is the legal adult wizarding age - will that have any effect on their adventures with Harry? * Gryffindor's Quidditch team will need a new team captain. * There will be a new Minister of Magic. * The last book ended on a sad and serious note for Harry in a number of ways.
How he will deal with all of the loss and pressure in the next book remains to be seen. J.K. Rowling has stated, for the record, that neither Harry nor Voldemort are the "Half-Blood Prince."
2) What is it that makes these books so enduring - especially as they seem to get longer and longer?
Well, this book is supposed to be shorter than the previous two! But there are several things that make them enduring, no matter what the length. It's a fun series - and yet, a very serious one. The Harry Potter series contains many elements of a classic fairy-tale: heroic orphan, magic, and an evil mastermind. J.K. Rowling portrays Harry and his world with a great amount of realism, despite the fact that there is magic involved. There is a great deal of humor in the books, but also a great deal of moral and ethical issues that crop up, and it's very easy to get lost in the world while reading. Of course, part of the appeal is that they are an unfinished series. Fan speculation and time to think and speculate has added to the global fascination with the books (I think).
3) Where does J.K. Rowling get her ideas from? Are fans having any impact on what she is writing and how?
That's a good question. From interviews that I've read, I think that a lot of her ideas come straight out of her own head, and are drawn upon real-life experiences. I really hope that fans are not having an impact on what she is writing. There is a huge world out there now of fan fiction based on the Harry Potter series. Some of it is extremely well-written and some of the stories are longer than the actual books! But I think it would have a negative impact on the series for J.K. Rowling to let fan attitudes have an effect on the plot at this point. In her interviews, Rowling makes it perfectly clear that she has had the series strongly outlined and plotted from the beginning. I don't think she has a whole lot of room to wiggle at this point. She does, however, acknowledge that she visits fan sites, and she seems to take particular delight in torturing fans by commenting on some of the more ridiculous rumors with great humor.
Last year, J.K. Rowling opened her own website, http://www.jkrowling.com. She explains: "This is where I can tell you the truth about rumours or news stories, where I can share the extra information I haven't put in the books, where I can give you hints and clues about what's going to happen to Harry next, and where I can announce I've finished book seven... and no, that's not going to happen very soon." The website includes a large "Rumors" section. One of the more fun rumors earlier this year was that the title of the sixth book would be "Harry Potter and the Pillar of StorgÃ©." Rowling responded: "I am trying very hard not to feel offended that anyone thought this was possible. 'StorgÃ©', for crying out loud. Come on, people, get a grip." This was followed by a rumor that the book was called "Harry Potter and the Toenail of IcklibÃµgg." Her response: "Well, if you believed the 'StorgÃ©' one..."
4) Some kids are reading these 500+ page books all in one sitting. Do you think that is really a good idea?
As someone who is a very fast reader and who read the last book in one 8-hour sitting, I can say "No" (because it hurts your neck to sit and read for so long). Although a part of me wonders if there's some way to bottle that appeal and apply it to math textbooks, for example. Personally, I plan to take this book at a more leisurely pace.
5) Is there anything we're missing in these books so far? Something that Rowling is trying to get across that fans haven't really realized yet?
You know, I often wonder that myself. I have a fear, as such a big fan, that the whole secret will be revealed in the seventh book and it will about as serious as "forty-two" being the answer to life, the universe, and everything, in "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Or that it turns out Rowling is writing this whole series for some greater moral purpose. Most of the time I just like to believe that Rowling was a woman who liked to write stories, and started to write what she thought was a really good, epic story, and is trying her best to make it complete and engaging.
Some of my favorite stories as a child were series: Anne of Green Gables; the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, etc. Rowling admits to being a huge "Lord of the Rings" fan. Those types of epic stories were her models, and I expect she's just trying to create her own. I do think her own politics and ethics show through, and why wouldn't they, if she's the author? I read her portrayal of Dolores Umbridge in "Order of the Phoenix" to be a commentary on what can go wrong when schools become too focused on bureaucracy and rules and less on creativity.
The character of Professor Lupin is a lesson in both watching someone with a debilitating illness struggle to survive, and one in understanding bias. Perhaps one of the reasons that I enjoy the books has to do with the fact that I think I probably agree with Rowling on a lot of issues, and reading the books, I feel like I am reading the work of someone who shares a similar world view. We'll see if it turns out that way in the end.This release is on the web at : http://www.newsdesk.umd.edu/culture/release.cfm?ArticleID=1099
Maryland's Harry Potter experts can be found at:http://www.newsdesk.umd.edu/experts/hottopic.cfm?hotlist_id=28